Appraisers and cyberspace: an introduction to the Internet.
WHAT IS THE INTERNET?
The Internet was born about 20 years ago as a U.S. Defense Department network called the ARPAnet. The ARPAnet was an experimental network designed to support military research; in particular, research about how to build computer networks that could withstand the effects of mass destruction, such as nuclear attacks and major wars, and still function. (Much has been reported regarding the difficulty the U.S.-led coalition had in disabling Iraq's command and control network during the Persian Gulf War. As it turned out they were using U.S.-developed Internet-type software to determine optimal telecommunications routes.)(1)
Today the Internet is a global computer network that interconnects government agencies, universities, businesses, organizations, and individuals. Rich in resources, the Internet provides between 20 and 60 million users worldwide access to searchable databases, news events, training information, discussion groups, and experts in various fields. With all of the sources connected together, the amount of information available at one's fingertips is staggering. The information resources that visionaries discussed in the early 1980s are not just "research realities" with which a few advanced thinkers can play in some lab - these are "real life" realities that you and I can tap into at our home or office today! From its inception, the Internet has been a voluntary undertaking. The participants have all agreed on certain communications rules regarding such matters as how information (usually organized in bundles or "packets"(2)) is sent and received and e-mail addressing. Thus the Internet has no president, no chief operating office, and no chairman of the board - just working committees.
The Internet is the much touted "information superhighway," "infobahn," or "cyberspace." These are the buzzwords, from local barbershops, to trendy restaurants, to television programs and countless magazine articles. Because of media exposure as well as the attention given to it by Vice President Al Gore and the Clinton Administration, talk of the Internet is everywhere. We read about the Internet in Time, Business Week, and Fortune.
The Internet has been described as the greatest revolution in the computing world since the IBM personal computer (PC). As described in a recent article in Business Week, "The Internet is much more than the world's biggest e-mail system or place where computer jocks can get their jollies."(3) The Net, as it is referred to by the cognoscenti, is the next revolution in the computer world. It is literally bringing a whole universe to users. The Net is the largest, most economical, richest, most open, and most easily reached information medium available anywhere in the world.
The Internet has doubled in size every ten months for the past six years.(4) This growth has taken place not only on the hardware side - host computers and the connections between them - but also in the number of users. In the mid-1980s, there were about 2,000 host computers. These computers, whether mainframes, minicomputers, or microcomputers, provided millions of people with access to the Internet. Today, the number of hosts(5) is somewhere between 2 and 3 million. At the same time, the number of users is somewhere between 20 and 60 million, depending on the source.(6) Vinton Cerf, one of the creators of the Internet, testified to the U.S. House of Representatives that "there is reason to expect that the user population will exceed 100 million by 1998. That is equivalent to almost one-half of the U.S. population."
In the future the Internet will bring interactive computing to every user. Telephone calls will be face to face (i.e., teleconferencing). Standard text information will be augmented with rich graphics and sound, to enhance understanding. Television will become interactive. Shopping will be done through home computers connected to the Net. Ultimately, the Internet will bring a "virtual reality"(7) environment to society. In fact, a new Internet code language called virtual reality modeling language (VRML) is already available and waiting only for the proliferation of high-powered desktop computers and software applications. VRML is a developing standard for describing interactive three-dimensional scenes delivered through the Internet.(8)
There are six basic tools or resources available on the Internet: 1) e-mail, 2) Telnet, 3) FTP, 4) Users Network (UseNet), 5) Gopher, and 6) World Wide Web. Depending on the connection arrangements made with an Internet Service Provider (ISP)(9) one or more of these services can be made available. Fortunately, all six of these services are typically available through any service provider (two additional tools are gaining popularity: Talk and Internet Relay Chat [IRC]).
E-mail allows individuals to exchange messages and files with other Internet users. This tool allows users to exchange simple text information like messages, letters, invoices, and job requests. However, it can also be used for transferring binary files,(10) such as word-processing files and spreadsheets - in other words, an entire appraisal report. The cost of transmitting the messages is independent of the locations of the two hosts; from Los Angeles to Sydney costs the same as from Los Angeles to Burbank.
Telnet is used for logging onto other computers on the Internet. The connection can be to a machine in the same room or on the other side of the world. When connected, a user's computer becomes a keyboard and screen (dumb terminal) to the remote machine. Telnet is used to access public services and databases, including library card catalogs and, in some areas, City Hall records, from which census data, zoning information, and related data can be downloaded. Telnet also allows a user to download financial information such as the latest stock and bond quotes and similar data from commercial firms.
The Internet File Transfer Protocol (FTP) allows for the exchange of files between hosts, regardless of their locations or even whether they use the same operating system. In addition, FTP enables a user to obtain free software, including spreadsheet files, word-processing files, and graphics, from other computers on the Internet. Specifically, FTP can be used to transfer appraisal reports, including pictures and maps, between a client and an appraiser. It also allows the exchange of information vital to the appraisal process, particularly when the quality should exceed facsimile quality but the U.S. mail is not fast enough.
A special type of FTP, called "anonymous FTP," refers to the downloading (i.e., a local computer receives a file from a remote computer; this is similar to receiving a fax) of public (free) files from large computer systems.
