The "promise" of what the internet and the world wide web can do for most of us is still around about the same level. But there are encouraging signs that the potential is beginning to be realised. Take share trading on the internet. There are several trading facilities now available, and more on the way, but none of them is a true trading system. Not yet.
You do not actually execute a sale or purchase when you take advantage of web trading facilities. So far, all you are doing is sending a sophisticated e-mail to another human being, a stockbroker, who will re-key your order.
Which means that dealing on the web is not yet faster and cheaper than using your telephone but it will be when the next phase of trading software is implemented, when you can click on a price, enter the size of your trade and be taken automatically to the broker with the best deal.
What is happening already, as we all become aware of the need to take more care of our financial future, is the development of an increasing level of sophistication among individual investors. There are around 17 million individual shareholders in the UK. Of that total, around half are Halifax shareholders and probably own shares for the first time. However, from that base there is what David Joyce, Business Manager of Datastream/ICV calls "a continuum of sophistication".
As we, as investors, become more sophisticated in handling our financial affairs, our information requirements also become more sophisticated. Datastream/ ICV's Market-Eye internet service, a baby brother of the company's Topic3 system used by city professionals, is targeted specifically at the PC literate investor.
Market-Eye on the internet now has 24,000 registered users regularly accessing its free pages and a further 1,000 paying customers accessing real-time share prices, rather than seeing them with a 20-minute delay imposed. The site also offers a bulletin board service where you can post questions and comments on investment matters for others to read and answer.
Datastream/ICV is working on a service called InvestorLink, which is not available yet but, in the words of that immortal, unknown software designer, will be there "soon". It is aimed at the investor relations and shareholder information market. "Price-moving information is only going to the professionals now. This way it will be available to private investors," comments David Joyce.
Information will be accessed directly from the companies themselves. InvestorLink will include news, historical comparisons and peer rankings, along with company's financial calendars, corporate governance issues and any other specific investor information a company wants to communicate.
It will not be an unbiased news service because the coverage of each company will contain information provided by the company. Datastream/ICV hopes that it will be the kind of information which, in the past, has been available to the city trader immediately but which the private investor will only have read in his newspaper the following day.
Finally, a word of warning for when the site does go live. Do remember to use the right suffix when you key in InvestorLink's web address - that is: ".co.uk". If you type in ".com" instead you will be magically whisked across the Atlantic to a website run by a financial adviser in California.