Cooking up a profitable internet

How lunch on a junk trip turned to talk about the internet, hacking, viruses and tech security.

Lunches during junk trips are normally a feast of pepper prawns and squid. This Sunday both people sitting next to me were tech gurus and so while peeling prawns, we began speaking about the internet, hacking, viruses and general tech security.

The gentleman on my left told me his own theory on what drives hackers. He began by talking about his former employer, a large Canadian company that had a somewhat unique cafeteria for staff. There was no cashier and every staff member would pay for their food by putting cash into a tray by the exit and sorting out their own change.

This, he said, created an atmosphere of trust, as well as saving on the cost of the cashier. The flipside, he added, was that the system only worked because it was accompanied by an atmosphere of fear. The company was run by a somewhat autocratic figure who promised that anyone caught evading payment would be instantly fired.

That's why the system worked, he surmised. Fear of being caught.

The internet, he said, is a whole different proposition. There is no fear, because the whole system is infinitely larger than this company and people who don't pay their way or take advantage, are hard to catch.

There is almost no chance of being caught. Hence people will do whatever they feel they can get away with - hacking or manufacturing viruses etc. And yet, there is a lot of 'trust' on the internet at the current time. It has been a community built on trust and this is what has made it grow so exponentially. When you hit a website, you don't think that an unscrupulous hacker could be using this site as a way of gaining control of your hard disk.

But actually, this is eminently possible.

We trust and we venture through the net. That is - thus far.

However, security issues are gaining wider and wider currency and I sense people are starting to trust less and less.

Who wins? My theory is that hackers, and the malcontents are playing into the hands of the mega-corporations against which they have such hostile feelings. That's because in an environment of eroding 'trust' the average user is going to gravitate more and more to sites of well known brands whom they assume will offer greater security. After all, these companies have real world businesses and a lot more to lose from scandals. So, by definition, their security and compensation programmes (in the case of experiencing problems) will be the best.

For the bulk of people, the web will become more ordered and for companies that will mean it will finally become more like a normal marketplace and thus more profitable.

What will it look like? Look at WAP phones for a taster. These now offer scaled-down versions of the web, with 50 or so sites that offer you the ability to buy cinema tickets, sell you flowers, do banking - all the convenient things the vast majority of normal people want to do.

It is made easy - just choose option 10 for banking with Citi, option 12 for Interflora flower delivery, option 19 for Amazon books.

This is how most people want the web to be. It is how it will be used commercially. Many will still surf around for information. But the commercial side of the web will look like WAP phones. The TV company, telco, cable company, whoever it is that connects the average person to a broadband network, will give people the same easy options as the WAP phone.

The options you are given will mean that the 50 or so companies that are on the 'front page' as you enter will become very profitable.

It is at this juncture that the vastness of the web will be reduced and paradoxically, the web will start to become profitable - for the few.

Well, it's a theory. And any theory that promises a profitable internet has to be worth something.

The final interesting idea to come out of this lunch came from the guy sitting on the other side of me. He said viruses were a good thing. Why? Because they allowed you to diagnose that there was a hole in your company's security and figure out why.

Much more dangerous, he said, if hackers didn't hit you with viruses, breach your flawed security and then wander around your systems unprotected.

Ergo, viruses are good.

Anyway, it's all food for thought.

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