Consumers Claim the Net

LOS ANGELES (04/07/2000) - Consumers are claiming the Internet, demanding rich media content and access to it from anywhere, from the looks of activity at this week's Internet World conference here.

America Online Inc., the king of consumer Internet activity, is in the middle of it all. Yet another example of its consumer-oriented focus is the introduction of a line of Instant AOL Net appliances from Gateway 2000 Inc.

AOL, of course, also introduced the updated Netscape 6 browser.

"The new [Internet] revolution is about consumers and about convergence," says Steve Case, AOL's chair. The Internet has changed from a hobbyists' haven with little commercial content to a burgeoning online marketplace, he notes. And vendors are trying to make it even easier for you to spend money online.

The Internet is also heading to your wireless phone. At the conference, handset makers like Ericsson showcased upcoming wireless application protocol phones that will put the Web in your hand. Everypath, an application service provider, announced technologies to make it easy for Web sites to appear on WAP phones and handhelds.

Your Traveling Identity

As our addiction to the Internet drives the Web onto devices that are off the desktop, we need to juggle our means of access. To help you keep track of all your user names and passwords, new services such as eCode.com offer a digital identity that goes with you.

A free service, eCode.com will complete any Web-based form with one click, says Rohit Chandra, the company's president and chief executive officer. The service also provides a wireless wallet so you can quickly buy things over your WAP phone, he says.

This week eCode.com launched iBar, a personal portal tool. Like the Netscape 6 sidebar, iBar keeps useful links and personal information at hand as you browse. A toolbar that sits at the bottom of your browser window, iBar can automatically enter your information in Web sites. You can tailor its links to search engines and sites.

We're All Online Together

Internet communities are a place where vendors promote their electronic marketplace, and where consumers find like-minded Netizens. Increasingly, sites and portals speak to a Web where we can do more, store more, and share a lot.

At the new eHobbies.com, you can discuss and purchase the newest and greatest electric train. And at Apple's iTools site, Mac OS9 users can find Macintosh-specific sites as well as store and share 20MB of data in iDisk.

"You can store documents, movies, pictures, and sites," says Robert Kondrick, senior manager, Apple Internet services. Whatever you put in your public folder is accessible to other iDisk users.

And if you don't have a Mac, sites like Driveway.com also offer free storage for your documents and photos. But the Internet is becoming more than just server space. Q Research and Picture IQ both launched online photo enhancement tools that you don't have to download to use.

Some online communities are controversial, such as Napster, a service that lets you share MP3 files and makes the recording industry uneasy about potential lost royalties. Internet World nonetheless named Napster the most innovative technology for a startup.

Greasing the Internet Engine

Some Internet World activity focused on the behind-the-scenes services that bolster consumer sites. Proactive.net unveiled services to help sites get commerce functions up and running more easily. Other Net entrepreneurs are focusing on ways to keep you coming back; Internet World has a whole subconference dedicated to electronic customer service.

Convergence plus consumers equals entertainment. On the Web, that means digital multimedia. At AtomFilms.com you can watch and discuss short films, and ClassicMovies.com streams previews of movies you can buy.

Apple released QuickTime 4.1.1, an update to its streaming media player that promises better playback thanks to improved packet loss management. Also announced were ten QuickTime TV channels, including a Sony music video channel.

Beyond content, DataPlay announced new miniature optical media, the DataPlay disc, which could put prerecorded books and music in all kinds of devices. With the DataPlay ContentKey, you can activate over the Internet prerecorded files on a DataPlay disc without needing to download. You don't even need a hard drive to take advantage of many of these Web-based applications.

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