Here are nine factors that will change the way you use the Net

Shawn P. McCarthy

Nine up-and-coming technologies are going to have a big impact on the way the government uses the Web, as well as on how people access government information from it.

XML: The Extensible Markup Language will likely be the successor to the Hypertext Markup Language. Think of XML as a data format, not a document format. It locates types of data embedded in documents, and it generates or updates documents from information residing in databases.

XML can treat anything as a data field. It makes programmers redefine the concept of a field, a record and even a database. The government urgently needs to develop its own XML tag set so it can label and share data across agencies.

Online supply chain management: Intermediaries that add value to procurement operations are becoming market makers by uniting buyers and sellers. One of their most useful offerings is customizable look-ahead supply chain information. Online communities can help manufacturers track prices and availability for thousands of parts.

If you were an auto manufacturer buying steel, wouldn't you like to know when the price of iron ore goes up so that you can automatically purchase before the price increase trickles down? Think of all the possible applications for the things the government buys.

Application rental and server-side administration: If you rent your applications, the vendor will maintain and customize them for you. Cut your staff costs, leave your applications on the server and access everything through thin clients'dump PCs with local hard drives. Put only three things on desktops: a monitor, a keyboard and lots of RAM. Rent storage on the Web, if you need it, for access from anywhere.

Universal service with smart cards: You will no longer have to buy a notebook computer or try to master a PC at home that's different from the one at work. A thin client with a smart card slot works anywhere. A smart card can hold your government ID, your driver's license and your digital certificates. Teachers won't have to maintain PCs in their classrooms or worry about Net connections. They can teach using multimedia as their textbooks.

Distributed computing: The SETI@Home effort [GCN, June 28, 1999, Page 46] was on to something when it developed the world's slowest supercomputer.

The offshoot of the search for extraterrestrial life, at, puts the idle processing time of thousands of PCs to work by substituting a background task for a standard screen saver. Volunteers can set their PCs to download data from SETI and munch on it whenever idle.

At least one company, Distributed Computing Technologies Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., at, will copy the idea by farming out tasks to volunteers who donate computer time. Think of the idle processor time available on government desks and what it could do for agencies.

Multicasting and distributed caching: Both have been around a while and are slowly catching on. Now Internet providers have enough regional servers available to make multicasting a reality for video, software updates and network upgrades. Also, more service providers and Net portals rely on companies such as Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to cache pages and images on their regional servers. This speeds delivery and takes pressure off central servers.

Miniaturized access devices: I don't know about you, but I want video glasses instead of a monitor. Visit I want a video screen in my phone'visit'and a small keyboard and a bigger viewing area on my two-way pager. Though expensive, all of them are available today.

Immersion technologies: A rumble pack attached to your new Sony PlayStation 2 is just the beginning. Imagine being able to feel a Web object as you view it. The Phantom interface from SensAble Technologies Inc. of Woburn, Mass., at, has been around for a few years.

Falling prices and better bandwidth will make such interfaces more accessible to, say, computer-aided design engineers who itch to hold that just-drawn machine part in their hands.

Content control: Raw filtering is a losing battle because pornographic sites can get around it. Controlled access is the wave of the future.

Some Internet providers have set up access numbers specifically for children's use. The numbers route traffic though a proxy server or filter at the packet level to restrict access to blacklisted uniform resource locators. Government offices can take the same approach to prevent inappropriate surfing at work.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.