Thanks to the Internet, almost anyone can become a publisher. David Brake reports
One-to-one communication via the exchange of electronic mail is the most obvious and popular use for the Internet, but it also facilitates several new, powerful forms of broadcasting. None of the existing methods of publishing are easily accessible to the man on the street. You can't start a glossy magazine, radio station or TV network without a substantial cash outlay. Even fanzines can cost thousands of pounds to print, and more to distribute.

Take the man on the street on to the information superhighway, and suddenly the whole situation changes. On the Internet, through a system called Usenet, informal discussion groups called newsgroups have been set up for any subject under the sun. Using this system, you can send a message to tens or hundreds of thousands of like-minded people across the world with a simple key stroke. The only costs for this basic broadcasting are for a computer, a modem and the Internet connection itself, which can be as little as $10 per month, plus VAT and local phone charges for as long as you are connected.

"Never judge a book by its cover," we are told, but we do so all the time. If a man in a shabby raincoat handed you a crumpled piece of paper with a lot of closely typed text on it, you'd be inclined to throw it away unread. But if the same text came to you in a glossy brochure, you mightread it. This gives large organisations an advantage, but the Internet levels these distinctions. Messages in newsgroups are in plain text - no pictures, no fancy layouts - you can't even underline or use different typefaces.

The quality of an idea and the clarity with which it is expressed are the only ways to impress the Internetting public. Presentation is as important on the Internet as it is elsewhere, but the most important element is not design but courtesy. Any organisation that wastes the time of newsgroup readers by sending over-long messages or ones published in the wrong areas risks receiving a flood of angry electronic mail.

Usenet is the simplest tool to use to express yourself, but the one attracting all the attention is the fast-growing World Wide Web (WWW). Using the Web, it is possible to embellish text with different styles and add pictures, sound and even video clips. But this does not yet give large companies that can employ designers the same advantages on the electronic media that they have in print. Publishing on the Web doesn't allow you to promote your work expensively using glossier paper, better distribution or a more tasteful layout. The rules of design can be very different from conventional graphic design - extensive use of pictures and graphics is unpopular, since large images can take several seconds to display.

If you wish to "publish" on the Web, you have to have access to a computer with a continuous connection to the Internet. This costs much more than being connected using a modem, and presents much more of a security risk, so few small companies and individuals can afford to go on to the Web directly. However, a number of organisations sub-let space on their Web. Some universities in the United States give space free to private individuals for non-commercial purposes, and Internet companies sell space to small businesses for just $25 per month.

Personal Web pages are becoming a popular means of self-expression on the Internet, with almost unbelievable versatility. Some of the uses are frivolous - one person has put his whole CD collection on-line, another allows anyone on the Internet to speak to his cat (he's got a voice synthesiser attached to his computer). Others are using the Web to publish fanzines about Quentin Tarantino, their favourite football team or to sell Internet- related T-shirts.

On the Internet, getting your message to millions is easy - the hard part is getting them to pay attention to it amid all of the hubbub. The 1,000-channel future predicted by media pundits is already here, but with text and pictures instead of television. Everyone has their own broadcasting studio, but nobody has produced a useful TV guide.

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