Computer Users Begin to Explore `World Wide Web'

FEW people really liked the ``information superhighway.'' The metaphor was wrong. It spawned too many cliches. The term hung around only because no one could come up with a better one.

Now, we have a replacement. It's called the ``World Wide Web.''

The Web already exists. It's the graphical part of the Internet. That means you can point or click with your mouse to get to information instead of typing in obscure commands. It's like moving from DOS to Windows or the Macintosh operating system.

The Web, in other words, is the future of the Internet.

For the past two weeks, I've been browsing the Web with the Prodigy on-line service. It is simple to log on. The commands are straightforward. In no time, you're moving from Web site to Web site, merely by clicking on the blue-coded text.

I visited an on-line art gallery, played a couple of word games, looked up a document from the Internal Revenue Service, and downloaded a huge State Department report that the editors couldn't get in paper form.

This is just the beginning. Companies and information providers will hang out their shingles on the Web. New kinds of publishers will come to the fore. It will be tremendously exciting and a little sad, like turning a quaint old neighborhood into a strip of new shops, the likes of which we've never seen before.

Internet purists will rail against this, but I'm afraid the die is cast. The Internet will be commercialized, largely through the Web. Use of the Web is set to explode this year.

If you're going to visit the Web, it helps to know the lingo. Prodigy's blue-coded text is actually a link that can log you onto another site in the Web. (That's why it's called a web. Each spot has links to many other spots.) To see all this in action, you need a piece of software called a Web browser.

Several companies and organizations offer browsers. The problem has been that, for most of us, using one of those browsers meant descending into the arcane and acronym-happy world of communications methods. Techies can mess with SLIP and PPP protocols. But Aunt Minnie shouldn't have to. And now she doesn't.

Prodigy makes it extremely simple. You log onto the service, click on the Internet offering, and sign up for the Web. The browser isn't revolutionary, but it's simple and graphically pleasing. With a 9600 bits-per-second modem, the service was speedy enough. The cost for Prodigy service is $9.95 a month for five free hours of use.

If you're willing to wait a couple of months, other on-line services will have their own browsers up and running. CompuServe plans to offer its members Web service in the next 30 to 60 days. America Online promises to do the same in 60 to 90 days. Delphi, which already offers full access to the Internet in a text mode, plans to upgrade to a graphic interface. The company announced a deal three weeks ago with Netscape Communications to rebuild its service using Web and other Internet protocols.

These new services will bring a huge audience to the Web. Prodigy says 300,000 of its members have signed up for Web service in the month since it was made available. Web sites have noticed the jump in traffic from Prodigy users alone. More will come as other services hook into the Web. And I think they'll like what they see.

After roaring along the virtual fast lane, it's nice to get to something this simple and intuitive. Now, if we can only find a more attractive name than Web....

Anybody for the ``data cocoon''?

* Spin your comments my way: CompuServe (70541,3654), Prodigy (BXGN44A), or via Internet (laurentb @delphi.com)

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