The Real Meaning of the Web
May 1998

Everyone's on the Internet bandwagon -- the Vice President, IBM, Microsoft, and hundreds of millions of people, businesses, and schools. The Web has become a veritable Black Hole that sucks everybody in and yet somehow never runs out of capacity. Its usefulness stems not so much from what it is or does, as from the *way* it does these things: cheaply, openly, universally. We have with the Internet a global "dial tone" for data, the way the phone system has become a global "dial tone" for voice.

What this means to the OS/2 community is that, like the old saying goes, "a large enough change in quantity eventually produces a change in quality." In practice this means that an OS/2 community can spring up in the virtual world where none could exist in the geographical realm. While any one physical location on the planet may lack the minimum "critical mass" needed for a successful and self-sustaining OS/2 community, the Net has enabled this kind of gathering to succeed. Entire communities for various diseases, sports teams, rock bands, and other narrow pursuits can exist on the Web, because the Web takes the bits & pieces of people scattered everywhere and brings them together to form that critical mass.

This is one reason why OS/2, Linux, and other non-mainstream products have a bright future. Instead of relying on the rigidly-controlled chain-store distribution model, which by necessity panders to the broadest, lowest-common-denominator products, the Net allows niches to blossom. This is a good thing.

This also means that one of the main efforts that OS/2 supporters should focus on is getting their OS/2 newbies and clients up to speed on the Web and the OS/2 online community as quickly as possible. The Web's near-zero per-access cost means that online help (like the POSSI discussion list), real-time chat (#os/2 and the like), and other forms of mutual support are a realistic alternative to the standard $35-per-incident fee-based support that the big companies have established.

The Net basically means that the prosperity and the livelihood of a virtual community is based far more on the level of interest and enthusiasm of its supporters than on any financial or monopoly-driven agenda. That means that neither IBM nor Microsoft nor even the government can control what we say and do over the Internet -- provided it maintains its current low-cost structure and freedoms of speech and "virtual assembly." The intensity of the OS/2 community's interest is the perfect match for the freedom and the openness of the Web.

Most recent revision: May 10, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.