Users Network (UseNet)
UseNet news groups are worldwide discussion groups where articles are disseminated to participating members via e-mail. This Internet resource allows news groups with similar interests to exchange information, discuss various topics, and ask each other questions. UseNet is the world's largest bulletin board service. Via this medium appraisers can exchange ideas, discuss important issues affecting the industry, post want ads and other employment-related information, and exchange appraisal comparable data. Users can participate passively (just reading articles) or actively (reading and submitting articles).
This is one of the tools allowing Net surfers to locate and retrieve files and documents by selecting choices from an on-screen menu. As the name implies, this tool directs the program located at the remote computer to "go for" the information being sought by a user.
World Wide Web
The WWW (Web) is the latest and most sophisticated service offered by the Internet. Basically, this service offers "linked" information, where the links may be text, images, or even sound. The following example illustrates this concept. Assume that in looking up a word in a dictionary, reference is made to another word (link) that is defined in an encyclopedia. Further, assume that the reference is in the form of a picture accompanied by music. With the Web, the picture-plus-music reference can be displayed almost instantly by just "pointing and clicking" the mouse at that link.
Internet Talk (Talk)
As the name implies, Internet Talk enables electronic talk (through keyboard and screen, as opposed to voice talk) between two computers. As with e-mail, the cost is independent of the locations of the two computers.
Inter-Relay Chat (IRC)
This is the same as Internet Talk when applied to a group of users. Naturally, this only works if the participants adhere to strict rules of conduct.
APPRAISERS AND THE INTERNET
Appraisers, analysts, and consultants are in the information brokerage business. Perhaps more than any other profession, information is the lifeblood of the appraisal business. In their everyday activities, appraisers gather, transfer, exchange, and in some cases even create information. Appraisers take data from numerous different sources, process them, and then draw logical conclusions. These conclusions serve as the backbone of valuations, evaluations, or recommendations. The more timely the information, the more reliable is an appraiser's opinion.
Currently, the manner in which this information is collected is not only cumbersome but is also cost ineffective. An appraiser who must write a regional description has to drive to the local chamber of commerce and collect census data. These data are analyzed to derive and support the conclusions in the report, and to provide a client with useful demographic information about the area. There are now hundreds of cities with Web pages (i.e., units of Web information), and the number of new ones is growing exponentially every month. Census and comprehensive demographic information is already available on the Internet - not only free of charge but also free of driving and opportunity costs. Further, new information, more up-to-date and comprehensive than anything the local chamber of commerce can provide, is being added almost on a daily basis.
Appraisers search public records to find comparable sale data. They may engage in time-consuming research at the recorder's office, use a service such as TRW, or check local Board of Realtors' data. This information can be scattered at best, and unavailable to many appraisers at worst. The Internet can now be the medium through which this information is transported. Appraisers will be able to download the comparables from data banks directly from recorders' offices, title company plants, or a greater national database. The exchange of data between appraisers is already possible. Soon the providers of data will realize that they can deliver data more efficiently than on CD-ROM or microfiche. Appraisers will even be able to instruct their desktop computers to search public records information directly.
The manner in which appraisers transfer reports to clients is also cumbersome and cost ineffective. Subject property photographs are sent to development and then are pasted on the report. The report is set up with maps and other attachments, copied, and then sent to the client (often by overnight service). The photo costs are high, as are the personnel costs to do the mapping and other file setup activities. The cost of delivery, particularly in the case of last-minute reports, is also high. Today it is possible to send a complete, self-contained appraisal report (including all attachments) from a computer anywhere in the world to another computer anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes.
The following list enumerates some of the additional advantages appraisers can receive from being on the Internet. It is important to realize that these are only a small fraction of the potential benefits and that new benefits and services are being created on the Internet almost on a daily basis.
* Appraisers can exchange e-mail with other appraisers across the country and the world and with millions of other people on the Internet. E-mail is the perfect tool to notify clients of schedule changes, report the status of an assignment, and even request more information about the subject property. E-mail is also an excellent tool for transferring files, whether pure text or binary.
* Appraisers can search for and retrieve free software and commercial software. This can be both for general research projects and for appraisal business applications.
* Appraisers can search databases of organizations, individuals, and government sources for files on thousands of topics. Census information is available free of charge for anywhere in the United States and the world. Financial information, such as bond rates and historical consumer price index trends, is also available and free.
* Appraisers can participate in subject-oriented discussion groups commonly known as news groups (there are more than 9,000 topics).
* Appraisers can send and receive program and data files, such as spreadsheets, CAD files, and desktop publishing files.
* Appraisers can send and receive image and sound files.
* Appraisers can browse through resources of public and private information services.
* Appraisers can search catalogs at many public, university, and research libraries.
* Appraisers can search for and order online magazine articles.
