Lecture given at an NiAA Workshop, November 1995. (I have not, since I gave this lecture, attempted to keep the many links in the text up to date as the pages pointed to have moved or disappeared.)
The World Wide Web, or WWW as it is often called, originated at CERN and was publicly announced in 1992, but really took off in 1993 when graphical interface software (the Mosaic Web "browser") was developed by NCSA at the University of Illinois, and made available as freeware for UNIX, PCs and Apple Macintosh computers. The main growth was at first in the United States, but in the UK over the last year there has also been a dramatic growth: Growth of Web Browsing.
"Some 24 million people in the U.S. and Canada alone are already on the Internet -- fully 11% of the North American population over age 16, according to the new [October 1995] survey by Dun & Bradstreet Corp.'s Nielsen Media Research unit. An impressive 17.6 million people use the World Wide Web . . . The study also found that the World Wide Web is already a thriving market for business applications. Roughly 2.5 million people have purchased products or services over the Web."
From my department at the University of Newcastle we find a very convenient "Active Map" of the UK & Ireland, which we can use to find information about this city: Newcastle upon Tyne, or any of the other places marked, such as London. And in fact a huge amount of information has been gathered together to allow one to be a "virtual tourist", able to go almost anywhere in the World.
We can even "visit" a museum that doesn't actually exist - such as the WebMuseum, where one of the current exhibitions is on Gauguin.
There are now several hundred newspapers and journals being published on the Web, such as The Electronic Telegraph and a version of the The Economist, or in France of the journal Libération.
Also very actively exploring this new medium is The BBC, for example using it for distributing news items such as: Newsflash, where one of the main stories is, unfortunately, still The War in Bosnia.
And many thousands of individuals (by no means all self-publicising American graduate students!) are using the Web to become independent publishers - in some cases simply by performing the valuable service of bringing together links to lots of useful information on a particular subject, e.g. this one on France and all things French.
The Web is immense, chaotic and ever-changing - but some powerful and simple ways are being developed of trying to locate information in it. For example, one of several so-called "search engines" is Infoseek, which is in Santa Clara County, California. This provides a simple method of searching essentially the entire Web.
Here is the result of searching for documents on the Web which contain the words "Telematics", "North" and "England" - 17 were found. Each of these could now be readily fetched and inspected. And it was one of these that led to me a very useful listing of local government Web sites that I had not come across before.
At present the main commercial use of the Web is for what might best be described as advertising, but its use for actual commercial transactions is growing rapidly - and will grow even more as improved means of ensuring confidentiality and integrity are developed.
The (American) Internet Shopping Mall is a huge virtual shopping centre. Possibly the first virtual shopping mall in Britain is called Barclay Square. Among the shops here are Sainsbury's Wine Direct and Toys 'R' Us.
As just one example of the many individual shops on the Internet, there is The Internet Book Shop, with its huge "stock": Searching the Internet Book Shop.
But you can already do more than look at advertisements, and order products, via the Internet. One example must suffice - the company Federal Express provides a facility for its customers to track the packages they have entrusted to the company for delivery.
One of the more interesting of the many computer-related businesses on the web is JHC plc, because of the variety of Web-based services they are providing.
The most advanced is Quay Information's North East OnLine, which hosts Web pages for such organizations as: Northern Development Company, and Horton Grange Country House Hotel as well as for NiAA.
North East Online also has a page of links to North East Businesses on Line, which provides a convenient way of reaching such organizations as Northern Electric, North West Water, Quality Software Products, MARI, and Prism Technologies.
Two other local online information serices are North Of England Business "On-Line", which hosts Jobs North-East Online, and On-Tyne.
In Middlesborough there is the Onyx Service provided by Octacon, one of whose customers isa bakers shop Elizabeth Botham & Co.
Local government here in the North is starting to have a presence on the Web. For example, the Technology Applications Group provide information on behalf of Newcastle City Council and North Tyneside Council, while Tynedale District Council have some information pages for Roman Wall tourists.
We can expect to see the use of the Web increase here in the North of England, in line with everywhere else. But much needs to be done if the North is to take full and timely advantage of the Web - and NiAA could play a major role in promoting and coordinating such activities.
Almost finally, for the record here is NiAA's home page on the Web.
Remember that even just a couple of years ago the Web barely existed. So the thought of what things might be possible in another couple of years, leave alone by the end of the century, is literally mind-boggling. Not for nothing did The Economist, hardly the most sensationalist of magazines, recently describe the advent of the Internet as being as important as the advent of printing.