Wednesday, November 15, 2000
There are lots of analogies about physical space on the Web-chat
"rooms," Internet "portals," and browsers with names like "Explorer" and
"Navigator." But they've only been metaphors…until this week. On Nov. 14, a
company called Antarcti.ca launched the web site http://map.net, which offers Web surfers a method of
navigating the Internet geographically.
In this brave new world of collaborative engineering, one of the
chief challenges to OEMs is how to efficiently organize all the data that's
needed for technical communication and commerce. This may be an answer.
The company ranks websites by their size, popularity, and number
of links, just as many search engines do. Then it overlays all that data onto a
map of Antarctica, dividing the continent into 16 color-coded zones, including:
world, sports, regional, society, arts, business, games, computers, health,
home, news, adult, recreation, reference, science, and shopping.
It looks like a drunken patchwork quilt, but this is only the top
layer. Drill down into any of the regions, and you get a proliferation of
increasingly specific categories, which are also organized at the page margin in
a standard data tree. So users can walk around the Web reviewing sites in detail
without having to actually visit them. And if you prefer a flight-simulator
view, the site supplies a 3D landscape. Both 2D and 3D rendering is done on the
Antarcti.ca (Vancouver, BC, www.antarcti.ca) was founded by Tim Bray,
co-creator of XML (Extensible Markup Language) who opted to base his site in
Canada to gain a cool domain suffix.
So how will the company make money? It turns out that mapping the
Internet to the South Pole was merely a "proof of concept" job. Antarcti.ca has
an ASP business model in which it would charge a flat monthly fee to organize
any company's intranet or extranet in the same way. And if a client has security
concerns, Bray will site the server inside its own firewall. Likely clients
include Fortune 1000 companies, public sector sites, and small operators with
big Web presences (such as eBay), he says.
"We're not trying to replace search engines," says CEO Bray. "But
we are trying to replace URLs. They're not human-friendly--you can't read them
over the phone."
And speaking of human-friendly, Antarcti.ca can also arrange an
instant Internet chat between any surfers who are viewing a website at the same
"It's fun. It's a place to spend time," Bray says. "Companies have
invested huge amounts of money, but when you look at studies, people go back to
the same five pages all the time. You can even make the argument that the
Internet is underutilized. By making it more fun, we can increase ROI [Return on