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"World paper shortage hits publishing!"

Page 3

The Internet and the Web

Information can be transferred from the publisher / broadcaster to the consumer by two essentially different methods: fixed media such as CD and DVD disks, and online via telephone, cable or wireless transmission. Fixed media have to be distributed through the postal service or via retail outlets, which means that they are not suitable for rapidly changing information such as news services. On the other hand, they do provide a means of cheaply packaging large blocs of data such as films, videogames and reference works.

The delivery of information online is a complex and ever changing business. It has been in existence for well over a hundred years, with the telegraph, the telephone, wireless broadcast (radio, TV and satellite), and fibre-optic cable representing a broad chronological history. The development has been incremental, with each new mechanism for delivery supplementing rather than replacing its predecessors. As a result we have now a mixture of voice telephony, analogue audio-visual and digital services running on all the main services: wireless broadcasting, telephone lines (private and public), and cable TV networks.

The current focus in information delivery is the Internet and particularly its World-Wide-Web service. The Internet uses all the delivery services, although not all the delivery paths are suitable for all the digital services that the Internet facilitates. In particular, services involving real-time interaction (voice telephony, multi-player games) are not run generally on satellite or cable TV networks. The Internet is an infrastructure that allows computers to address each other and exchange messages in a consistent manner, without requiring a fixed network. At the start of 1999 there were about 42 million computers connected to the Internet.

Although the major service on the Internet is e-mail, at the moment the important service from the point of view of the entertainment and information industry and the service that is pushing the capabilities of the network in terms of bandwidth, is the Web. The Web is the Internet's main client-server application. The servers hold 'pages' of information that can be requested by any client computer. In addition to the original mix of text and graphics, pages can now carry embedded audio and video information, and can be used to access other Internet services (such as FTP that is used to download files from databases).

The extension of information to cover audio and video has led to a proliferation of Web radio and TV services. These services are as different to the ordinary web pages as TV is to a book. The principal difference in terms of a discussion of bandwidth, is that when a user sits in front of computer requesting and reading web pages, the computer and the connection to the Internet are idle except when the user asks for a new page; but when watching a TV programme or listening to a web radio broadcast the line is continually feeding information to the client.

Psychologically the user is more aware of the time spent waiting for traditional web pages than the time spent reading them. Except at times when a user is downloading a large file as part of a page, such as a picture or animation, individual users do not impact the network to any great extent. It is the large number of users that creates the load. With TV and radio, 'streaming media', the situation is quite different. If a user has a fast enough connection to receive full-screen TV at an adequate quality then they can easily consume as much network power as several hundred traditional users. (The term traditional may seem a little out of place as the web has only been in existence a few years. However, a lot of the planning for current web facilities is based on statistics of usage that are two to three years old and are not a reliable guide to current practice.)

At the same time there is another source of demand that is set to grow rapidly, namely interactive services. These are mainly entertainment and person-to-person interaction. Online games are a growing business with companies like Sony and Sega providing Internet connection as part of their game consoles and encouraging a move to large-scale multi-player games. [1] Chat environments where groups of people simply talk to each other are another growing application. This growth in interactive entertainment is also pushing existing web sites to add interactivity through the animation of advertising and educational material. [2]

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[1] http://www.station.sony.com/ shows the number of players online in Sony interactive games such as Everquest.

[2] Examples of educational material using Shockwave and QTVR can be found at http://fraser.cc/WebVis/

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