By Terry Wohlers
An edited version was published in Rapid Prototyping Journal, Vol. 6, No. 4, 2000, MCB University Press. Copyright 2000 by Terry T. Wohlers
E-commerce continues to grow and develop beyond the expectations of just about everyone. Many are trying hard to understand and fully grasp what it's all about and the new opportunities it presents. Countless business people are confused by it all and even find the idea of doing business transactions on the Internet unsettling. A friend, Joel Orr, recently compared it to a dog watching television. The dog is fascinated by what he sees, but he doesn't have a clue what's going on.
Few new developments have caught us by surprise and moved at such a break-neck pace. Typically, we get a glimpse of a new class of product or service, but we are then given years, often a decade or two, to fully absorb it while it develops into something commercially viable. Not so with the Internet. True, it's been around for more than a decade, but few people realized the impact the World Wide Web would have in an amazingly short time.
According to a story in the 6 June 2000 issue of USA Today, the Internet industry has added 650,000 new jobs in the USA alone. A study, funded by Cisco Systems and conduced by the University of Texas, found that the Internet economy in the USA accounted for nearly 2.5 million jobs and almost $524 billion in revenue last year. This means that the Internet economy employs more people than the insurance or public utilities industries and twice as many as the airline industry, according to the article. "The growth of Internet-related jobs is startling when considering that the Internet as a business driver is in its infancy," the study said.
Indeed, this "thing" we call the Internet is moving much faster than most of us can comprehend. High-speed Internet connections have contributed dramatically to its effectiveness. For some time, 256 kilobits per second connections have been available in the USA for under $20. This makes surfing the web not only bearable, but enjoyable. The much bigger challenge, however, is to begin to appreciate the business opportunities that the Internet presents to rapid prototyping users, producers, service providers, material suppliers, researchers, educators, and consultants. That, my friends, is going to take time, although it too may occur much faster than most of us anticipate.