Come on in, the web’s fine, if a little icy at first

Despite regular holidays in Atlantic-lashed Cornwall, in all honesty I can’t call myself a surfer. A little gentle body-boarding in the breakers maybe, but standing on a bouncing plank on top of icy waves is not for me. Sadly, I’m no more proficient an internet surfer. I tiptoe into the virtual shallows, paddle around a bit, get cold cyber feet and retreat.

Despite regular holidays in Atlantic-lashed Cornwall, in all

honesty I can’t call myself a surfer. A little gentle body-boarding in

the breakers maybe, but standing on a bouncing plank on top of icy waves

is not for me. Sadly, I’m no more proficient an internet surfer. I

tiptoe into the virtual shallows, paddle around a bit, get cold cyber

feet and retreat.



At a group discussion I attended the other evening, one of the

respondents was a card-carrying anorak. He did more or less everything

online: bought tickets, checked out hotels and holidays, chatted to his

pals in the US, followed his nose down interesting bolt-holes, was

generally pretty nerdy.



He even kicked e-sand in the faces of the seven-stone e-weaklings. One

of them (with whom I had a certain sympathy) whimpered: ’The internet is

just so huge, it’s daunting, overwhelming.’ No surfer, clearly. Barely

in water-wings.



It is still just about acceptable to deride the infernal web and all its

works, but undeniably the world is being sucked into its virtual

heart.



Consider this: in March of this year, almost one in five airline tickets

bought in the US was via the internet; in the first quarter of 1998 a

business that didn’t exist three years ago sold almost dollars 100m

(pounds 61.8m) of books via the internet. Who? Amazon.com.



Over the same period, a US grocery online service (Peapod) made sales of

dollars 19m (pounds 11.7m). Five million people in the US do their

banking online.



Dell Computers now makes sales of dollars 4m (pounds 2.5m) - daily. This

suggests pretty clearly that the internet is for shopping, or selling -

depending on which side of the marketing fence you sit. It’s all about

transactions - at least thus far.



America is, predictably, well ahead of the rest of the world in getting

to grips with the internet, but the UK is bounding along in fourth

position (after Japan and Germany) with over 10% of the population wired

up. And this despite the fact that half the UK population has never used

a computer.



By 2005, nearly 50% of us will be linked to the internet.



Non-surfers - marketers included - should not panic. A huge proportion

of web sites today are purely experimental, early learning centres;

companies, brands and individuals are discovering, by trial and error,

what works and what doesn’t, how a web site works with other media, how

it generates response, who responds.



The internet is - astonishingly - still only nine years old. But

compared with what it will be like in ten or 20 years’ time, it is slow,

clumsy, often dull and sometimes impenetrable. Where is it all going?

According to Robert Ainsley, author of The Bluffer’s Guide to the

Internet: ’The internet is one of life’s certainties. It is coming to

all of us.’



So, better to be splashing about in the waves than marooned in the

dunes, I say. Come on in, the water’s fine.



Discussion

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