Colonizing The Web

By ALLEN MONROE

The World Wide Web is the fastest-growing use of the Internet. It is the part of the Internet that supports graphics and page layouts necessary for publications to look interesting and unique. Plus, the Web provides a capability that doesn't exist in regular print. That capability is "hypertext."

Hypertext looks like regular text on a Web "page," except is highlighted by color or underlining. By "clicking" on hypertext with a computer mouse, the user obtains access to whatever sub-topic or detail the hypertext is linked to. For example, in the topic on Captive Insurance in PRM OnLINE,the electronic edition of Practical Risk Management published since the 1970s by Dave Warren, hypertext links are being inserted into such sub-topics as Domiciles and Taxation. The sub-topics then can provide detail on places where captives are established, such as Bermuda, Hawaii, Vermont, and Luxembourg. Within each domicile's sub-topic can be a wealth of additional detail, including the full text of enabling legislation, the current weather, and where are the best places to play golf. The taxation sub-topic features the full text and interpretation of applicable tax rulings and legislation affecting captive insurers, as well as commentary by leading law firms.

Hypertext links also can lead to entirely different Web sites, situated anywhere in the world. An incredible wealth of information is available. For example, a catalogue of over two million books in the University of Pennsylvania libraries is available at its Web site. Links created by the individual schools and departments provide access to computers around the world, on various specialized topics. For example, the Wharton School's Web site provides links to several sites that provide stock market charts and histories on individual stocks.

According to Doug Kaye, President of Rational Data Systems in Novato,California, "we are witnessing a fundamental change in the definition of publishing - a paradigm-shifting event on the order of the original Gutenberg printing press." Doug explains, "To publish a book, magazine, corporate brochure, or annual report used to imply duplication and distribution. Now, publishing means to give access to the data being published. Publishing today simply means providing the reader with a World Wide Web address and permission to access the data."

The cost of accessing and providing access to a host of corporate brochures, publications, newsletters, and catalogs is only a fraction of the cost ofprinting in color and distributing the printed pages around the world to theintended audience. Not surprisingly, the number of Web sites related to risk andinsurance grew from under 100 a year ago, to nearly 2,000 currently.

Besides being a revolutionary, inexpensive publishing medium, the Web provides an effective way to update information continuously on rapidly changing events and organizations. It is an excellent way to research upcoming seminars and conferences. Not only can tentative conference schedules be accessed over the Web, but also it is possible to find information of the backgrounds of eachspeaker, to locate links to Web home pages of many exhibitors, and even to download biographical information with copies of their audiovisual presentations.

Ken Kwidzinski, Property and Casualty Risk Specialist at Intel Corporation, directs underwriters interested in learning more about his fast-moving company's new product announcements, new facilities, and newly-announced acquisitions. He is examining whether an "internal" Web site might be an effective wayof providing insurers access to up-to-date underwriting information.

A wide variety of risk management information is becoming available on a number of Web sites. However, according to Professor James Garven of theUniversity of Texas, "the problem with the Internet now is that it has a sea of data and very little real information."

This problem is being addressed by organizing relevant information and using advanced search engines to access it. RiskINFO provides "white papers"on topics of current interest, a moderated discussion forum, access to PRM OnLINEand other electronic publications, risk management software applications, and links between information on risk management topics and related products and services that pertain to each topic. RMIS Web provides a "virtual mall" for obtaining information on Risk Management Information Systems. The Web site provided by PLOSS Associates provides links to a wealth of information concerning safety, environmental regulations, and government data from NIOSH and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Actuarial data and studies can be found in numerous Web sites, including theBerry List of Actuarial Resources, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries,the Risk Theory Society, and the Centre for Actuarial Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

David Harris, of SBT Accounting Systems in San Rafael, California, underscores the importance for organizations seeking a web presence to obtain their own "domain name" from InterNIC, the Internet registry, before someone else reserves it first. " Such domain names should be identical or very similar to the corporate name of your organization. When we sought to register our own name, we found that sbt.com had already been assigned to someone else. We had to repurchase it from the company that had registered it earlier. Due partly to the overwhelming demand, like a gold rush." InterNIC now charges a fee of $100 for two years of maintaining a registered domain name.

The other important part of establishing a Web site that is found by those who you wish to access it is to situate it on a "virtual host." That allows for your web site to be accessed by a user typing in "yourcompany.com"and finding your site, as opposed to having to locate a much more obscureaddress, such as "serviceprovider/usr/~yourcompany.com."

Another trend is toward the development of "virtual malls," where numerous Web sites of companies providing similar products or services are grouped together in one "master Web site." Doug Helm, President of the Property and Casualty Division of Strategic Concepts Corp., says, "It's in the best interest of the entire industry to come together as a central location." InsWeb, a Web site developed by Doug and other insurance professionals, hosts numerous insurance carriers, and is conducting a pilot program in Utah for handling insurance transactions on-line in a secure environment.

Perhaps the most exciting development in the technology underlying the Web is the release of the "alpha" version of a new programming language, Java, by Sun Microsystems in mid-1995. The technology is being licensed to such industry leaders as Netscape and Microsoft, and will allow programmers to embed software programs within a Web page. Such programs are being developed at a rapid pace, and promise to improve the security of information and transactions over the Web. Enhanced capabilities of Web pages using Java are likely to include such features as three-dimensional graphics, live sound, animation, collaborative computing, and video conferencing. Many of the functions now performed by Risk Management Information Systems and analysis software may eventually be available as "distributed applications" over the Internet, using Java-enabled Web pages.

Information available on the Web is not limited to specialized data and technical applications. Such well-known publications as the Wall Street Journal,Fortune, Atlantic Monthly, Information Week, and Release 1.0 have begun offering electronic versions. It's now possible to book an airline reservation over the Web, after viewing complete flight schedules of major airlines. One airline, Cathay Pacific, even has a weekly on-line drawing for a pair of free first class tickets. It's no wonder that use of the Web is growing faster than the acceptance of any technology ever - even faster than VCRs and Fax.

Allen Monroe, Founder of RiskINFO in Larkspur, California, can be reached by e-mail at allen@riskinfo.com
or by telephone at (415) 927-8824.


Copyright 1996 RISK & INSURANCE. 747 Dresher Road, P.O. Box 980, Horsham, PA 19044-0980. Reproduced with permission of David Shadovitz, Editorial Director. (215) 784-0910. Portions of the content herein first appeared in RISK & INSURANCE, in March, 1996.

[Return to Tech Page]