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March 10, 2009


Welcome to the internet

Today there are few aspects of modern life untouched by the internet, an interconnected set of computers and networks fused together by copper wires and cables. Today, when most people refer to "the internet", they mean the World Wide Web, an interrelated set of documents, files and data joined together by hyperlinks communicating in standard Internet Protocol (IP), though this definition is inaccurate. The confusion is understandable, as you don't necessarily have to know how the internet works to use it. The functions of everyday living are increasingly conducted on this vast, seemingly formless network, and using it today is seen as almost essential. Entire existences are lived online -- people can fall in love, find a home, pay bills, work a job, manage their retirement funds and eventually arrange for their funerals, all from the comfort of their homes.

Much like daily life, business is increasingly being conducted online as well. Indeed, it is difficult to isolate a discreet "internet industry" as companies of every stripe invest more and more in their online presence. About 94 per cent of large businesses and 60 per cent of medium businesses in Australia had a website in 2006, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and these numbers undoubtedly continue to rise. TV networks now offer online videos, retail giants run online stores, insurance companies sign up new members online, magazines "publish" exclusively online, and so on. Furthermore, the infrastructure that supports the internet is a mash-up of telecommunications and technology products, comprised as it is of fibre-optic cables, PCs, mobile phones, satellites and wireless technology. One has to search far and wide to find an Australian business that has ignored the siren song of the internet, and the web's seemingly unlimited real estate continues to provide aspiring entrepreneurs the space to build their dreams.

Business is booming, and the industry is in the throes of ecstasy over the concept of "web 2.0" -- a term coined by O'Reilly Media in 2003 to describe the (perceived) ascendancy of second-generation web-based companies. The popularity of user-friendly and user-generated community sites like Wikipedia, along with the rise of entertainment sites like YouTube, is taken as a sign of an increasingly net-based human existence, which can be translated into revenue for savvy internet companies.

Better to ask where it isn't

If it's difficult to imagine any lives untouched by the internet, it's probably because there aren't all that many. According to the Internet Activity Survey carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of June 2008, there were 7.23 million subscribers to the internet, including 6.21 million households and over a million businesses. The number is growing as web access becomes ubiquitous to the point of unavoidable.

Today, people can access the web through an array of internet service providers (ISPs), be it on landline broadband (primarily DSL, via coaxial cable, fibre optic or copper wires), wireless technology, dial-up access (which is rapidly disappearing), satellite or mobile phones. Public places, such as libraries, internet cafes and airport terminals, offer immediate connection to those without home access and those who find themselves needing the web while away from their personal computer.


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