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FOCUS - 2 of 12 DOCUMENTS St. Petersburg Times (Florida) December 13, 1994, Tuesday, City Edition

INTERNET: THE VIRTUAL COMMUNITY
BYLINE: T. CHRISTIAN MILLER SECTION: FLORIDIAN; THE ELECTRONIC NEIGHBORHOOD; DISCOVERY; Pg. 1D LENGTH: 1616 words DATELINE: TAMPA

The Margaritaville Cafe is the sort of shrine to Jimmy Buffett you might expect: A list of all his lyrics; a 200-drink booze guide; even a dictionary of obscure references in his songs. It's a comfortable, laid-back sort of place with a comfortable, laid-back sort of proprietor. Shirley Kennedy looks like the type who might give it all up one day to run a bar in Key West. She wears blue jeans and hiking boots to work. An old beer carton holds the pencils on her desk. She's happy to show off the cafe to anybody who asks. Right there on the table. In the little gray box. Yeah, the one with a black screen and a mess of wires out the back. Welcome to the Internet. The cafe, you see, isn't real. No bar stools, Parrotheads or cheeseburgers in paradise here. It exists solely on a tiny computer in a Tampa office that's hooked up to millions of others on the world's largest computer network. "People who see it say that's the Internet machine?" says Kennedy, the network manager at the Tampa Bay Librarians Consortium who created the virtual cafe and who is an occasional contributor to the Times on computer issues. "It's not real exciting." Oh, but it is. Strictly defined, the Internet, or 'Net, is a global network of more than 2-million computers. But it's also the electronic web spun through all those computers, the trillions and trillions of pieces of information crawling in it and the quirky counterculture behind it all. Increasingly, though, it's also a place where normal folks all over Tampa Bay go to do stuff. Weird stuff, good stuff, stuff they couldn't do otherwise. On one hand, there are people like Jim Bethea, an Inverness builder who has slapped pictures of his homes on the 'Net. Now people from Ocala to Oagadagou can scope his company's three-bed, two-bath Shenandoah model.

Page 2 INTERNET: THE VIRTUAL COMMUNITY St. Petersburg Times (Florida) December 13, 1994, Tuesday, City Edition Then there's Lou Montulli, a California man who has posted a camera behind a fish bowl aimed at a colleague's desk. Every few minutes, the camera takes a picture. You can log into the Fish Cam whenever you want to see how the co-worker and the fish are doing. Not to be confused with commercial computer networks such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy, the Internet is much, much bigger. It's a freewheeling farmer's market of information as difficult to navigate as U.S. 19 at rush hour. You can shoot letters around the world, snag free software, eavesdrop electronic conversations, publish your own book, tap into medical advice, surf from one data base to the next, check your representatives voting record, etc. etc. etc. These days, the question isn't so much what you can do on the 'Net, as what you can't. "It's extremely important to learn what's out there," says John Iliff, an Internet expert who by day is a Pinellas Park librarian. "The way we do business, the way we educate ourselves, the way our social relationships are arranged, are going to be altered by the Internet." "Its Own Revolution' The earliest, crude form of the Internet made its debut in 1970 as a link between four universities in California and Utah. It plugged steadily along until an explosion of growth that started in the late '80s. Today, 20-million to 30-million people all over the world use the Internet, a number that increases by 10 percent each month, according to the Reston, Va.-based Internet Society. At the current rate of growth, more than 100-million people will have access to the Internet by the turn of the century. The numbers, of course, add up. The Internet is now the Newest Big Thing. Mick Jagger strutted through cyberspace a few days before showing up at Tampa Stadium. Businesses have jammed the 'Net to advertise. President Clinton has made it a part of the country's political agenda. But what's in it for you and me? "The Internet is its own revolution," wrote Internet Society spokesman Tony Rutkowski in a recent electronic mail interview. Just Plain Folks A few weeks ago, Bret Woods told a story to a table of customers at Nick's Italian Seafood Restaurant at the St. Petersburg Pier: An 89-year-old Pinellas Park man walking around Lake Maggiore sees a frog. "Hey, handsome," the frog says. "Kiss me and I'll turn into a beautiful princess. I'll do whatever you want." The man takes the frog back to his house, puts it in a jar and screws on the lid. The frog looks confused. "Maybe you didn't understand," the frog says. "I'm a gorgeous princess. Kiss me on the lips and I'll do your bidding." "At my age," the man responds, "I'd rather have a talking frog in a jar." Woods source for the joke? The Internet. "You make people laugh, you increase chances of a tip dramatically," says Woods, who logs in a couple times a week

