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The Rise of the Web and its Likely Implications

This article considers the major implications of the growth of the Internet for society, business and the economy. It begins by tracing the development of the various technologies which form the Internet from their origins to the current state. Some 22% of the world's population now has access to this vast resource of billions of interlinked documents covering every imaginable topic. The Internet presents both opportunity and challenge for business. Profit can no longer be guaranteed from price differential alone, but for those able to adapt and innovate huge potential rewards exist.

The Internet provides numerous opportunities for small business start-ups. Those whose work is essentially information processing or production are now able to work from the comfort of their own homes, freeing them from the drudgery of commuting and office politics. The Internet is seen as an integral part of the trend towards globalization and the diminishing significance of the concept of nation state.

For all its promise of bringing equality and liberation a number of hurdles remain before the information revolution may be considered as complete. The availability of information in such vast quantities leads to the problem of sifting that which is of relevance and value from that which is not. Issues such as security and privacy (both real and perceived) prevent many from adopting the 'net as their prime channel for conducting business. There are also huge differences in levels of access between different countries.

Introduction

This article presents a personal view of some of the main implications of the growth of the Internet for society, business and the economy. It also suggests some ways in which the information age might develop. It is not intended as a definitive reader on any of these issues, rather as a stimulus for further debate.

Just as the proliferation of machinery irreversibly changed the primary focus of human activity from agriculture to manufacturing so the development and growth of computer technology is predicted to have a similarly dramatic impact upon society.

Definitions

The Internet is the global network of computers and computer networks interconnected by the common TCP/IP protocol. The World Wide Web (Web) is an Internet application consisting of billions of documents (web pages) connected and navigable by means of hyperlinks.

Electronic commerce (e-commerce) is the process of conducting business across the Internet, i.e. a buyer visits a seller's web site and makes a transaction there. Less rigidly it includes deals where the Internet plays some role, e.g. assisting the buyer in locating or comparing products and/or sellers.

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