In 2003, the internet had a rather dismal 15th birthday party, reeling from the 2001 bursting of the dotcom bubble. While everyone was still using it, no one really wanted to invest in new applications. In 2008, broadband is faster, websites are more functional and new technologies are making lives more interesting and business more efficient. Here's what will be happening online when the internet turns 25. 1 Move
As director of the Plumbing Doctor in Newcastle, New SouthWales, Joe Evers doesn't see often see his 10 tradesmen. Using Telstra's NextG phone network, he can check schedules, assign jobs, receive invoices and process payments without so much as lifting the phone. Part of a new generation of small businesses, the Plumbing Doctor uses wireless communications as a business differentiator to minimise costs and improve customer service. Once a quirky addition to business administration, wireless internet is underpinning the business models of small through to large enterprise.
Almost falling victim to its own success, listed firm Praemium struggled to keep up with demand for training on its investment portfolio administration tools when it launched in 2002. Chief executive Arthur Naoumidis says online training, conferences, and even sales pitches are integral to the company's capacity to expand globally. "In the old days, your clients were physically walking past your shopfront, whereas today they are electronically walking past your website from anywhere in the world," Naoumidis says. "You need to be prepared to deliver a complete service online or you'll lose their business."
As principal research scientist at the CSIRO, Dr Geoff James has spent the past few years developing smart-meter technology that will enable electricity retailers and householders to track and trade their electricity use. "The smart meters will tell you what your usage is by the half hour, how much it costs given demand across the whole grid, and what you are being paid for the solar panels on your roof," James says. "It will give us increasing options for the way power is bought, sold and generated, and the internet will be the means for the exchange of this information to occur."
For someone who is neither a surgeon nor a medical doctor, Josh Passenger spends plenty of time peering into the bowels of the CSIRO colonoscopy simulator. The goal is to create a training tool for medical students so they can practise some of the more challenging details of performing a colonoscopy while holding a stylus and peering into a virtual-reality box. With a number of Australian companies already developing training prototypes, haptic technology, which combines physical feedback with a graphical interface, will enable all manner of medical procedures to be taught and practised via the internet.
While the first generation of social networking sites caters to extroverts who are happy to share thoughts, details and photos with friends, associates and even complete strangers, the next generation of social networking is shaping up to provide a more intimate experience. Services such as Minti.com create focused communities and provide the opportunity to create and participate in closed communities, where photos and thoughts can be shared among select friends, family members or even project teams. Having started out life as collaboration sites designed as an internet communication tool for small, closed communities, social networking is simply returning to its origins.
For those who haven't discovered that laptops can play DVDs or that videos can be downloaded from YouTube, be prepared to do a lot more watching on a desktop computer. However, it's not just about movies. The chief executive of Viocorp, Ian Gardiner, is betting on internet-based video becoming a communication standard in the next five years. "It's an easier way for companies to get their message out to clients or partners, or for management to communicate with staff," Gardiner says. "It's easier to watch a video than it is to read an email."
Few people would store cash under a pillow, so why store data in a drawer? Over the next five years, the handful of USB drives shaking around in the bottom of briefcases will gradually disappear as files migrate onto handheld computer-phones or further afield onto a "cloud". Cloud computing is a fancy term for accessing desktop, data and software over the internet from any computer that is connected to the internet. While many corporations already store a second version of their data in remote data centres, these services will gradually expand to offer remote storage to smaller businesses and individuals.
Having appeared several times since the internet emerged as a commercial tool, internet-based software is becoming sufficiently mature and reliable enough to offer a viable alternative to office-based systems. Not only is it possible to access a range of software tools online rather than purchasing them outright, there are software suites offered exclusively over the internet - no discs, installation, compatibility or upgrades required. Although the idea irks many, companies that are adopting the software-as-a-service approach are cutting IT spending and reducing the downtime often associated with software maintenance.
Like the whirrs and beeps of a dial-up modem, the hum of a hard disk may become a distant memory as the data processing carried out on a desktop computer is sent through the internet to vast server farms. The promise of cloud computing is that the internet will provide access to data, applications and data processing, relegating the office - and eventually the home computer - redundant, to be replaced with a smaller, lighter and cheaper terminals. Rather than fork out $2000 every few years, users will be be billed monthly by email.
What do you get when you attach a microchip to a cow and link it through a wireless network to a series of chips placed across a big expanse of land? A fenceless farm that can be run over the internet. It sounds like science fiction but a senior research scientist at the CSIRO, Dr Tim Wark, has been creating just such a farm in Townsville, Queensland, since 2003. Using sensor networks to monitor soil moisture and pasture quality as well as virtual fencing, Wark believes the next five years will see remotely managed agriculture become a reality.
Fairfax Business Media
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