THE COST MODEL
The first step in getting connected to the Internet is the purchase of appropriate computer hardware (e.g., computer, modem, scanner) and software (e.g., word processing program, telecommunication program). A useful cost allocation model to use in considering such a purchase is that of cutting a pie into approximately three equal slices, and allocating the following components to each slice. One slice represents the direct cost of the device. The second slice represents the cost of all of the software that the user plans to purchase for that device, including software upgrades. (In the case of suites, such as Microsoft's Office Suite, or complex programs like Mathematica or Pro-Ject, the same model may be used; however, the initial cost of the software is placed in the first slice.) The third slice represents maintenance and repair, training, and technical support. This slice is the one that is usually ignored by many users because these costs are either hidden or show up in unexpected ways. For example, an appraiser may waste a whole day in trying to get a "simple" user-friendly option, which has been working well up to now, to work again in an application. Not only do these wasted efforts result in a loss in output or productivity, but they also bring feelings of helplessness and frustration. This is especially true with items purchased in the so-called gray market, where manuals are minimal and technical assistance nonexistent.
The cost of hardware upgrading is best left out of the third slice because of the range of meanings that this term may have. In some cases it may be the cost of a minor component such as a high-speed serial port, and in others, it may mean the replacement of a major component such as a motherboard. The cost of software upgrading, on the other hand, should always be included in the second slice for two reasons. First, software manufacturers have been providing improved versions of their products about every two years, on average. Second, it is not unusual to purchase a product at a "reduced" price only to discover shortly afterwards that the upgraded version (which is invariably announced soon after the purchase) costs about the same as the original product.
The model just presented is not intended to be an exact accounting model involving discounted cash flows. It should be used flexibly and modified as needed. For example, some devices, such as laser printers, do not follow this simple cost classification scheme. For this particular case, the cost of paper, ink cartridges, font cartridges, and memory upgrades might replace the second slice, and also part of the third slice, given the low frequency of breakdowns.
CONNECTING TO THE INTERNET
For individuals and small independent entrepreneurs there are effectively three methods(11) for connecting to the Internet. In order of decreasing complexity, these are the direct method, the online account method, and the shell account method. All three methods offer at the minimum e-mail and Usenet, and all three require the purchase of connecting services from a provider company (usually referred to as a server(12) or Internet Service Provider). In addition, the direct method requires special-purpose software to "simulate" the connection, while the shell account method does not. The online account method may or may not require special-purpose software, depending on the options offered. All three methods are further examined in the following section.
In the direct method, when "connected" to the Internet, a user becomes virtually part of the Internet, and is referred to as a host (more precisely, the local host). During a session with another host, referred to as the remote host (the remote host may also be a server, as in "client/server"), all communication is effectively between these two hosts, and the provider simply serves as a gateway to the Internet. Thus, a file being downloaded from a remote host is stored directly on the hard drive of the local host, and not on the provider's hard drive. In addition, during the connection the local host has access to many of its own DOS and Windows tools. One of the most important features offered by direct connection providers is access to the Web. Further, most providers offer real-time or online access to Telnet, FTP, IRC, and Talk resources (the last two resources require special software, such as WinIRC). E-mail and UseNet messages and articles are normally both composed and read off line (to do so on line is a waste of money). Sending and receiving these messages, on the other hand, is done while a user is on line, which for an average user takes only a few minutes.
The special-purpose software that enables the direct connection consists primarily of encoded telecommunications rules or standards, collectively referred to as protocols. Currently, there are three such standards for direct connections: serial-in-line protocol (SLIP), compressed SLIP (CSLIP), and point-to-point protocol (PPP). SLIP is the oldest, and PPP is the most recent and most advanced, with CSLIP falling somewhere between the two. A fourth but different technique makes use of high-speed integrated service digital network (ISDN) lines. Such lines, which include fiber optics, are very expensive and not yet available to the average user.
Fortunately for a user, the special-purpose software for the SLIP, CSLIP, or PPP rules is installed in the user's computer at subscription time by the provider. Two additional software packages may also be installed at that time. These are a 32-bit processor emulator program, Win32s (provided by Microsoft free of charge), and a special buffer setup program to enable Windows to handle Internet communication. (This special buffer, which has well-defined traffic priorities, is called a "stack" [mathematical term] or "socket" [computer term]; because it is Windows-based, it is called a Winsock. Winsock programs can be obtained separately from various sources.) If available, the PPP standard is preferable because it is less sensitive to telephone line noise, and it is the only one of the three protocols supported by the Internet. In addition, PPP-Level 3 (not offered by all PPP providers) allows the use of Eudora, a popular e-mail reading program. As a result of these factors, the selection of a provider should also be based on the type of standard (e.g., SLIP, CSLIP, or PPP) offered.
Because of their relatively recent appearance in the telecommunications field, the direct connect special-purpose software is Windows-based, with a front-end program (what the user sees on the screen) that includes many Graphics User's Interface (GUI) features. GUI refers to the use of icons and the mouse for task selection (point-and-click), pull-down menus, and other user-friendly visual features such as the clipboard, for transferring information between applications; "send" for direct transmitting or "mailing" of documents from within an application such as WordPerfect, Word, or Window's built-in word processor "Write"; and multitasking (acting on more than one application at a time) for switching between applications. It should be noted for the record that most of these features were introduced by Apple Computers long before they were implemented on PCs.
