The Internet, once a toy for hobbyists, has taken a detour and is speeding down the information highway towards the enterprise. According to Omar Ahmad, director of Netscape Communications' Web site and infrastructure Webmaster, incredible things are happening on the Internet, and connection within corporations has become as natural as the air we breathe. Netscape has taken advantage of this, launching a new set of services for its corporate Netcenter 2.0 site. One of the new services allows users to create personal start pages. According to Ahmad, this is one of the big up-and-coming trends on the Internet. Others include increased advertising, the further use of electronic commerce, and enhanced security.
IDG: Netscape is focusing on becoming an enterprise provider. How does the Internet further this goal?
Ahmad: There are two focuses for Netscape - enterprise solution software is a major focus, and the second one is our Internet strategy, which NetCenter and the NetCenter Web site is a critical function of.
When you see software coming from Netscape, it's been through my hands and it's been beaten up pretty hard.
What's your sense of Internet use within corporations? Are the majority of them now turning to the Internet to do business?
I think it's starting to dawn on folks that they need to be connected. I think when people start to scratch the surface of the Internet and get a feel for what it can do, the question of going to the Internet is not if, it's a question of when.
And so a lot of what I end up doing is lectures and explaining to people how to get connected.
I think you're starting to see a number of non-technical and non-traditional computing-literate companies trying to come around and recognise that this is a critical avenue for them.
It's starting to become just part of the air - you have to breathe it.
Let's talk about security issues. According to some people there is nothing to worry about, yet others are less positive. What are your thoughts on this?
I think the question comes down to who's not ready. For people who want to get involved in this, I think the security is there. One of the things that needs to happen is the whole banking industry needs to recognise there are a lot of people on the Internet that want to do online banking. They want to clear credit cards and they want to be able to move forward.
I also think there's a colossal opportunity through the banks to start to build SOHO and small-business applications.
Do you think e-commerce will become so sophisticated that eventually salespeople won't be needed?
No, and I'll tell you why. The more I work on the Internet, the more time I spend in aeroplanes. I have done more flying and more personal meetings because of the Internet than ever before. People still want to do business with people - they don't want to do business with computers.
How important is electronic commerce to Netscape and how much revenue does the company generate from its Web site?
It's colossal. This is the way the new economy is going to work and it's the way the new economy is working. In our last quarter we generated $US34 million from the Web site.
With the revamped NetCenter 2.0, you've taken more of a community feel - for example, people can order flowers or book a vacation. What was the motivation behind adding that to a corporate site?
A number of our partners had come to us. They asked if we really just wanted to be kind of a skimming page or could we start to make it an experience - enhance the visit and give people a reason to come back.
It's been evolutionary and organic - the Web site was originally built so you could get the original browser. That's why we were there. And then eventually you could test-drive software.
After that, what do you start to do? All of a sudden you need a story to tell and you need to start to provide services and content that's interesting and compelling. And so this is really a natural step for what we're intending to do. I think we're really going to quash a lot of the arguments that people only come to our site because it's their default. I think people are going to start coming to the site because they're going to recognise a lot of value and see this is what the Internet's about.
Other companies, including Yahoo, are currently offering the ability to personalise Web sites and Netscape is now offering this same capability. Is this the newest trend?
Yes. We're entering the second century of the Web - we really lived about 100 years between 1994 and today. This century of the Web is really going to be marketed with the notion that we can start to personalise, target and make one-on-one experiences with much more community feel.
People are constantly complaining that the Internet is slow, yet vendors are still pushing the idea that everything is going to be online. Isn't this a contradiction?
That's a multi-edged sword. The good news is the Internet is growing, the bad news is it's growing really fast. Things are going to break - that's the bad news. The good news is the money is there and the infrastructure is getting dumped into place.
I think you will start to see a number of ISPs starting to deploy infrastructure that will make the surfing experience much more satisfactory.
If I do my job right you'll spend six minutes on my site. So my job now is to recognise how much information I can give you in six minutes.
So what can I do to make it extremely fast? If you're able to serve data very fast to people, they will continue to consume more. If they see the Netscape comet shower running just a little too long, they'll hit escape and they're gone.
So keep the interest high, keep the content compelling and get it in front of them darn fast.
Overall, what do you see as major Internet trends?
Advertising is obviously colossal. Almost everybody wants to get into the game - personally I've been spending a lot of time with the interactive advertising bureau and a lot of those standards bodies.
Another trend is it has very definitely gone from a hobbyist and ham radio operator mentality, to "this is serious business". And the investments and the level of commitment uptime is serious now. This isn't the Web three years ago. This is business and there are significant dollars on the line to be made.