Angles Of View
Patrick Pluto is Systems Operations Manager for the International Communications Industry Association in Fairfax, VA. Among his principle responsibilities at ICIA is the development and advancement of its industry’s presence on the Internet. Graduated with a degree in Applied Computer Science from Plymouth State College in New Hampshire, Mr. Pluto has created HomePages for numerous ICIA members and is the author of the association’s website http://www.icia.org He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and is interviewed here on the subject of
Industry on the Internet - Caught in the Web?Da-Lite: Let’s start with an easy question. What is the Internet, anyway?
Pluto: About twenty-five years ago the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) determined that it would fund the creation of a network of computer networks that would link strategically important scientific and governmental sites together. Each of these sites was called a "node" and, by the early 70's, there were about 37 of them.
What made this network of networks remarkable was that it was designed specifically to survive interruption. DARPA was originally interested in ensuring that this "Internet" would go on running smoothly even if one or more of its nodes was knocked out (presumably by nuclear attack).
Da-Lite: How was that accomplished?
Pluto: The programming concept had to do with breaking up every message to be sent on the Internet into many small "packets" of information. Each packet has its destination address included within it as well as a code appropriate for reassembling it back into the original, larger message when it reaches that destination. The route by which each packet traveled, however, was neither pre-specified nor necessarily identical with the path taken by any other packet. Any path traveled by data moving across the Internet was as good as any other and there were no preferred connections. Thus if one of the nodes on the network crashed, the traffic on it was automatically re-routed through other nodes. This process is called "dynamic routing" and is actually operating all the time.
Da-Lite: Could you give an example?
Pluto: Sure. Suppose you’re in Washington, D.C. and you want to send an e-mail to someone in San Francisco, California. When you press "Send" your message is broken up into packets and it is as likely that some of the packets will pass through Warsaw, Indiana as it is that others may pass through a computer in Warsaw, Poland. When all of the packets are received in San Francisco, your message will be reassembled back into its original form and its recipient will be able to read it.
Da-Lite: The Internet, then, has become a worldwide network?
Pluto: The Internet certainly exists on all seven continents and is growing at a nearly unbelievable rate. I’ve read that today there are at least 5,000 networks attached to the Internet which have something like 35 million users. That number, incidentally, is supposed to increase by half by the end of this calendar year.
Da-Lite: Is DARPA still involved?
Pluto: Oh no. DARPA disassociated itself with the net back in 1984. By 1989 the first public commercial Internets were created. And by 1995 the National Science Foundation, which had played an interim central role, also ceased to be involved and the Internet became essentially independent of governments. A good place to learn more about all this, incidentally, is on the Internet Society’s HomePage: <http://www.isoc.org>.
Da-Lite: Are you able to decode that address?
Pluto: Sure. The "http" stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. The "www" stands for World Wide Web. The colon, slashes, and periods are separators; and "isoc" is an acronym for Internet Society. The closing suffix, "org," stands, of course, for organization.
The suffixes are important and worth remembering. In addition to .org there’s .edu for educational institutions (harvard.edu, for example), .gov for governmental addresses (irs.ustreas.gov), .mil for military (navy.mil), .net for network resources (usa.net), and .com for commercial organization. Your company’s address, for instance, is da-lite.com.
Da-Lite: Why does everything seem to get written in lower case?
Pluto: The most common operating system shared by computers on the Internet is Unix and the language of Unix is case-sensitive. So FILE, file, and File are three different words in Unix.
Da-Lite: What about this HyperText business?
Pluto: When you go to the ICIA HomePage you’ll see that various sections of the opening screen contain strings of text that are underlined. On your HomePage there are areas like buttons which turn your mouse pointer from an arrow into a hand. Any of these signals signify a HyperText or HyperMedia link. When you click on one, your screen changes to a new display which itself can certainly contain yet additional links. Often the links stay within the domain of the particular HomePage; but they don’t have to. It’s routine for a link in one HomePage to lead directly to a completely different HomePage. That’s what HyperText means.
The World Wide Web was developed specifically to take advantage of the HyperText concept. In a sense, you use the “web” as a navigation device with which to explore the Internet. Remember, there are something like 35 million addresses you could conceivably go to, so you need some guidance in the connections between one address and another.