Most BBSs are shell accounts. In some cases, the BBSs have been upgraded to offer limited access to the Internet. Historically, however, their primary function has been to offer low-cost connectivity to the residents of the local community. As a result, even when upgraded, these accounts offer only "bare-bones" Internet services. (A separate type of shell account is used in large networks such as universities, government agencies, and large corporations. These systems, which are usually Unix-based, are not available to an average person or small organization, and are not covered here.) Internet BBS shell accounts offer two types of services: internal, or local; and external, or Internet. The internal services include local e-mail, news, downloading of files, discussion groups (similar to IRC and Talk, but restricted to the BBS members), and other standard BBS services. The Internet services consist of e-mail, UseNet, and occasionally, FTP and Telnet. Resources such as WWW, IRC, and Talk are usually not available to BBS shell account subscribers. It is interesting to note that the online services also started as ordinary BBS providers, and that both groups have been expanding their services to include Internet connectivity in response to strong user demand.
With a shell account, Internet communication is primarily between the remote host and the provider's computer, which houses the BBS program. Thus the provider becomes the effective local host, and the user's computer becomes a dumb terminal connected to the provider. In addition, because the user's computer has disabled its processor, it can no longer issue commands to it. For example, the command PRINT FN, which is normally interpreted by COMMAND.COM (the DOS command processor or traffic cop) to print a file labeled FN, is instead subject to interpretation by the provider's own command processor, which may or may not accept this command. Even if it did accept this command the printing would be done at the provider's computer and not at the user's computer, as was probably intended. Thus, two steps are involved in obtaining (or sending) a file from a remote host via FTP. First, the file is downloaded to the server's computer where it is stored in the hard drive, sometimes at a cost. Second, the file is then downloaded from the server's hard drive to the user's hard drive. During both steps, the user is paying "online" connect fees. A somewhat modified connection exists when a user Telnets (logs on) to a remote host. In this case, the connection is slightly more direct than in the shell account case.
Connection to the BBS is through a standard telecommunications software program, which can be either Windows or DOS based. Regardless of the type used, because the user's computer has become a dumb terminal, once the connection is made the screen display is the one provided by the text-based BBS front-end program and not by the telecommunication program. Thus, even if the telecommunication program is Windows-based, none of its GUI features are available to the user. The text-based BBS front-end program can be either a command-line type or a menu-driven type. The former requires the user to enter valid commands, one at a time. In the latter a menu consisting of plain English text and arranged in numbered rows is displayed to the user, who makes a selection by entering the appropriate row number. (In that sense the shell account is similar to the Unix-based account mentioned earlier.) Both the command line and the menu-driven front-end programs are devoid of graphical, user-friendly features. As a result, they are harder to use than the more iconic GUIs.
THE COMMERCIAL ONLINE SERVICES
The major online service providers include America Online (AOL), CompuServe, Delphi, and Prodigy. Having started as BBSs, online accounts similarly offer internal (non-Internet) and external (Internet) services. Though the internal services include direct e-mail for members of the same provider, and among-members discussion groups, they differ from BBSs in both the types of information offered and the geographic area covered. The information offered (some at a fee) includes national and international news; finance and stock market data; sports, weather, cultural, and travel information; and many other current topics. The geographic area includes the United States, some locations in Europe, and also some in the Far East. The external or Internet services include international e-mail, Usenet, WWW, FTP, and Telnet. As was the case with the direct connection, WWW, FTP, and Telnet communication is between the local host (i.e., the user) and the remote host (i.e., the provider serves as a gateway only). Unlike the direct connection, IRC and Talk are not yet available. (There are exceptions, however - Delphi offers both IRC and Talk, and CompuServe allows a subscriber to connect to an IRC server by using WinIRC in a nonstandard operation.)
Most online service providers offer both Windows-based and DOS-based front-end programs; they also offer a Macintosh version. The Windows-based programs are preferable to the DOS-based versions for three reasons. First, the Windows-based programs are GUI; while, with a few exceptions (e.g., AOL, mentioned later in this article), most DOS-based versions use text-based front-end processors. Consequently, the major limitation of the DOS versions is their inability to provide advanced graphic features of the Internet such as the WWW. Second, GUI programs usually offer access to more Internet resources, and finally, providers tend to support the Windows-based versions more actively than the DOS-based versions. In the Windows versions, and also in the more advanced DOS versions, a selection may be made by pressing the key corresponding to an underscored or highlighted letter in the menu. (These keys are referred to correctly as "c-break" or accelerator keys, and incorrectly, as hot-keys.) On the other hand, the transmission speed of DOS versions, which do not use graphics, is moderately faster and less corruptible (damageable) than the graphics version because graphic files are much larger and more complicated than the corresponding text files.
AOL offers both a DOS and a Windows version of their front-end program. The DOS version uses a low-level graphics program that includes some of the simpler GUI features, such as point-and-click. The Windows version uses a high-level graphics program with all of the GUI features. Prodigy offers essentially the same services as AOL. CompuServe offers both a DOS version and a Windows version. The DOS version uses a simple BBS-type text menu, devoid of graphics and mouse use. The Windows version uses a full GUI front-end program. Though Delphi offers a Windows-based front-end program, it is only a point-and-click text-based menu, and therefore devoid of GUI features. As a result, this particular WWW option does not display pictures, just text. On the other hand, Delphi does not charge for WWW access; in addition, it offers access to IRC and Talk. AOL includes WWW access with its basic service, while CompuServe has a fee schedule for its use.
