Sipping from a fire hydrant

A year in the life of the Internet is easily a decade in any other industry. I'm just back from the World Internet Conference in New York City and my head is still spinning.

Here are some general observations from this gathering of the "masters" of the World Wide Web.

First, twentysomethings still rule, but the mix of attendees was noticeably older than last year. Men overwhelmingly outnumbered women. And there were actually some people wearing suits and ties!

The focus at this show was on second-generation software and business applications on the Net. I've been running all year to stay familiar - not informed, just familiar - with major changes on the Net. I was running near the back of the pack.

As one would expect, e-commerce and business issues dominated. The needs of the estimated 30 to 40 percent of the work force that will be self-employed by the year 2010 are a major new market. Real-time group interaction among far-flung individuals is the best example of this.

Just think of instant messaging on AOL.com. (If you don't know what instant messaging is, well, there still are a few openings for apprentice farriers.) Two companies, WebEx (www.webex.com) and RealNetworks (www.real.com) introduced programs that allow for simultaneous video, audio, and live document sessions by groups from five to 500 or "instant meeting."

Community was a buzzword as well. Not prone to cynicism I was still skeptical. When businesses pay serious money to host a booth at a major convention pitching the word "community," I shake hands and ask, what part of the market segment am I?

When it came to children, I was proved wrong.

Whether it's a gaming experience where the means and ends of the game are violence, or a search engine that leads a child unwittingly onto a pornography site or into a chat room where adult predators disguise themselves as 12-year-olds, a community of adults must safeguard children.

It was heartening to see the maturation of a cyber-community to protect children.

Bob Wright is head of Deputy Inc., in Dallas. He knows that most parents aren't as computer savvy as their children. When it comes to computer gaming, he wants to level the playing field. He has a new product, shipping later this month, called Game Deputy (www.deputysoftware.com).

The software scours a computer's hard drive looking for games and then lists all the games installed. It also offers a ratings and review component that helps parents decide whether the game is appropriate for their child. It includes passwords to control access to a game and a logging capability to record how much time is spent on a given game.

Gordon Ross is head of Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com), a company he founded in 1995. This makes him a senior citizen on the Net. His company is headquartered in two locations: Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle. It offers security and blocking software that provides real-time filtering of objectionable and illegal Web sites and protection from cyber-stalkers.

Both these individuals are in business because they want to protect kids. That's the community they want to serve.

In addition, both respect the First Amendment. They're not censors. They want to put in the hands of parents and concerned adults software tools that enable them to make decisions about gaming or surfing the Net based on family values. The community value they want to foster is whatever the parents' values are.

Nice community to belong to.

*Comments or questions? Write to Ideas editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail us at: Ideas@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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