Sat, 09 Dec 2000

Uneasiness about the Internet

When, in the 1960s, the Chinese prime minister Chou En-lai was asked whether, on the whole, he thought the French Revolution was a success, he replied that it was still too early to say. We would be well advised to bear this famous piece of wisdom in mind as we try to assess the success of today's Internet revolution.

The hype that surrounded the launches of exotically named companies and the valuations given to them by a feverish stock market was often just that -- hype.

Similarly, we now find that the bankruptcy of such economic ephemera as and the collapse in many hi-tech share prices is taken to mean that the Internet may not, after all, have the impact we might once have thought. The doomsayers, we suspect, may be overstating their case as badly as the enthusiasts were a few months ago.

For one thing, it is only to be expected, after the initial excitement, during which phase the neophyte will spend hours discovering the best -- and the depressing worst -- that the Web has to offer, that usage will gradually become much more focused.

It is becoming clear that we prefer to buy our homes and to shop for, say, clothes, shoes and furniture in the traditional way; but we also increasingly like to purchase our books, shares, music and software online.

And, most outstandingly, when it comes to information -- potentially as valuable a commodity as any -- the Internet has no peers.

If some Internet companies have recently gone bust, and some share prices have gone through the floor, then we should be undismayed. It is a natural phenomenon in such a dynamic industry in its infancy.

-- The Independent, London