In selecting an online service provider, other factors to be considered (in addition to the front-end program) include costs, Internet services offered, availability of lines, choice of user-identification or e-mail name (both AOL and Delphi allow the use of a standard, recognizable name such as Jdoe, while CompuServe and Prodigy assign complicated numeric or text codes), software and hardware requirements (e.g., modem, RAM), security, and importantly, free technical support. To facilitate the selection process, all online service providers now offer a free, 30-day introductory subscription. The only requirement is that a user register with a valid credit card. The card does not kick in unless the user decides to stay with the provider, upon expiration of the introductory offer. (Although some may initially view this request with suspicion, on consideration they may realize that the service providers must protect themselves against abuse, and that this is certainly one way to guarantee that a user is a bona fide potential client, and that the free option will be used only once.)
Cost figures vary greatly, not only between the three connecting methods, but also within a type or group. Items to look for include the base fee (and number of hours and services included in that figure); the fees for exceeding base fee volume; the file transfer fees (flat and variable fees and whether variable fees are time-based, character-based, or message-based); the resources or service areas not included in the base fee; the telephone call costs (if call to provider is not local); the network carrier fee, such as SprintNet, Tymnet, or other carriers (night rates versus day rates); and the 800 line fee, if offered.
In sum, in comparing the three connecting methods, the major advantages of the direct connection include the availability of all or most Internet resources, "true" connection between the local host and the remote host, whether transfer of files can be done in the background,(13) and multitasking. (As mentioned earlier, this last feature is also available to the users of online servers that offer Windows-based, frontend programs, regardless of their GUI features.) Two features of some direct connection providers not mentioned earlier are the ability of a local host (user) to become an FTP server (similar to a major computer system) to other hosts, and the ability to store a personal WWW home page on the provider's host for round-the-clock viewing by interested parties.
The major disadvantages of the direct connection are the greater cost, the more complex setup, the difficulty of understanding it, the increased chance of getting "lost" in cyberspace, and poor documentation.
The major advantages of the online account include a free trial period, the ease of setting up the connection, the quality of the technical support, the availability of a large, non-Internet membership located in the United States, the use-specific manuals (few if any direct and shell account providers offer comprehensive reference manuals similar to those offered by the online providers), and the lessened chance of getting lost in cyberspace. The major disadvantage of the online method is not having access to IRC and Talk.
Conversely, the major advantages of the shell(14) account are local connectivity; lower cost for low-volume users; and the absence of complicated screens. The major disadvantages of the shell account include the text-based front-end programs with little or no graphic capabilities; its roundabout method to download files from remote hosts; the fact that in some cases a user must be on line all the time, even when composing (as opposed to transmitting) e-mail messages; and the lack of documentation, with little or no technical support.
TELECOMMUNICATION SOFTWARE FOR CONNECTING TO THE INTERNET
There are essentially two types of telecommunication software used to connect to the Internet. The first type is usually designed and provided by the service provider. The second type consists of the ordinary telecommunication programs such as Q Modem Pro, for Windows or DOS; Pro-Comm Plus (PC Plus), also available for Windows or DOS; or even the Communication Package of MS Works for Windows (Works is often bundled for "free" with many new computers sold through mail order, and even in some retail stores.) The "terminal" telecommunication program built in with Windows is not recommended because it offers just two transmission protocols (one of which is a low-level protocol), instead of the ordinary dozen or so protocols offered in most packages. In addition, in the several instances tried by the authors, the program failed to work properly.
Fortunately, users have little choice in the matter. All direct connection providers provide their own dedicated telecommunication software for connecting to the Internet, and all BBS providers require users to use a standard telecommunication program. The online providers, AOL and Prodigy, provide their own dedicated programs, and Delphi requires users to use a standard telecommunication program. CompuServe is the only provider to offer the choice of using either a standard program or CompuServe's own WinCIM program (ADA CompuServe Information Manager for Windows). All provider-dedicated programs, being single purpose, are efficient and easy to use. For the same reasons, however, they are highly limited. For example, few providers offer fax services such as PC Plus's Fax Option or Lap Link's (AKA Comm Works) TS FAX.
For these reasons, regardless of the final choice of the Internet provider, a user is advised to purchase a good all-purpose telecommunication package and become proficient with that particular program. Further, many general-purpose telecommunication programs offer GUI access to online services such as CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy (and PC Plus also offers access to MCI Manager). Beyond that, we are seeing a new trend whereby these programs are beginning to offer Internet connectivity. For example, PC Plus offers access to Internet's FTP.
THE HARDWARE CONNECTION TO THE INTERNET: THE MODEM(15)
Careful selection of a modem is critical for efficient, reliable, low-cost Internet service. Fifty dollars saved on a low-speed modem may end up costing many times that amount in transmission charges. The following technical factors should be considered in selecting a modem: the transmission speed of the device (measured in bits per second [bps](16) or kilo bits per second [kbps]), the availability of local (USA-based) technical support, and the transportability. Each factor is discussed next.
