When Does the Web Come to the Poor?

Jun 2 21:00 2002 Mike Banks Valentine Print This Article

I heard Larry Irving speak recently on the "Digital ... term he coined while working in the Clinton ... makes a ... case for the ... of theweb to the poor. H

I heard Larry Irving speak recently on the "Digital Divide,Guest Posting"
a term he coined while working in the Clinton Administration.
Irving makes a compelling case for the inaccessibility of the
web to the poor. He emphatically demonstrates that business
is ignoring a huge market when they ignore those without
access to the web. That means that anyone without a computer
right now and those numbers can reach up to 85% of the poor.
That is not just those who can't afford computers, because
many work where there is no online access. This would include
employees of all kinds on factory floors and in warehouse
operations, food service workers and blue-collar employees.

Even the "Digital Divide" will (eventually) be overcome
by publicly accessible kiosk web terminals or web enabled
automobiles, web-connected televisions and the web
encompassing every aspect of our lives. I believe that
there will come a time in the near future when business
can no longer afford to ignore those who don't own
computers. Although the necessary public access
computers will inevitably come in the form of limited
access to specific sites at first, I am certain that
you'll be able to buy stuff online from anywhere, and
that we can find ways to make that service pay handsomely
for those businesses making web sales via those public web
terminals.

Marketing rep Barry Baker of KDS Pixeltouch, a manufacturer
of on-site touch screen kiosk solutions, was rather
negative about the idea that publicly accessible web
terminals were coming anytime soon. Although he valiantly
struggled to brainstorm as we spoke on how such a scenario
might play out. Even folks acting as a driving force
behind touch screen kiosk use failed to offer any
significant ideas for using their own product for web
access in public places. I'd suggest they hire someone to
develop a public web access kiosk of some type if he is one
of those hoping for overnight riches, because when it takes
off, riches are inevitable. He readily sites more mundane
uses such as the standard trade show display, store product
locators and giant discount warehouse product mapping.

Even Walmart auto parts lookups were mentioned. But that is
handled currently by smaller, purpose built electronic part
listing sort of calculators in each section. One for wipers,
one for car batteries, one for oil filters. Those are all
well and good, but why not have a central server with kiosk
terminals throughout the store, each programmed to provide
just the information in each section? Some terminals could
provide home-improvement presentations in flash from the
web.

An example of this type of central presentation server was
demonstrated by Mark Jarvis, Chief Marketing Officer for
Oracle Corporation. He prominently featured it in his keynote
speech for Streaming Media West in Los Angeles. Although
the display technology in this case was poster-sized kiosks
which Jarvis said replaced $40k of spending on posters each
and every year for the giant company across their enterprise.
The benefit, he said was in having central servers streaming
appropriate content worldwide. On returning from the airport,
I drove by an Oracle Corporation building aside the freeway
in Silicon Valley with a billboard sized version on display.

Clearly this type of technology requires large up-front
investment and development costs, but it will become more
affordable and accessible to the public in approachable and
realistic form on a human scale. The question is not so
much how, but when? Adding functionality and choice to
those public web terminals to make them interactive is the
remaining hurdle.

There are few cases where public web access can be provided
free without significant filtering of content or absolute
control of web destinations on publicly accessible kiosks.
One can imagine good reasons for limiting access and limiting
user time on kiosk computers, but I'm still convinced that
it's the first way that those without web access will gain
a view of this world that has been entirely denied to them
before now. The first use of public web kiosk computers that
does become poppular enough to succeed will be dramatic for
any organization, including government in public places. I
don't know when, but I predict that it will arrive in some
dramatic form, somewhere within the next five years.

This sweeping change is coming in banking and commerce, in
government, philanthropy, academia and even many personal
interactions. I see a place for helping the world to
understand how this change affects the broad majority of
the public, small business and the vast middle ground --
the rest of us. The industry talks about how BIG business,
BIG finance and BIG government is moving toward total web
adoption, but this affects the rest of the world too.
Because business, government and finance is "moving online"
it means that instant access to every aspect of our
will be available to everyone via the web.

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Mike Banks Valentine
Mike Banks Valentine

Mike Banks Valentine
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