Social Web

Business Weekhas a special report on the Net that we can’t live without.

Call it the Social Web. Through the dot-com bubble and bust, one trend has never wavered. Every year, millions more people around the world are using the Internet to interact in more ways than ever before — to date, find old classmates, check on medical ailments and cures, to read and express alternative views of the news, and even to get live sales help online. It’s happening at work as well: Want to check your 401(k), pay stub, or file an expense account? Increasingly, that’s all on the Web.

And these new trends complement some long-standing ones: Some 53 million Americans — one in six — now visit a chat room every month, according to market researcher Nielsen/Net Ratings, up from one in 10 in 2001, according to tech consultancy Forrester Research. E-mail is now the most popular online activity for 93% of some 4,431 Web regulars surveyed by Net consultancy Jupiter Research last September. Moreover, entrepreneurs are once again investing in ideas aimed at improving online communication.

Over the past two years, “there has been a significant shift from e-commerce to rediscovering e-communications,” says David Silver, director of the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. For subscribers seeking love on dating sites such as Yahoo! Personals, video and voice greetings can now be posted. And in the future, “the distinction between talking on the phone and watching movies and playing games will become blurred,” predicts Nolan Bushnell, the gaming guru who in 1972 founded Atari, which made the first commercial video-arcade game, Pong. Bushnell, who’s considered the father of computer entertainment, believes that eventually all types of media will combine to create a completely new communication experience via the Web. That will change everything from online shopping to dating to teleconferencing.

The Social Web’s ultimate impact is that “a whole generation is growing up without knowing what it’s like to live without [the Internet],” says Geoff Raslton, senior vice-president for network services at portal Yahoo!

One of the articles deals with weblogs, what BW calls “open-source media.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.