A user should buy a high-speed modem (at least 14.4 kbps, but preferably 28.8 kbps(17)) with both a data and a fax component. There are two reasons for suggesting a high-speed device. First, the faster the speed of transmission (transmission rate), the shorter the time a user needs to be on line. This decreases the chance of telephone line noise corrupting the data being transmitted. Second, the faster the transmission rate, the lower the connection cost. Even if the service is available through a toll-free number, there usually is a "connect time" cost. In addition to the standard connect time, there may be a connect surcharge to pay for the use of the line. Second, high-speed modems are not only more efficient, they are also more reliable. Efficiency refers to the packing or compressing of the greatest amount of data into the smallest possible space or package for transmission. Reliability deals with the ability of a device to detect and correct, whenever possible, transmission errors. In a broader sense, this term also covers a modem's ability to recognize the maximum speed of the modem at the other end, and adjust its own transmission rate accordingly. For most modems, this is referred to as the auto-detect feature.
According to the cost model discussed earlier, maintenance, training, and technical support account for about one-third of the total cost of a computer component. In the case of modems, this is critical - especially the tech-support aspect. (Many users can relate to that one short telephone call to a tech-support specialist who explained in five minutes what 50 pages of user-friendly text couldn't.) Thus it is important that, in addition to all the fancy design and logos printed on the modem box, a telephone number be given for technical support. In addition, when the chips are down and the user is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, it is not important whether the number is toll-free or not. What is important is that there be a human-based technical support number. (To cut costs, except for sales most companies are cutting out the toll-free numbers anyway.) Even when a tech-support number is given, it may turn out to be just a complicated BBS system without a "questions to the technician" option; this is precisely what a frustrated user needs least. Therefore, the user should call the number before making the purchase just to ensure that human help will be available when needed.
In addition to tech-support it is also important to know the name and address of the manufacturer in case of defects. Some manufacturers not only fail to give a tech-support number, they even omit their own name and address. (Products sold in this fashion are referred to as the "gray market.") A somewhat similar situation exists in the mail order camera business. The difference between a brand-name camera with tech support and warrantee and a brand-name camera without these protections amounts to about 20% of the price. For example, a popular low-cost modem is packaged in a fancy and colorful box and labeled with what appears to be a brand or manufacturer's name. However, upon careful examination of the user's manual and the modem itself, it is clear that neither one bears a real brand-name of any sort, nor does the unit provide a tech-support number. In this particular case not only is it impossible to obtain technical support, it is impossible to verify the so-called initialization string (i.e., a binary, DNA-type string that identifies a particular modem to the telecommunication environment). Telling a telecommunication program that a modem is Hayes-compatible is no longer sufficient, as there are many types and levels of Hayes compatibility. On occasions, the correct initialization string must be entered manually because the communication program fails to properly identify the attached modem - this is especially true in setting up the fax component of a modem. In brief, though gray-market modems may cost 30% to 50% less than fully identified ones, in the long run, when all expenses are included, they may end up costing much more.
The third and last factor in selecting a modem deals with transportability. This refers to the ability to disconnect a modem from one machine and use it on another one. In this respect, modems can be either internal or external. Internal modems are desirable in that they do not take up space. However, they cannot be transported without opening the computer case and disconnecting the card from the mother board. External modems, on the other hand, are easily transportable, but the modem case and the AC adaptor wires tend to give a messy appearance to the computer setup. In addition, external modems cost more because of the case, the read-outs, and the AC adapter.
Transportability has yet another factor, especially for owners of older machines such as 80386's and the slower 80486's. This is the speed of the serial port (i.e., doorway in and out of a computer). With PCs there are essentially two types of ports, serial ports and parallel ports. In serial ports, the individual bits of each byte of data travel in a single line, one bit behind the other. In parallel ports the bits travel in parallel, one byte per row, like soldiers in a parade. Typically, most computers come with two serial ports, referred to as COM1 and COM2 (COM is short for communication), and one parallel port (in PC-type machines the parallel port is generally assigned to the printer, and is therefore referred to as LPT1 - for line printer number 1). In a Macintosh machine, the printer runs off the serial port, and additional devices can be connected via the SCSI(18) port. SCSI ports can hold up to seven devices, as long as only one device is operating at a time.
For modems connected to PCs there are two types of chips that control the speed and the procedure for handling the arrival of characters in the queue in the serial ports. These are the older universal asynchronous receiver-transmitter (UART) 8250, used in older machines, and the newer UART 16550 chips, used in newer machines. The difference between the two chips is in the ability of the 16550 to store characters as they arrive in the port while waiting for the computer to pick them up. With the 8250, as soon as a character arrives in the port the computer is requested to pick it up. If the machine is doing something else, the character will be lost when it is replaced by the next character to arrive. For low-speed transmission (below 9600 bps) the slower chip does not present a problem because the processor is so much faster than the port, but for high-speed modems (14.4 kbps and faster) that chip can cause problems. An immediate solution, which is counterproductive, is to instruct the modem to transmit at a lower speed. A more efficient solution is to install a UART 16550(19) serial chip in the computer or to buy a modem with the faster chip built into the device. Most internal high-speed modems have that device built in. Generally, external high-speed modems do not. Thus to hook up an external 28.8 kbps modem to an 80386 machine requires the installation of the faster chip. To complicate matters, Windows supports the capabilities of the 16550 chip while DOS does not - at least, by default.
