When Does the Web Come to the Poor?...


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When Does the Web Come to the Poor?

By Guest Writer Mike Banks Valentine

I heard Larry Irving speak recently on the "Digital Divide," 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 cites 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 US$40k (26k) 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 poplar 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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