Da-Lite: As the trade organization for the audio visual industry, what is ICIA doing to exploit the Internet?
Pluto: Our primary goal is to get our membership on line in some form or another so that they may promote their goods and services in a way that will gain them greater exposure, electronically, to a world wide audience.
Our members need to look at the growth potential of the Internet, to look at its population explosion and at the commerce that’s coming to be on it. To help them with that we have established our own presence on the net.
We started off with Who We Are, What We do, and our publications. We are now offering on-line trade show registration and we’re now selling our publications through financially secure pages. A current project is to put our membership directory on-line. But that directory will be exclusively for our membership; these will be password-protected pages.
Da-Lite: Has your membership generally been receptive to these efforts?
Pluto: We’ve had such a fantastic response to all of this that we decided to offer our services to establish a presence on the Internet for our membership. This meant that when we created a HomePage for the ABC company it went up onto the World Wide Web right along side of and was just as accessable as, say, Microsoft Corporation, or the White House, or Purdue University. And they could accomplish this presence for less money than the cost of a full page ad in a local newspaper that might only run for a week.
On top of all that, the HomePage isn’t static like a newspaper. Through multi-media a HomePage, literally, can sing and dance.
Da-Lite: And ICIA will create a HomePage for any of its members?
Pluto: Absolutely. I’ve put entire product catalogs on the web for some of our manufacturers and wholesalers and I’ve made smaller, less elaborate pages for some of our dealer members.
Da-Lite: How much does it cost to create a HomePage?
Pluto: We charge $99 for the initial setup and for up to 25 pages nested within your HomePage the fee is $225 per year. It costs an additional $25 per month to maintain the page but that includes unlimited updates.
Da-Lite: So any ICIA member company can have its own HomePage professionally created and maintained for less than $650?
Pluto: That’s correct. Many people would argue that publishing and distributing information on the World Wide Web is the next era of marketing and promotion. And it is.
You’re taking your traditional printed media (whether they be newsletters, press releases, or promotional materials) and putting them on-line where they can be accessed in a much more timely fashion and where they can be updated on the fly. Your data can be accessed by people who might not be on your mailing list. And so on.
Whether you’re a huge manufacturer or just a little mom-and-pop dealer, if you put your information on the web the playing field is absolutely level. Because John Doe customer in Singapore can access your information just as easily as he can access General Motors.
Da-Lite: You chose to say Singapore because, on the Internet, that’s no more remote from Virginia (where you are) than is Brazil or Austria?
Pluto: Yes. The Internet is a global phenomenon. It has no headquarters and any address is the complete equal of any other. It may be the single most democratic entity ever created.
Da-Lite: What are its drawbacks?
Pluto: Well, with more than 35 million addresses, there’s a lot of junk and foolishness out there. You understand, since anybody can put up anything, some people, somewhere, will put up just that, anything. So you can come across stuff that’s vulgar, stuff that’s stupid, and stuff that’s downright offensive. But once you learn how to browse you can find literally endless quantities of fascinating information on literally any subject you can imagine.
Da-Lite: Are there technical improvements that need to be made?
Pluto: Yes. Accessing and downloading need to be faster. Sometimes there’s so much traffic at a particular site that response times get sluggish. But faster modems are helping and developments like Integrated Services Data Network (ISDN) telephone lines will enable much, much speedier transmissions.
Da-Lite: So what do you see in the future for the Internet?
Pluto: When you work on-line all day long as I do, when you’re getting e-mail all day long, it’s interesting to see, as time passes, that the skepticism about the Internet is slowly dissipating. Reluctance to engage in commercial transactions via the net is going away.
E-mail is so popular because it deserves to be. The ability to send a message to anybody in the world who has a computer and a modem and have that message be delivered at no cost within minutes of real time is really quite miraculous.
So I think all of the stuff we’re seeing now are just stepping stones to the future. I think the Internet really will become the information super highway with all of the communications technologies we’re separately familiar with today - newspapers, magazines, television, telephone, fax, etc. - seamlessly integrated into it.
Da-Lite: That suggests a whole new platform for communication. Will all businesses eventually have a website?
Pluto: I think so. Not taking advantage of the Web is a little bit like being a tightrope walker: you can get on-line alright, but it really is much safer to use the Net.