Connecting to the Internet may be a simple or complex task, depending on a user's needs and technical expertise. Those who want a quick and easy-to-use connection should investigate commercial online services such as Prodigy and CompuServe. Users who, in addition to the Internet, also enjoy local community connectivity, might consider a BBS with a limited Internet gateway (such services do not generally offer WWW, Talk, and IRC). Finally, users who want to be connected directly to the Internet, and wish to make use of all of the available features, should consider an Internet service provider. Regardless of the choice of the type of service and provider, a reliable high-speed modem (subject to the noise distortion problem mentioned earlier), with data and fax components, is recommended. A reliable and versatile telecommunication software package is also recommended. Above all, for each item selected - service provider, modem, and telecommunication software - the availability of human-based technical support should be considered, or imputed in the total cost figure, before the final decision is made. A user should be aware that the telecommunication area is in a state of flux, and that many products are already obsolete by the time they are offered for sale at the retail level.
The most important thing is for appraisers to understand the urgency of becoming familiar with the Internet and its tools and services. Appraisers must do this so that, as a profession, they can be at the forefront of the current information explosion. The very survival of the profession may depend on the ability of appraisers to harness the power of the Internet's resources.
Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corporation, the world's largest computer software company, recently identified real estate as one of the industries that will be "revolutionized" by technological change. The change has already started and is moving at a fast pace; those who realize this and welcome it will ensure their survival in the profession.
1. Ed Krol, The Whole Internet - User's Guide and Catalog, 2d ed. (Sebastopol, California: O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1994).
2. A packet is a self-contained bundle of information organized for electronic transfer. In addition to the information being transferred, the packet may include routing, compression, and error detection information.
3. John W. Verity and Robert D. Ho, "Planet Internet," Business Week (April 3, 1995).
4. Bill Eager and Mary Ann Pike, Using the World Wide Web and Mosaic (Indianapolis, Indiana: Que Corporation, 1995).
5. In Internet parlance, any computer directly connected to the Internet is referred to as a host. It is not to be confused with the term "node," which refers to any computer connected to a network, "local" (LAN), or "wide area" (WAN).
6. Jill H. and Matthew V. Ellsworth, Marketing on the Internet (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995), 5.
7. This is a euphemism for creative and convincing simulation.
8. This is a computer designed to develop VR module.
9 This is an organization that offers access to the Internet.
10. A text file (or ASCII file) is a file that can be read in plain English. Typically, the DOS "type" command and the DOS "print" command display these files in English, on the screen and on the printer, respectively. A binary file, on the other hand, may consist of text and non-text information. Applying the type or print commands to such files yields unintelligible information.
11. Until recently, there were primarily two connecting methods: the direct and the indirect. The indirect method was made of two types: the online accounts and the shell accounts. However, current significant advances by the companies providing online services have upgraded the online type to a position between the direct and the shell account methods. (Some of the features offered by these providers belong to the more advanced or direct connection, while other features are clearly of the shell account type.) As a result, for the sake of clarity this article presents the online services in a separate category, and drops the indirect type designation.
12. The term, "server," like so many other terms in the computer field, has at least three meanings. In dealing with a network consisting of PCs, the server is the main PC to which the other computers are connected. On the Internet, a server can be one of two entities. It can either be the gateway to the Internet organization (as such it is referred to as a provider), or it can be a remote computer that provides information to a local machine. In this case, the local machine is called the client, the remote machine is called the server, and the service is referred to as a client/server transaction. Many Internet resources belong to this last type.
13. The terms, "background," and "foreground," have several meanings. With large-scale computers, a data processing activity is said to be performed in the background when it is performed by the CPU during the brief lulls in the primary task being performed in the foreground. This is especially important in the transfer of large files and other relatively slow tasks, such as printing, and even keyboard data entry, where the time interval between keystrokes may be used for high-speed processing. With Macintosh machines, the sharing of the CPU in this fashion is referred to as "cooperative multitasking." With PCs operating under Windows, users can specify foreground and background preferences for both Windows and non-Windows applications through the "Scheduling" dialog box of the "Enhanced" icon of the "Control Panel" icon located either in "Accessories" or "Main" of Windows' "Program Manager." A simple type of multitasking for Windows-based systems is "context switching," where two or more applications are opened at the same time, with one in the foreground (active) and the remainder in the background. Switching between tasks or windows is implemented by depressing the ALT and Tab keys simultaneously. Readers are referred to Microsoft Windows' reference manual for more detail.
14. The term, "shell," has several related meanings. For PCs, the term refers to an operating system such as DOS, Windows, or OS/2, or it can mean the front-end program (i.e., what is seen on the screen) of these operating systems. In a restricted sense, the COMMAND.COM processor and the older, Windows-like DOS shell programs may also be considered to be shells. For Unix mancines, the term shell is better defined. A shell program is simply a command interpreter. The most popular Unix shells are: the Bourne shell, the Korn shell, and the C shell. A separate but related meaning of shell is its use as a type of connection such as a shell account, as is used in this article.
