These days, it is almost impossible to go a few hours without hearing some reference to the all-powerful Internet. "Where do you want to go today?" is the catch phrase from Microsoft, which has grand dreams of the future and how much better life will be once everyone is wired. The problem is that many people do not understand this phenomenon called the Internet. Where did it come from suddenly and exactly how is it supposed to help?
Millions of people all over the world have gone online with the hope that by tapping into and exploiting the world's largest computer network, they will have a wealth of information available to them. There is a massive amount of information out there, but finding it takes time. Time is a luxury many do not have. To understand why the Internet and web are as they are, you must understand their history and how technology has taken charge and is dictating how the Internet will be used.
The Internet has been around, more or less, since the Cold War. The US military wanted a computer network that would be able to function after a direct nuclear attack on major nodes (cities) in the network. "Packet switching" was implemented for transmission of data across this network. ("Packet switching" refers to how the data are broken up into tiny bits and sent over the network. They do not always take the same route to get to the final destination and if one or more packets are found to be missing, they can be re-sent.) If a node (city) in the network were destroyed, then the packets could be shuffled around it so that they could reach the destination.
The Internet allows different computers to communicate with each other because they all follow the same protocols. However, this was not always the case. Originally, Network Control Protocol (NCP) was used and it only allowed communication between hosts running the same network. NCP was eventually replaced by Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) which allowed communication across any network.
The Internet began to gain momentum approximately six years ago and has been growing exponentially ever since. Initially, educational institutions, government agencies, and computer scientists used it to communicate with each other. Gradually, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites became popular because they allowed people to view and download information.
A common misconception is that the Internet, the web, and email are the same; they are not, though they all rely on "packet switching." The web is a fairly new concept that emerged around 1992. After FTP sites started growing in popularity, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) began evolving and allowed "jumping" from site to site using "links."
This was the beginning of the web, more or less. The number of web pages grew steadily. (Initially, this was primarily because computer science students used the technology to make their own web pages as a hobby.) Until this time there was no way to index sites or keep track of the addresses. Yahoo! became the first indexing system for the web and spawned the birth of many more directories and search engines (software that searches the web and returns sites based on a keyword description). This helped people find what they were looking for, but as the web grew larger, it became obvious that automated directories and search engines would not be able to keep up with demand and rate the sites on their content or quality. Around the same time, Marc Andreesson began development of his two graphical browsers. The graphical browser Mosaic and the follow-up, Netscape, supported pictures and sounds and allowed the bookmarking of sites. This is when the web exploded.
Enter Peter Bradshaw, Chairman and CEO of Telesoft Mobile Data, Inc. and Chairman of MDSI and his daughter, Julie. In late 1995, the Bradshaws recognized that there was a problem with navigating the web. They found it was becoming increasingly difficult to sift through the chaos of the web to find meaningful data. They met with Sunny Hirai, who also saw a future on the Internet. After a week, the trio became partners with Rob Cudney, in a new company called i5ive communications, inc.
Their goal was to build a community site driven by passionate individuals who would guide users to the most interesting and useful places on the web. The product is called Suite 101 (http://www.suite101.com) and it has come a long way.
Suite 101 recruits real people from all over the world to write weekly, bi-weeky, or monthly articles; list the best links for their topic; and moderate ongoing discussions. There is only one editor for each topic, which ensures that s/he is the resident expert in that particular field. Instead of using automated programs and "bots" to find and list sites, these editors scour the web in search of the best sites for their topics.
Currently over 130 editors are providing the bulk of the content for the thousands of members who have registered with Suite 101. As of June 1997, the site was still in a beta (development) stage; had received awards from the Canadian Internet Awards Committee in seven of the 11 categories for which it was nominated; and was scheduled for an unveiling of the final release in early July. The newer version promises to be even better by showcasing many more features that will make online life easier.
The web is quite young by traditional standards; if you have been online for a year, you are considered an experienced user. Many of the editors, users, and staff at Suite 101 have been involved with this technology for many years.
Suite 101 welcomes everyone with open arms and hopes that the site will be able to make the "web experience" an enjoyable one. A community has been built around the concept and people from all over the world are coming together at this one place to form a "Global Village". The community consists of anyone and everyone. No one cares about who you are, what you do, and what you look like. A topic on disabilities was recently approved and surprisingly there were a few members and editors who had disabilities which no one knew about. This is one of the advantages of living in a "face-less society". Users can be anyone from a 12-year-old boy in Daly City, CA, to a double Ph.D. in New York City. The common trait is the love of the community.
Everyone at Suite 101 has a passion for what they do and by contributing, Suite 101 becomes more of a success. The ideas and suggestions made by editors and members are taken very seriously and this is why Suite 101 is welcomed by all. It is for the people, by the people.
You can see how content has taken a back seat to the flash of pretty web sites that lack substance. The trend has been to look at sites that are "cool" and "exciting," but more and more people are finding this mundane after a while, and are seeking new sites that offer a sense of community or belonging. Suite 101 is positioned to give users what they want, and that is very refreshing in these days of companies trying to "push" products on consumers.
Dean Minamimaye graduated from Simon Fraser University in 1996 with a B.A. in Communications from the Faculty of Applied Sciences. He began working for i5ive communications in November, 1996. As Dean says, " Since my education is in Computer-Mediated-Communication, the Internet and Suite 101 are like second nature to me." Currently, he is the Editor in charge of Special Projects and Web Promotions for i5ive and Suite 101.