Creating A Better, Brighter, Smarter Internet

Companies look to teens for clues about what the Net will become.

A child born eight years ago has never known a world without a World Wide Web. A 7-year-old came into this world along with the first online banner ad. Six-year-olds were born the year the Federal Networking Council bestowed the official definition "Internet" on a rapidly branching series of networks blooming with thousands of services.

Take a look at that terminology, and it becomes clear that even its architects were hard-pressed to encapsulate an entity depicted on network diagrams simply as a cloud:

" Internet refers to the global information system that - (i) is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons; (ii) is able to support communications using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and (iii) provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high-level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure described herein."

Tell a youngster that youre going to develop a toy or game based on this platform and he might echo the words of actor Tom Hanks in the movie Big: "Whats so fun about that?"

Whats fun about the Internet, of course, is not the Internet itself, but what kids can do with it - chat with friends, create animated Web sites, visit a global library of words and images, download music, watch a cartoon or play a game.

And what the most interactive generation in history thinks is fun on the Internet may be the best indicator of what the network of networks ultimately becomes. So its no wonder that increasingly, but carefully, companies are reaching out to the generation who will redefine the Internet, making "tweens" - kids between the ages of 8 and 12 - what many consider to be the hottest marketing demographic in the interactive world.

Their appetite for interactivity and communications is, after all, like some Newtonian force that will shape and be shaped by the rapidly accelerating networks, ultimately determining which companies will perish and which will prosper.