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In this chapter we'll look at how the Internet, especially the Web, is redefining business communications, modifying consumer behavior, and mediating the relationship between a business and its customers.
Overwhelming all expectations, Internet revenues of all types topped $300 billion in 1998. Retail sales alone could reach $108 billion by 2003, with business-to-business electronic commerce at least triple that amount. Combined, these numbers would represent about 6% of global commerce.
Should part of these revenues be yours? Should you invest your time, energy, money, and other resources to market and/or sell over the Internet? Or should you expend those scarce resources on off-line marketing techniques that you know will work? To help you make a good decision, this chapter provides basic background information about the Internet. We'll cover a little his tory, a few statistics, and some technology. Armed with this information and the review of your business and customers in Chapter 2, you can determine whether the Internet is a place for you. Specifically, we'll discuss
What Is the Internet?
Computer networks link two or more computers to allow their users to share information, programs, and equipment, and to communicate with one another. Networks come in two flavors: LANs (Local Area Networks) link computers in the same building or area, and WANs (Wide Area Networks) tie together distant computer systems. The Internet is simply the worldwide interconnection of many different networks. By hooking together servers, the large computers that manage individual networks, the infrastructure of the Internet allows millions of people to access information stored on tens of thousands of computers around the world. The Internet transmits messages between servers much the way the telephone system does, using satellites, microwaves, and dedicated cables such as Ethernet lines, fiber optic cables, cable television lines, or even the simple phone lines in your home.
There is one absolutely critical difference. Unlike the telephone system, the Internet lets you send messages not to just one person, but to everyone on the Internet or to a specified group of people. The Internet turns every individual or business into a broadcaster, able to communicate from one to many, a privilege previously reserved for television, radio, and publishing companies. Originally, computers on the Internet could exchange only text messages. Now the Web portion of the Internet allows users to exchange graphics, still photos, animation, voice, and even full-motion video. Think of the Web as a virtual publishing company through which anyone can distribute the electronic equivalent of glossy magazines or short films.
The Web is the fastest-growing, most user friendly, and most commercially popular segment of the Internet. Any computer on the Internet equipped with a browser (software designed to look at Internet resources) and small pieces of specialized software called plug-ins can access different kinds of text, images, and sound. A page (part of a site) on the Web can be connected to another page with related information using a link, even if the computer hosting the other page is halfway around the earth, orbiting in the space shuttle, or sitting on Mars. How did all this come to be?
History of the Internet
The Internet owes its existence to the Pentagon and the Cold War. To solve the problem of a centralized computer system vulnerable to a single well-placed bomb, scientists at the Rand Corporation developed the concept of a centerless network in 1964. They envisioned thousands of computers connected with communication redundancy, much the way the human brain is wired, so that the loss of a few "neurons" or connecting cables would not result in a total loss of function. In 1969, two nodes (computers connected to a network) were linked for the first time on the ARPAnet, the precursor to today's Internet. (ARPAnet was named after the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sponsored its development...