Information Access

from Internet Business

The distributed nature of the Internet and the World Wide Web effectively precludes any concept of centralised indexing of their contents and turns the task of finding useful information into a major commercial opportunity. At one end of the spectrum, it is the norm for individual users' home pages to each include their own idiosyncratic collection of pointers to other Web pages and Internet resources which those individuals find most interesting. At the other end are a few widely known Information Access services which attempt by various means to find what the user is looking for, generally by employing some kind of 'key word matching'. However the diversity and growth of that content mean that no such service can scale up indefinitely, ensuring a genuine need for the development of specialised services serving manageable sub-domains.

Not all Net navigation aids take the form of indexes[1] or text matching 'search engines'. There is widespread belief that software 'agents' will play an important role in finding information on the Net in accordance with each user's personal interests. Agents which check Net-based retailers to find the lowest price for a given item have already been demonstrated, as has software to block those same agents.

In fact the blocking of access to 'controversial' or otherwise inappropriate information has also become a significant activity, with a rash of new products aimed at supporting parents and educators in their efforts to use the Net for their own purposes without throwing all its diversity open to impressionable or easily distracted minds. Amongst the suggested mechanisms to support such needs are the rating[2] of content by its author/publisher and 'seals of approval' provided by independent rating agencies.

It is expected that users will on average be prepared to pay more to efficiently find content of interest than they will pay for the content itself. Popular Information Access services also have an opportunity to take paid advertising. These opportunities in many ways parallel those in traditional media and a similar mix of librarianship, sub-editing and creative design will be increasingly important to the success of such ventures. The costs of entry may be similar to those for other Host Services or other forms of Content Production and Publishing, depending on the model used for information access. For search engines and agents, they may also involve the cost of developing component software.[3] However, in every case, the return from well designed Information Access services is expected to be more reliable than from other kinds of content or software development.

[1] often in the form of hypertext

[2] probably voluntary

[3] see Equipment and Software