A couple of years ago, this column would have been easy to write. I would have skimmed off the 0.1 per cent of the internet that was actually useful to normal people, and directed readers towards it. But now that cannot be done. Even if the proportion of worthwhile material has diminished still further to about 0.001 per cent-and I believe it has-that homeopathic fraction of sites that do their work better than anything off line is now larger than any one person can hope to grasp. It is no longer news that the web is useful. But exactly how it can be useful to literate Prospect readers with better things to do than “surf,” or people such as my 80-year-old mother, reluctantly coming to grips with e-mail because it is the simplest way to communicate with both her children at once, is still insufficiently understood. The internet is going to change the world as much as the car did, and there are useful things to know about cars even for people who are not interested in them.
most of the discussions about what the web will do to journalism have concentrated on its effects downstream of the journalist: how will we sell our stuff, and to whom? There are no answers to this yet, although there are a couple of web magazines for which one would happily pay on a bookstall, such as Salon (www. salonmagazine.com). But in the meantime there has been a revolution upstream of journalists, in the supply of information to us. Access to a newspaper library used to be the single most professionally important perk of a staff job. But in the last ten years all newspaper libraries have shrunk horribly. Last year, on the Independent, it rapidly became clear that almost any query could be answered more quickly on the internet than by asking the Mirror Group library.
The only important English newspaper that cannot be read online is the Daily Mail. The Times (www.the-times.co.uk) and the Telegraph (www. telegraph.co.uk) both have excellent, searchable internet editions: the Telegraph is still the better of the two, but the internet edition of the Sunday Times (also www.the-times.co.uk) is a tremendous time-saver. I already know I do not want to read 97 per cent of the stories; a single list of contents makes it easy to pick out the ones I might need to study.