Fulfilling (Almost) the Promise of the Web

By Edward H. Baker  |  Posted 07-05-2005 Print Email
Botnet attacks, half-baked regulations and attempts to restrict the Web threaten the best conduit corporations currently have to communicate with their customers.

It will come as no surprise to readers that the Web seems finally to have come into its own.

As a point of contact with customers, the Web is now used by 88 percent of companies, beating out the next three—the phone, personal contact and direct mail—by large margins, according to this month's research on customer strategies.

Meanwhile, columnist Eric Nee notes the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down laws restricting the sale of wine across state lines, arguing that as e-commerce grows in economic muscle, it is finally throwing off the bonds of the old economy (page 25).

This month's case study chronicles the efforts of Thomson Corp. to divest its old-line media assets and transform itself into a new-media purveyor of digital news and data (page 48).

And the recent increases in the share prices of Google and Yahoo! are a tribute to the phoenixlike rise of Internet advertising from its post-bubble depths.

It all attests to what Berkeley political scientist Steven Weber, in this month's Expert Voices, refers to as the ability of new technologies to "challenge the incumbents by allowing people to distribute stuff outside of existing channels."

And as the Web increases in numbers, speed and creativity, its strength as a disruptor will only grow.

What factors might stunt that growth? One is the increase in annoying, malicious and criminal attacks on corporate Web sites, networks and databases, and even home computers.

The New York Times recently ran an article on what have become known as zombies: computers onto which pernicious programs have been secretly downloaded, and that, at the bidding of their masters, generate denial-of-service attacks, spew out spam—even break security codes. Law-enforcement officials suspect that one such zombie network may include 300,000 computers.

Another is the slow pace of the U.S. in making sure everyone has access to the Internet via a broadband connection. The U.S. has fallen to 12th among countries ranked by broadband subscribers per capita, according to the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Meanwhile, the incumbent telecom companies, led by Verizon and SBC, are lobbying for laws restricting cities and towns desperate for broadband from competing with them by building their own wireless networks—even as the telecom companies themselves received more than $5 billion in federal subsidies last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

As strong as the Web has become, its continued success depends on cheap and secure access for all, unfettered by self-interest or regulation.



 

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