Confused? You could be. The Internet world is suddenly awash with jargon, gibberish and marketing claptrap. Forget the campaign against pornography - let's start a campaign against the Internet lexicon becoming an excuse to Netrificate everything. What am I on about? Never mind intranet, we now have 'extranet', 'infonet' and 'transactive content', and the people who put it all together call themselves 'interactive architects'. Some smart Alec, predicting the inevitable crash of the overheated wired world, has already come up with the term 'implonet'. Give it a name, as they say.
Plodding around the Internet World Show in New York in December gave me an opportunity to put some of this new lingo into action. But it proved uneccessary when, due to overbooking, I found myself staying in Chinatown for the night. 'Our hotel velly velly nice. Networkey computery in evelly woom.' Those nice people at Webmedia had offered me a place in their 'apartment' on the Lower East Side, which I declined. It turned out to be a wise decision because the occupants were without electricity for 24 hours. Was it a power cut due to too much online activity at the exhibition hall? No, the owners of the abode, London's Cyberia mob, had forgotten to pay the bill. Ooops.
The Web may be a time-shift experience, or whatever Trekkies say when they don't mean here and now, but attending press parties is definitely realtime. If there are two happening at the same time in different parts of Manhattan, there are very few Web sites that can help you get to both locations at once. Windows is not yet a social thing. So, not being able to make the Big Rave Party organised by the up-and-coming BackWeb ('personalised information in a flash') was a dissappointment. Until, that was, I overheard two US journalists the morning after the rave before:
'What was it like then, Gus?'
'Pretty weird. Lots of rave music, lots of wild colours and lots of guys in suits. Pretty depressing, really.'
But at least they tried.
Which is what a lot of corporates seem to be doing, unaware that being cool is about not trying. In his keynote speech, IBM big boss Lou Gerstner took the easy way out. IBM had commissioned a grainy, scratchy video all about its Java development team. Lou wears a suit but his Java team wear jeans (mostly) and T-shirts and have the odd earring. In the MTV-style video, a Java coffee-cup moved around the room as if by telekinesis while they effused about how exciting their work was. Weird, yes - cool, I'm not too sure. But this is the Internet, schminternet. It's a 'have fun, write code, make money' kind of atmosphere (to quote shamelessly from Wired magazine).
There's surfs and serfs
But who really makes the money these days? Not all Microsoft employees according to Microserfs, the recent novel from Douglas Coupland, he who defined Generation X. It's an Internet World must-read thanks to its definitive description of the nerd mindset. Coupland describes a world where his characters (Microsofties) compare 'share cap', work bizarre hours, dream about shipping on time but rarely do, and get withdrawal symptoms when they leave the company. The characters in question leave to work on a startup call Ooops! but still send Bill a birthday present, even though they don't work for him anymore and have never even met him. And the employees in question don't get rich because all bar one leave before they get 'vested'.
Microsoft employees may fret over their portfolios but with unlimited access to in-house products like MSN, they avoid the kind of problems besetting users in the former socialist Russia. While the likes of Net guru Negreponte wax lyrical about the ability of digital technology to break down barriers and spread global democracy, the real world looks somewhat different in the former Soviet bastion. The country has become the first ever to be locked out en masse by an online service provider. Some Russian AOL users, it seems, were using the service to buy products with stolen credit cards. AOL's response? To cut off all of the country's 2,000 users. The digital cold war is alive and well.
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