Page 3 INTERNET: THE VIRTUAL COMMUNITY St. Petersburg Times (Florida) December 13, 1994, Tuesday, City Edition to catch up on the latest jokes. "It's such a simple thing, but it's very helpful." All over Tampa Bay, more and more people are turning into the Internet to check it out, according to the handful of local companies that provide access to the Internet. The most popular Internet service is electronic mail, a way to zap your Christmas cards and whatever else all over the world. For most people, this is the most practical use of the Internet. Roy Moglia, 66, chats with friends in Italy - in Italian - and to a cousin in Arizona. "It's the best," says Moglia, a retired shop owner who used to run Roy's TV in St. Petersburg. "You can access any place in the world anytime." Next in popularity comes what are called newsgroups and listserves. They're sort of like giant front porches, where people from all over the world gather to gab about the day's news, swap views on a particular topic or just chatter. They range from talk about the O.J. Simpson case to advice on raising kids to discussions on Spam. A final popular use for the 'Net is as sort of a Big Lots for software. Allan Brockway, a 62-year-old St. Petersburg resident cruises the Internet about 20 hours a month. Much of that time is spent looking for free software. "It's a gold mine," says Brockway, a retired professor of theology who also uses the Internet for research. But that's not where the Internet stops. A lot of stuff on the Internet is just there because somebody thought it was cool. It's as if Beavis and Butt-Head took computer science at the local JC. Even the White House is in on it: With the right equipment, you can hear First Cat Socks meow. Not all of it's silly, of course. A connection to the University of Florida will allow you to instantly find out what the weather is and the latest location of hurricanes or tropical storms. A quick tour through the Library of Congress connections and you'll find what the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, thinks of your local rep. For Christmas, one man has set up a fund-raiser at an Internet site he calls the North Pole. A corporation donates 10 cents each time you log into the charity of your choice. "It's like drinking from a fire hose," says Internet guru Iliff. "You get inundated." A rich source of information Do you need to get wired? Quick answer: no. For most people, the Internet is just a toy. "People find out, "Hey, there's this thing out there, I got to get on it,' " said Brockway. "They're likely to find out it's not all that wonderful. "For the guy who installs telephone lines, it's probably not going to be very useful." It's also definitely not a place for children to wander around unattended. The Internet is a bit like New York City. Sure there are great shops and museums. But you have to watch out for the shadows in the stairways. There's pornography on-line, raw language, even books on how to make homemade bombs.

Page 4 INTERNET: THE VIRTUAL COMMUNITY St. Petersburg Times (Florida) December 13, 1994, Tuesday, City Edition But the lack of censorship hardly diminishes the 'Net, many say. It just makes it a richer source of information. And, as Internet experts are quick to point out, being good at finding, manipulating and using knowledge is worth more than just another pie wedge in Trivial Pursuit. In an increasingly data-rich society, information skills also improve your chances for a better job and a higher paycheck. "It expands everybody's resources," says Jean Armour Polly, director of public services at NYSERNet Inc. in New York. Some people believe the 'Net is so important, in fact, they want to give it away. This is the idea behind Freenets. Freenets are government-funded computer networks scattered around the country, including ones in Tallahassee and Gainesville, for instance. All offer limited Internet access plus a host of other services for free. The one scheduled for Tampa Bay, called the Suncoast Freenet, should be up and running by early next year. "If you don't have the money (for computers), you don't get to participate," said Joe Kahl, manager of telecommunication and computer operations for Pinellas County and president of the group trying to get the Suncoast Freenet running. "This kind of information should be available to everyone," he said. Right now, though, if you want full access from your house, you've got to be prepared to put in some money and some time. But it's worth it, says Kennedy, playing the role of knowing barkeep of the Margaritaville Cafe. "What I love about the Internet is the people. The Internet is made up of people. It's where community spirit has gone. "The public needs to take an interest." To send email to Times reporter T. Christian Miller, use the address tcmillerdelphi.com - Information from Times files and The Internet Unleashed (Sams Publishing $ 44.95) were used in this report. LOAD-DATE: December 14, 1994 LANGUAGE: ENGLISH GRAPHIC: COLOR PHOTO, TONY LOPEZ, (3); Shirley Kennedy at the nerve center of her Internet baby The Margaritaville Cafe.; The Buena Vista Movie Plex on screen.; Calvin and Hobbs on screen TYPE: SERIES Times Publishing Company