The Net Is Dead. Long Live the Net.

Zapping corporate purchases in a virtual maze? Forrester says it's coming

Cambridge, MA  May 18, 2001  For those of us with a permanent Web I.V. plugged into our office PCs, who suffer heart palpitations without our daily dose of, and who leave our computers running all day while we're at work rather than deal with that seemingly interminable boot-up wait when we get home, even a whisper of the Internet's demise is enough to cause a frantic grab for the nitroglycerin pills. So Forrester Research's claim that the death of the Internet isn't just probable but inevitable would seem to be capable of causing a War of the Worlds-level panic.

But take heart, Online Nation. It's not as bad as it sounds. Forrester indeed believes the Internet is dying, but only so that it can reappear in a newer, better and more fun form. According to Forrester, the Web's days are numbered as the Internet moves to a second round of expansion beyond the browser. Two new waves of innovation, which Forrester defines as the X Internet, will eclipse the Web: an executable Net that greatly improves the online experience, and an extended Net that connects the real world.

"The problem with today's Internet is that it's dumb, boring and isolated," said George Colony, CEO and chairman of Forrester. "News, sports, and weather [and buying information, for the purchasers among us] imparted on static Web pages offer essentially the same content presented on paper, which makes the online experience more like reading in a dusty library than participating in a new medium. Now that the novelty has faded, business executives and consumers are going back to reading newspapers and watching TV. Ultimately, the Net hasn't truly become a part of our real worlds."

The first stage in the X Internet is an executable Net. Users will get real-time, interactive experiences over the Net through disposable code  programs you use once and throw away  downloaded to their PCs and handheld devices. These quick downloads will allow users to carry on extended conversations with Net services, a stark contrast to today's transactional Web services.

"Today, users are trapped in Web-only thinking," said Carl Howe, research director and principal analyst at Forrester. "It's a little like the early days of television when programming was just radio with pictures of announcers. But executable applications will give users tools to experience the Net in more entertaining and engaging ways. For example, imagine a corporate buyer navigating a virtual marketplace with a Doom-like user interface  buyers could simply shoot the deals they want. That's a far cry from today's Web." And something that's liable to make purchasers look at Monday mornings with a little less dread.

The executable Internet is just half the story. Forrester also sees an extended Internet emerging through Internet devices and applications that sense, analyze and control the real world. With cheap chips and a worldwide Internet backbone, nearly every device that runs on electricity will have an Internet connection, through both wired and wireless networks. The result: The number of Internet devices will boom from today's 100 million to more than 14 billion in 2010.

"The extended Internet will reshape technology's role in business," added Howe. "Most firms struggle to understand and act upon what is happening in their business now  they're lucky if they know what happened last week or last month. Extended Internet devices will provide real-time information about what is going on and provide knobs and levers for companies to control their businesses. A data center business in California might combine real-time data from both the power company and customers to reduce the power consumption of their air conditioners when power demand peaks  all through extended Internet devices."

So breathe easy, fellow information junkies. The future's so bright we've got to wear shades. And we'd like a flat-screen monitor, too.