Set your sights on smart sites

Heading into the new millennium, the Internet will evolve into an ever-more
sophisticated tool for communications and collaboration, according to industry analysts.


Just about everything that can be done on a standalone computer now probably will be
fused to the Net. Several emerging technologies have a head start in transforming the
Internet over the next few years.


Intelligent agents are used by millions of Net surfers every day in search engines such
as Yahoo and Excite. Next-generation agents will dig much more deeply than current agents.


Ann Lynnworth, a developer of dynamic Web site creation software and co-founder of HREF
Tools Corp. of Santa Rosa, Calif., at http://www.href.com,
said she believes it is only a matter of time before sophisticated expert systems become
part of the Web.


Lynnworth said anyone who can type a uniform resource locator will be able to access
expert systems that incorporate the knowledge and decision-making ability of the
world’s greatest minds.


One of the most innovative current intelligent agents appears at http://www.sixdegrees.com, the site of MacroView
Communications Corp. of New York.


The theory that all persons are loosely connected through a path of six or fewer people
is the basis for the experimental online personal networking tool.


Users type in their own name and the name of someone they would like to meet. The
site’s intelligent agent then combs through its data banks for friends of friends who
might know that person.


No more than two years ago, Internet voice telephony was a backstreet game to elude
long-distance telephone charges. Using microphones hooked to their PCs, thousands of
techno-savvy Net cruisers began talking to others around the world at the flat, local
connection rates charged by their Internet providers.


Internet telephony still has substantial ground to cover before it’s ready for
prime time. The audio quality of most Internet phone calls is substandard compared with
conventional calls, and the industry is still snagged in a morass of conflicting
standards.


Users with different telephony software packages often still cannot communicate with
one another. Despite these and other drawbacks, consultants such as Forrester Research
Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., predict a heady future for the new medium.


Recent advances in the technology such as Net2Phone from IDT Corp. of Santa Clara,
Calif., at http://www.idt.com, let a user with a PC
microphone call another person on a conventional phone line. The Internet call goes
through a PC-to-phone gateway operated by IDT.


Even more interesting is Aplio/Phone from Aplio Inc. of San Bruno, Calif., at http://www.apliophone.com. It weds ordinary phones to
the Internet through a simple black box. A user hooks the Aplio box between a telephone
line and wall jack, then dials as usual.


When contact is established with another Aplio user, the caller presses a button and
hangs up. In 45 seconds or less the phone rings and the conversation proceeds—over
the Internet. No PC is necessary.


While Internet users rave about the fact they can make free Net phone calls, industry
giants such as Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and PictureTel Corp. of Andover, Mass., are
quietly engineering a revolution that will add video into the mix.


They’re making it their business to put a videophone in every cubicle and at
bargain-basement prices.


“For the major players, popular demand for Internet video telephony will trigger a
ripple effect of widespread demand for their core hardware and software in information
technology departments,” said Carl D. Howe, a Forrester analyst and author of the
company’s report, IP Video Giveaway.


Government and corporate IT departments have been reluctant to embrace Internet video
telephony, he said, because it slows down current networks. So Microsoft and others are
striving to build demand at the grassroots level.


Like Internet voice telephony, Internet videoconferencing has some ground to cover
before it’s ready to hit the market.


Again, the sound quality is inferior, and images streaming across the PC screen are
choppy.


In spite of growing pains, an increasing number of organizations regard Internet video
telephony as a potentially important business tool.


Market leaders include Enhanced CU-SeeMe from White Pine Software Inc. of Nashua, N.H.,
at http://www.wpine.com;  Intel’s Internet
Video Phone, at http://www.intel.com; AudioVision from
Smith Micro Software Inc. of Aliso Viejo, Calif., at http://www.smithmicro.com;
  and VideoPhone from Connectix Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., at http://www.connectix.com.


Working from the virtual Internet desktop, progressive engineers are even styling a new
work methodology: 3-D collaborative engineering. It was dreamed up by bleeding-edge
computer graphics companies to let engineers and other employees log onto a Web site to
design and review a virtual 3-D product together.


Internet 3-D collaboration will not reach widespread use until after the millennium,
said consultant Bob Campbell, president of Technovations of Allen, Texas. It represents as
much a change in engineering culture as in technology, Campbell said, because project
managers would have to learn to oversee virtual teams of dispersed engineers.


Software makers to watch in this category include a Japanese company, Caelum Inc., at http://www.caelum.co.jp;  Parametric Technology
Corp. of Waltham, Mass., at http://www.ptc.com;  
CoCreate Software Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., at http://www.co-create.com
IBM Corp.’s Catia, at http://www.catia.ibm.com/catweb;
  Sense8 Corp. of Mill Valley, Calif., at http://www.sense8.com;
  Netpower Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., at http://www.netpower.com;
and Engineering Animation Inc. of Ames, Iowa, at http://www.eai.com.
 


Joe Dysart is an Internet business consultant in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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