The Internet, as we know it, is only 15 years old, but already it has transformed the way people work, communicate and even shop. Still, experts believe the pace of technological innovation is poised to advance at an even faster pace. The San Francisco Bay area and the Silicon Valley are well positioned to maintain leadership during a period of accelerating change.
High tech entrepreneur Kevin Jernigan is convinced that the pace of technological innovation is speeding up. A Harvard computer science graduate, Jernigan says there are computers in unexpected places.
"How many computers are in your car? There are several hundred computers in your car-- little chips everywhere, doing things. Managing the engine, managing airbags, managing the brakes. Ten years ago there were probably a dozen, maybe less. Twenty years ago there were none. That's an exponential curve -- a simple one," says Jernigan.
The Rise of Blogs
Bambi Francisco, Internet Editor at Dow Jones Market Watch, says the Internet is transforming the news business. Web logs, called blogs, allow literally anyone to create content and display it on the Web. Readers can interact with the authors, creating instant on line communities.
"For my blog, I can write one story, maybe take me as little as five minutes, maybe do a video, walk away for 24 hours and the audience has commented, spent time on that page, created a dialogue with other readers. And all of a sudden, I have 10 times as many page views for the same five minute content," says Francisco.
Francisco says new interactive web sites, such as "Face Book" and "My Space", are changing the way young people use the Internet. Users are finding that communication can efficiently take place on a single page instead of with a string of e-mails.
"For instance, if I'm going to Hawaii and want four or five of my friends to go, I create a Hawaii page; I take U.R.L.s or websites about Hawaiian restaurants; I get U.R.L.s or websites about sporting events and put them all on that one page and have everyone contribute to that page. What we do now is e-mail back and forth, and all of a sudden you've got two dozen e-mails about your trip. Here you've got one page," says Francisco.
The Future of E-mail
Does this mean that e-mail is losing popularity? Kevin Jernigan says, "yes". "Young people say e-mail is obsolete. It's for old people. They don't use it. It has a negative cachet," says Jernigan.
Not surprisingly, Yahoo, with 250-million e-mail users, sees things differently. Sabrina Ellis is project director at Yahoo Mail. "It's almost a popular thing to say. But the fact is that e-mail is something that is fundamental to the Internet. An e-mail address is something everyone has. And we have the data to show that while people may say that young people may not be using e-mail as much, the fact is that they are still coming to Yahoo Mail and using their e-mail every month," says Ellis.
Yahoo's principal rival is Google, located just a few kilometers away in Mountain View, California. Founded in 1998 by two graduate students who developed a unique way to organize material on the Internet, Google is a stunning success. It dominates Internet search worldwide and is moving into new areas such as video, maps and digitizing many of the world's books.
Adam Smith, a Google project manager, says, "Google book search is an international program. Our overall objective is to make the full text of all the word's books, in all languages and cultures, searchable, as web pages are searchable today."
Smith says his project poses no threat to authors and publishers, "From Google's perspective this actually increases the value of books because now we are able to connect users to books that they may never have known existed. So when a book has gone out of print and is no longer is available, suddenly a user may discover it, contact the publisher and ask for it to be put back into print."
Tech Start-ups and Venture Capital
Kevin Jernigan says that as the pace of technical change accelerates, the San Francisco Bay area is well positioned to retain leadership. The infrastructure is in place, the corporate culture welcomes innovation, and the money is here.
"The cluster of venture capital firms that are in the Valley, they won't invest in a company they can't get to in a 20 to 30 minute drive. So if you're a really smart guy looking for venture capital and you live in Iowa, they may be interested, but they're going to tell you to move to the area," says Jernigan.
Last year, San Francisco Bay area venture capitalists provided two-thirds of the money that financed new, U.S.-based high-tech start ups. The high-tech industry is anchored in the Bay Area and it is fed by Stanford and U.C. Berkeley, the region's leading research universities, turning out advanced degrees in computer science and business.
This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.