Business Is Booming on Net, And Business Has Control

Surfers flocked to Boston to largest-ever Internet conference

BUSINESS not only found the Internet in 1995, it took it over.

For much of its 26-year history, the Internet was a US government-sponsored communications tool linking the research and development side of the military-industrial establishment.

In the last two years, following development of simplifying technology and graphics capability, the Internet (also called the Net) has more than tripled in size, with business leading the charge, according to Rebecca Wetzel, director of marketing for BBN Planet Corp., in Cambridge, Mass. BBN is a major Internet service provider that directed the building of the Net in 1969.

Now a sea change is occurring in the business world because of the gussied-up Net and the power and prevalence of computers. The proof was in Boston at the world's largest Internet conference, Internet World 95, where more than 220 companies and organizations showed up. And next year promises to be even bigger.

* Today, up to 40 million people use the Internet, says the magazine Internet World, the majority doing business on-line.

* The Net is growing 10 percent a month, estimates Robert Davis, president of Lycos Inc., which has cataloged more than 11 million fee-free sites on the Net. A site is a pool of electronic information, including color photos and graphics (sometimes sexually explicit) that individuals, groups, or businesses can readily put on the Net. Many sites, however, can be accessed only for a fee, or by authorized users.

* The Net is growing so fast that surveys can't keep up, Mr. Davis says. His firm has a patent-pending ''spider,'' developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh by Michael Mauldin, that searches the World Wide Web - the new and exploding part of the Internet - and amasses a digest of information that other Net users can access free of charge.

* Last spring, the National Science Foundation bowed out of all of its remaining control of the nebulous Net, leaving it entirely in the hands of business. The ''old'' users still use the Net. But its growth and ''logic'' is managed as of this year by a consortium of businesses, including BBN Planet, long-distance giants MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint, computer giant IBM Corp., and others. They decide, among other things, when and where new servers (computers) will be added to the Net.

These computers are where the Web sites reside, and the electrons connecting them flow over dedicated telephone lines. Sophisticated software directs the massive flow of information.

Internet World says more than half of the computers on the Net are in the United States. The rest are spread out among ''connected networks in 100 countries.'' Some 22 countries joined the Net this year. The Net today consists of about 70,000 mostly private networks, compared with 40,000 last year. There are about 6.6 million servers on the Net, double the number from a year ago.

In a dramatic sign that smaller may often be better in the mod, informal atmosphere of business on the Web, AT&T has a new contract with BBN Planet to put AT&T customers on the Net who want to do electronic commerce.

Because the Web is so new, so invisible, so intangible, and so dominated by relatively young businesspeople, it remains a mystery even to a number of chief executives, according to Gene Robinson, who heads Process Software in Framingham, Mass.

He says he was surprised to discover the degree to which Digital Equipment Corp. in Maynard, Mass., is using Web technology just for communication within its own organization, in addition to any business it does on the Net.

John Landry, technology consultant to IBM and its recently acquired Lotus Development Corp., gives an example that helps demystify the communications revolution taking place on the Internet. Federal Express Corp. handles millions of pieces of mail in a 24-hour period, he said. And millions of people send e-mail messages by computer on the same day to find out where their package or letter is at any given time. The Federal Express computer will answer all the inquires.

''Can you see what this means for business?'' Mr. Landry asked. It means the new interactivity of electronic communication eventually will reach from the individual to everywhere.

IBM is devoting much energy and resources to offering businesses ways to come on to the Net and do business there.

Thousands of specialized businesses have been developed to pave the future of the Web. Firms have sprouted up to get companies on the Net, to help them build a market presence (earn money!), to integrate their business systems with the Internet, to enable people to stay home and do it all with telecommuting.

Publishers and other information providers are moving quickly onto the Internet, working out legal and copyright questions as they go along. One office of the US military uses only electronic contracts in its dealings - perhaps a sign of what many corporate lawyers may face in coming years.

New York-based Dunn & Bradstreet Corp. offers, on-line, news of global market opportunities. And cash has been sent over the Internet already.

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