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Heard of the Internet and the wonders of the World Wide Web? Course you have. Connected? Probably not. Don't switch off. Current levels of around five million European Net users look set to surge to 40 million by the year 2000 - and one of them could well be you. Booting up our five-page lnternet special, Teddy Jamieson looks at how the Net is pulling in the wider community While (right) we download a step-by-step guide to Web site design and

the hotshots behind it.

YOU COULD BE forgiven for thinking everyone’s a cybernaut nowadays. Let’s face it, the Internet is ubiquitous. Given the plethora of dedicated magazines and newspaper supplements, the best known aspects of the Net the World Wide Web (WWW) and e-mail have garnered more column inches than Princess Di of late. And that’s not to mention the TV programmes and radio shows. Even my mum has heard of it.

She hasn’t used it, though. Neither, a recent survey by the Interactive Media in Retail Group suggests, have 89 per cent of the UK population. All the (multi) media pros- elytising in recent years has ensured that we’re aware of what the Internet is, but that doesn’t mean we’ve had the opportunity to use it. There‘s an accessibility gap, if you like.

The current identikit image of the average Net user which emerges from a ream of cyber- surveys is positively yuppiefied. He, and it is almost invariably a he statistics suggest that women make up, at most, 22 per cent of UK Net users is most likely to be a professional, aged between 25 and 44 and earning at least £35,000 a year.

10 TNEIJS‘I’ 21 Feb-6 Mar 1997

How do you become a cyber- citizen if the nearest you've come to a computer is looking in Dixons' window?

Which rather suggests that, at the moment. the Net is for many of its users little more than a hi-tech executive toy. One that complements the Armani suit and the Audi A4.

This rather tarnishes the bright. shiny, sci-fi vision of a world transformed by cyberspace. Indeed, the Department of Trade and Industry has suggested that 60 per cent of the population are either frightened by the new technology or consider it irrelevant. It says nothing about their lives.

The information revolution, however, is set to continue whether the public is interested or not. Last month the Royal Bank of Scotland announced that it would be ready to launch the first Internet banking service in Britain later this spring. Potential clients can register now, and Bill Bougourd, head of the Bank’s Electronic Operations for retail, is ‘very pleased’ with the early response.

He reckons there are approximately 50,000 Royal Bank customers with access to the Net. ‘There’s a modest number likely to use the service,‘ he admits. ‘But we expect it to grow.’

Meanwhile, in West London, supermarket giant Tesco is running a pilot home-shopping

lnternet service to test the waters.

‘Morc and more people will be using the Net for banking, shopping, getting an education. planning their holidays all of these things are coming together.’ Bourogourd suggests.

The danger in all this is that lack of interest. or more importantly. lack of accessibility will increasingly become a liability. But how do you become a cyber-citizen if the nearest you’ve come to a computer is looking in Dixons‘ window? A couple of projects in Edinburgh may offer a solution.

Next month a new cybercafe opens in Wester Hailes. Located in a suitably spaceship-shaped building. it will provide six terminals for locals to familiarise themselves with the technology. Project co-ordinator Willie Dunn points out that. as more and more jobs require computer skills. familiarity is essential. Hence the cybercafe.

‘lt’s a place where young people can go. meet friends, watch telly and have access to the Net at very low rates.‘ Dunn says. A neat alternative to the plethora of town-centre cybercafes, which until now have been seen as the domain of the hip middle classes.

Across the city. the Craigmillar Community Information Initiative is offering similar facilities, as well as providing local schools and community groups with their own Webpages and e-mail accounts. Such initiatives. manager Andy MacDonald reckons. are vital.

‘I think this is going to be the major civil rights issue of the 21st century,‘ says MacDonald. ‘In Europe at the moment everyone has political rights. social rights and civil rights. but most people don‘t have what l would call cyber-rights rights to universal access at low cost to new technologies.’

Perhaps though. with initiatives like those springing up in Edinburgh’s Craigmillar and Wester Hailes. alongside existing up-town cybercafes and the increasing presence of Internet technology in schools. the Net’s future really does hold something for the 98 per cent who’ve heard of it but never surfed it.

Net by numbers

I A massive 88 per cent of the British population has now heard of the Internet.

I Seventy-eight per cent would pay to have groceries delivered to their home via the Net.

I But only 17 per cent expressed an interest in on-line banking.

I National Opinion Polls (NOP) report that 150,000 people in Britain have used the Net to buy products and services in a six-month period.

I Around five million people in Europe have direct connections to the Net. Mo million of those are based in the UK.

I In Europe only 36.7 per cent of users access the Net from home, compared with 83.6 per cent in the US.

I Of those Europeans with access to the Internet. 20.05 per cent spend over 20 hours on-line per week.

I Thirty-seven per cent of European users prefer to surf the Net than watch TV.

Source: Interactive Media in Retail, VNU

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