Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 1/ January 1, 1995 / Page 9

The View From Singapore: Re-Imagining the Wild, Wild Web

by Thomas I. M. Ho (

If 1994 has been the year of the WorldWideWeb, 1995 will be the year of the World WILD Web. Let me tell you why.

For the last year and a half, I've been living and working in Singapore. For those of you who haven't seen my personal home page, I'm an American and by the time that you read this, I will have returned to the States. Although I've been on the other side of the world, I've had absolutely no anxiety about being so far from home which is also "where the action is" on the Ameri-centric Internet. The Web has been the primary reason.

The Web: A Home Away From Home

With the Web, I've been able to keep up with what's going on in my primary areas of interest: electronic commerce and national information infrastructure. Furthermore, I've been able to avoid being "out-of-sight/out-of-mind" by maintaining a personal home page on the Web. These efforts have led to many satisfying professional and personal experiences including the invitation to write this essay as well as occasional offers of commercial sponsorship and funding for my effort; it's even allowed me to announce my wedding on the Web. A day never passes where the Web isn't pervasive in my personal and professional activities. Like many others, I'm "bullish" on the Internet and the Web is the primary reason why.

I'm especially intrigued about the commercial potential of the Internet. I am convinced that electronic commerce will become commonplace on the Internet and that the Web will be the primary motivator. It's still unclear whether electronic storefronts will survive just as we've seen traditional retailing go through significant changes, especially during the last decade. However, it's clear that corporate presence on the Web is here to stay. It's an excellent way especially for high-technology companies to reach out to key customers (consider Internet user demographics) and to get feedback from these customers. Notable examples include Digital and Hewlett-Packard.

The Future Web: Home of 500-pound Gorillas and Cottage Industries?

Nevertheless, the picture isn't completely rosy. I'm not sure that I would want to be a commercial Web server operator because I'm afraid that they're in for a tough time if they're expecting to get rich quick. As in any other emerging industry, there will be a shakeout and only the strongest players like Internet Shopping Network will survive in the long run. Furthermore, look out for some of those proverbial "500-pound gorillas" like IBM to be getting into this growing market. Still, if you're not greedy, you could probably make a decent living in this emerging cottage industry. Remember, on the Internet, you can operate a Web server in the corner of your bedroom and look as big as a Fortune 500 company.

After all, some of the most exciting ideas are coming from the "little guys," many of whom are probably not even making money at what they're doing. I hope that many of these emerging services are eventually commercialized so that they can be sustained; I can tell you from personal experience, maintaining Web pages is a full-time job.

Of course, there's a fortune to be made because an entire industry is being born in much the same way as the personal computer spawned an entire industry. Remember what IBM did for the personal computer? Well, similarly, IBM's commitment to the Internet is something to behold! I missed out on Microsoft's initial public offering (IPO) but I don't intend to pass up Netscape Communications' IPO. There are many other opportunities, including directory services (have you ever been frustrated trying to re-discover a site you forgot to include in your hotlist? Or had your hotlist, like mine, get entirely too long to do you any good?) or of course, writing and consulting.

The NII: All Flash, No Substance?

On the subject of national information infrastructure, I'm not as bullish. It's been frustrating to see all the activity on the US NII while I've been on the other side of the world; nevertheless, I don't feel that I've fallen too far behind because again the Web has been my primary means of finding out what's going on. I just don't know if the substance measures up to all the flash that I see on the Web. IT2000, Singapore's NII, looks (on the Web) almost as big as the US NII, but of course, that isn't true. Herein lies an important lesson that I've already alluded to in the above "corner of the bedroom" analogy: the Web offers unimaginable leverage and opportunity.

Now it's time to go pack to go home to the States to see for myself if all of this looks as good from close-up as it does from the other side of the world. ¤

Thomas Ho has moved back to the States, where he is currently serving as Chair of the Department of Computer Technology at the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis. He spent the past year as Senior Fellow at the Department of Information Systems & Computer Science, National University of Singapore.

Copyright © 1994 by Thomas I.M. Ho. All Rights Reserved.

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