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Building a faster, richer Net

Speakers at Seybold Seminars describe creative ways to improve Web publishing and turn the Net into a full-fledged medium.

SAN FRANCISCO--Turning the Internet into a full-fledged medium takes only two things: vastly improved technology and new, creative forms of content that have yet to be seen.

That is the conclusion of Avram Miller, vice president and director of business development at Intel, speaking this morning at Seybold Seminars here. The conference also highlighted new technologies, such as a browser with a curved field of vision introduced by Xerox chief scientist John Seely Brown.

Although Web publishing has rapidly evolved since 1995, most of the work that will be required to make the Internet into a medium that will rival TV or radio lays in the future, Miller said. Consumers can obtain information on the Net today, but mostly in static form and at a relatively slow pace. Video streaming, for example, is not a common phenomenon.

Similarly, publishers will evolve their business models to move from depending on advertising revenues to a situation where they obtain revenues from advertising and the sale of goods or services. "The user experience will be more transactional," he said.

As a first step, the underlying technological horsepower, especially in terms of bandwidth, will have to improve. Change in this area, however, is already under way. Roughly 10 percent of businesses and 3 percent of homes now can boast of high-speed Internet access, he said.

By 2002, about 35 percent of businesses will have high speed access and around 10 percent of homes will be connecting to the Net through digital subscriber lines, cable, or some other form of high-bandwidth connections.

"Not having high-speed links in the house is a real limiter in having a new medium," he said.

Processor and computing power will make a corresponding leap forward. By 2002, virtually all processors in use will run at 200 MHz and faster, while standard PCs bought at the time will contain chips running at 1 GHz to 500 MHz. Workstations required to develop content for this system will also get more powerful as well as progressively cheaper over the next five years.

Complementing these developments, video- and graphics-intensive Web sites and applications will emerge to take advantage of this hardware capability, Miller added. Unfortunately, these sites haven't been created yet, he added. Some sites, such as Quokka Sports, which immerse viewers in spots data and video, come close. The full parameters for an Internet medium, however, has yet to be invented. (Intel is an investor in Quokka Sports and CNET: the Computer Network.)

As a start, Brown showed off examples of two ideas percolating at Xerox Parc for improving the Net experience. One technology would allow publishers to seamlessly, and invisibly, insert footnotes into documents. Words in documents will be underlined. When a cursor is directed over a word, the text splits and a footnote explaining the underlined words appeared.

In other words, users don't have to click to a different page for the explanation. The technology is similar to other applications on the market today, but appeared to be less obtrusive.

Brown also showed off a "hyperbolic browser." With this technology, a page of text takes on the property of a hemisphere. All of the information is on the screen at one time, but different fields can be relegated to the periphery. With this technology, large indexes can be placed in their entirety on a single page but allow users to zero in on specific subsections.

Seybold continues tomorrow with a keynote from Apple Computer interim CEO Steve Jobs and Wednesday with a speech from Microsoft president Steve Ballmer.