15. The term, "modem," is derived from the two words, "modulator," and "demodulator." Modulator refers to the converting or transforming of a computer-generated discrete or digital signal (just bits of information) into an analog or continuous signal (like a wave) for transmission over the telephone lines. Demodulator refers to converting an analog signal back into its parent digital signal. (Of course, in the case of digital transmission lines, such as those used in ISDN transmission, the term modem, though inappropriate, is still used because the term is common and its meaning is clear.)
16. The term, "bit," is derived from the words, "binary digit," and refers to the smallest amount of digital information possible: a zero or a one. A group of eight contiguous bit positions is referred to as a byte (etymology unknown). All binary information that consists of computer instructions and data is made up of strings of zeros and ones, and nothing else. The instruction strings can be processed or interpreted by a computer; however, the data strings cannot. These can only be displayed on the screen, printed, stored, and transmitted. Data are made up of symbols representing letters, special characters, and digits. In the computer, every such symbol is represented by a combination of either 7 bits or 8 bits. The 7-bit combination, or code, allows for a total of 128 different combinations (2 = 128), while the 8-bit code allows for a total of 256 combinations.
The most common codes used in the United States are the standard 7-bit American Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) code, and IBM's 8-bit Extended Binary Coded Information Code (EBCDIC), which is based on the original 6-bit binary coded decimal (BCD) code. The ASCII code was designed by the American Standards Institute (ANSI) for the binary representation or encoding of nonbinary information. The code is equivalent to the code, Alphabet No. 5, of the international counterpart of ANSI, the Consultative Committee in International Telegraphy and Telephony (CCITT).
The difference between the ASCII code and the EBCDIC is illustrated by the following example. In the ASCII code, the number 6 is represented by the binary string, 0110110, and the letter F by 1000110. In the EBCDIC code the number 6 is 11110110, and the letter F is 110130110. In PC systems, the 7-bit ASCII code is used in a modified or extended format consisting of 8 bits. This is done to conform to the physical 8-bit byte structure of these systems. When the 8th bit of a byte is not used to encode a symbol, it may be used as a parity bit for error detection purposes. A parity bit is a bit that is set to 0 or 1 so as to render the bit count, including the parity bit, either even (even parity) or odd (odd parity). In even parity, the 8th bit is encoded with either a 0 or 1 so that the total number of bits, including the parity bit, is even. The converse holds true for odd parity. For example, under even parity, the ASCII code for the letter F becomes 11000110. Under odd parity, the same letter becomes 01000110, and with no parity, F remains 1000110. As can be seen, the parity bit is located in the high order, or leftmost position of the byte.
17. There is one possible drawback for high-speed modems running at 28.8 kbps or higher. The standard telephone line, which was designed for voice or analog transmission, may not be able to handle the transmission rate. This is especially true for so-called noisy lines. In such cases, a solution to the problem is to install a high-speed Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) line. As the name implies, such lines are specifically designed for digital transmissions. Voice communication can also be handled by these lines, but this requires a reverse type modem that converts voice or analog signals to digital signals for transmission, and then back to analog for listening. Such modems are called digital modems. The cost of ISDN lines is constantly going down.
18. SCSI stands for small computer systems interface. This is a high-speed port that incorporates the best features of serial and parallel port. The technical specifications for SCSI devices have been set by ANSI. Macintosh computers adhere rigidly to these standards. Therefore makers of Macintosh peripherals must also adhere to them if they wish to sell their products. On the other hand, PC makers and the manufacturers of PC peripherals do not. As a result few machines come with a SCSI port. Thus, PC peripherals designed for a SCSI connection usually come with their own "customized" SCSI card.
19. For owners of DOS 5.0 or later, to tell the speed of the serial port it is necessary to type in the command MSD (Microsoft Diagnostic) and click on the COM Ports icon or box. The bottom line of the displayed information gives the UART chip used for each COM port.
Deltmann, Terry R. DOS Programmers Reference. Indianapolis, Indiana: Que Corporation, 1988.
Gilly, Daniel. Unix in a Nutshell, 2d ed. Sebastopol, California: O'Reilly & Associates, 1992.
Glister, Paul. The SLIP/PPP Connection. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.
Howard, Jim. The Internet Voyeur. Alameda, California: SYBEX, 1994.
Krol, Ed. The Whole Internet Second Edition. Sebastopol, California: O'Reilly & Associates, 1994.
Lavine, John R. and Margaret Young. Internet for Dummies. 2d ed. San Mateo, California: IDG Books, 1994.
Stalling, William. Business Data Communications. New York: McMillan Press, 1990.
Paul Gilon, MAI, PhD, is professor emeritus, California State University, Long Beach, where he taught information systems and appraisal science for 23 years, and is currently senior technical advisor with Real Estate Dynamics, a software and Internet applications development company. He received a BS in mathematics from City University of New York, and an MS and PhD in economics from the University of Southern California.
C. A. Cardenas, MAI, is a principal at Real Estate Dynamics. He received a BA in economics from the California State University, Fullerton.
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|Author:||Gilon, Paul; Cardenas, C.A.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1995|
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