Volume 11 (4) July/August 1997
The Internet is a dynamic and interactive network that allows information to be exchanged using a range of technologies. Most of these are presently text based simply because of the bandwidth (speed) limitations of the Internet, however, technologies enabling real-time communications (both video and audio) have been developed. We will consider some of the ways information is exchanged on the Internet.
Discussion groups are the most popular forums for information exchange on the Internet at present, probably because bandwidth limitations do not have an impact on e-mail. There are now thousands of discussion groups world-wide, however, most are unmoderated and therefore information on these discussion groups has to be treated with caution. These forums are often abused and targeted by advertisers. Moderated discussion groups are not as common, however, these ensure control over the material distributed to users. PharmWeb presently has in the region of 100 discussion groups specialising in pharmaceutical and health-related issues and are all moderated. The Pharmaceutical Sci-Tech discussion group is a good example of a thriving discussion group. The PharmWeb discussion groups are all archived and messages searchable using the PharmWeb search engine, PharmSearch. A valuable archive of information is thus being built up.
The Internet is also being used as a tool to collect information from users. Perhaps the first such pharmaceutical application was the recent pharmacy practice survey on PharmWeb. A group of researchers in Japan/USA were trying to find out what professional activities (cognitive services) are being paid for around the world. Practising pharmacists were asked to fill in a questionnaire, and once completed, the information was sent to PharmWeb for analysis. The results of the survey will be presented at the International Pharmaceutical Federation meeting in Vancouver. It is likely that the Internet will be increasingly used to collect information for surveys.
Many different types of Internet telephony software have emerged in the last few years which enable Internet users to bypass the 'conventional' telephone system and use the Internet as a telephone. These systems are presently very basic and utilise a computers speakers and microphone. Only one person can usually speak at a time because of bandwidth limitations and the sound quality is often very poor. However, bandwidth is continuously improving, and within the next ten years may be such that we will routinely be using our computers and the Internet to talk to people rather than the telephone. Software is also available to allow video conferencing between groups of people on the Internet, however, present bandwidth limitations make these systems unreliable.
One of the clear problems with all the technologies being developed on the Internet is that several different standards are evolving. This makes it difficult for the user to select the most appropriate software, particularly as different sites on the Internet employ different technologies, each one requiring a particular type of software on the users computer.
As usual, if you have found any interesting sites on the Internet that we have not listed on PharmWeb and that may be of interest to the pharmacy community, please let us know.
Dr. A. D'Emanuele