Looking at typical current web sites gives a good background to what is currently used by a reasonable proportion of web sites. This is good background because it allows one to compare the differences between the current use of the Web, and the abilities that are being proposed and implemented for the research for this thesis.
Current web sites are predominately created to serve content or to enable e-commerce for users over the Web. There are many examples of web sites with significant content that is very heavily used, such as good search engines that have a large amount of information. There are also many examples of web sites that have little in the way of content; for example many personal home pages, which just have the person's name and not much more. As there is little content, there is no compelling reason for anyone to come back (as can be seen by the low number of hits commonly displayed on their page counters).
Currently the main use of the Web is the transfer of information. This can be simply to make any information available, just in case someone might want that information (for example many personal home pages, or a simple 'Hello, this is who I am...'), or to make specific information available that the general public wishes to know (whether it is domain specific information, entertainment, or something else). The creators of web sites need to think about the information they are willing and able to give their visitors. After all, if a visitor doesn't get something from a web site (from information that they need, through to a warm fuzzy feeling, if that is what the web site has been created for), they will not come back. What's more, they will not refer other people to the web site. Many people believe "Word of mouth", is one of the most powerful forms of publicity.
Typical progression as companies discover(ed) the Web
Many companies start with little or no knowledge of either the Web or the Internet, and progress through stages as they learn more about the Internet and the Web; and realise the impact that it is possible to create with good use of these technologies.
* Individual user sites: At this stage there are just a few people in the company who are either aware of the Web, or have an idea of what can be achieved using the Web. These groups can put information onto the Web that they think would be useful and that they are familiar with. This means that there are a few sites that give a taste of the company, but they are commonly separate with few links between them, and often display duplicated information. This method of creating awareness of the company on the Web is a good start and has the potential (especially today) to quickly show positive returns, now that the Web has more awareness throughout the community.
* Brochureware: Brochureware sites are easy to distinguish from other sites because they are commonly a direct copy of a print brochure that has been scanned and placed on the Web with little or no changes made. This kind of site is very easy and cheap to create, but it is also deceptive in that it doesn't really achieve much, especially when it only contains phone numbers and no email addresses, as is common.
* Limited interaction: Limited interaction sites contain useful information about the company, products and the people that make up the company. This is probably the most common type of site. Often this is all that a company needs, especially if it is not their business to sell products. On sites such as these, there could be anywhere from just a page or two (for a small company) through to hundreds or more pages (for a larger company). There are generally different methods displayed for contacting the company, from their physical address, phone numbers, email addresses, feedback/comment forms, and sometimes other contact methods such as online chatting.
* E-Commerce: E-Commerce sites generally contain all the information that a limited interaction site contains, with the added ability to buy and sell directly from the web site. Sites that implement e-commerce have either a product or a service to sell and they are generally designed so that the process of buying and selling is the primary focus of the web site.
* Interactive and relationship building: Interactive and relationship-building sites generally focus on interactive features with the customer, and building an ongoing relationship with them. This can consist of many different ideas and processes, all of which are in place to keep the company's name and products in front of the customer as much as possible, with the customer's permission. These sites can have mailing lists, discussion pages, online chats, and many other options for the customer to interact with the company, and in the process build a higher awareness of the company in the customer's mind. These sites can also be built for companies that do not sell services or products (for example news sites) that want to ensure constant and repeat visitors, while providing them with a high quality service.
Unfortunately, not all companies that create a presence on the Web understand what the Web and the Internet are, and how they work. Typically, such companies and individuals are unaware of Netiquette, which is the social conventions that are necessary if the net is to remain a pleasant working, educational, and recreational environment. Consequently they are inclined to treat the Internet as their own exclusive resource, and abuse its ability to deliver information to millions of uninterested computer users. By abusing the power of the Internet they force others to pay for their bad marketing campaigns by sending hundreds of thousands of emails, or newsgroup postings extolling their products and services. This unfortunately is quite prolific at the moment, and it is also the most destructive. This is commonly called 'SPAM' (It got the name from the Monty Python script in which there is the repeated overuse of the product called 'Spam', a potted meat. In this script a customer comes into a shop to buy some food, and everything contains many portions of Spam, and little else. The script ends in a song that only contains the word 'Spam').
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