Potholes, perturbations and predicaments observed on the information superhighway:

I have seen the future of Cybersurfing, and it means browsing for cool Home Pages on the World Wide Web with Air Mosaic. If this doesn't translate, then you clearly have to convince your boss to fund a super-fast Internet connection so you can spend even more time at work goofing around on the 'Net -- I mean, uh, spend more time mining digital resources and ... ummm, growing multi-modal markets.

Basically, friend, you need to be able to b.s. in hypertext!

The World Wide Web (WWW) is the latest realm of the cyber-hip, a place where graphics, audio, video and words meet and shake hands by modem. It's the Infobahn without those pesky speed limits; you can download bulky sound and video files within minutes instead of hours. But you need a magical software called Mosaic and the right connections -- most important, Internet telecommunications links that aren't yet provided by humdrum consumer suppliers like American Online, Prodigy and CompuServe. (You can pay a specialized Internet provider to give you access.)

And you need to adopt the lingo of the priesthood, pretending that you actually understand a sentence such as: "You can get by with a SLIP connection and a 14.4, but for real throughput you need a T1 hard wire." Comeback: "Can I get it for 50 bucks at Egghead?"

No. So you may wonder why you'd want access to the World Wide Web. Because it's essentially the working prototype for the coming merger of computers and television. It's touted as the fabled "killer app" -- an interactive medium that might someday allow you to download whatever movie or music you want, instantaneously. It's the glorious realm of hypertext and hypermedia, where documents and files can be linked ad infinitum.

Now it's become practically passe to traffic in simple text on the 'Net. A mere e-mail address is mundane. You need an address that says: http://www.cmp.com/interactive-age/ ia-home.html. (That's the Web address for Interactive Age, a new publication covering so-called "converging technologies." Note to flamers: Since the Post's very advanced computer system can't typeset a backslash, kindly read the forward slashes as backslashes.)

At the Networked Economy Conference here this week, which gathered the most powerful shamans of the media age (plutocrats Bill Gates and John Malone included), the buzz was about having a Home Page, a site on the Web where you can display your firm's wares or your own personal obsessions. Musician Thomas Dolby was among those who fixed his gaze on the groovy, graphics-rich Home Page that Interactive Age posted on terminals at a cocktail party. I'm tempted to say he was blinded by science, as in his '83 hit song, but he frankly looked blase. Been there, done that; these days, Dolby is president of a multimedia company called Headspace, heavily into virtual reality.

The new issue of Wired magazine declares that the big on-line services have been rendered obsolete by Mosaic, a "graphical browser" that anyone can download for free. But that prediction's a bit heavy on the hype. Sure, it's a blast to access video and sound files in a point-and-click fashion, but for most of us, setting up Mosaic is an act of techno-self-flagellation. Even experienced programmers, like the ones at Quantum Research Corp. in Bethesda who initiated me into the mysteries of Mosaic, encountered a bugfest as we surfed the Web with top-of-the-line hardware.

"Mosaic tends to be unstable because it's freeware," explained John Lewis, 25, as the Mac's screen froze yet again. This time we were attempting to download an exclusive audio file from Madonna, who's been plugging her forthcoming album, "Bedtime Stories," all over the 'Net. (Eventually, we accessed her new, nose-ringed album cover photo and lispy come-on: "Hello, all you cyber-heads. Welcome to the '90s version of intimacy: You can hear me, you can even see me, but you can't touch me!" And, boy, were we glad.)

Mosaic has more educational applications, of course. You can browse great museum collections, visit the Library of Congress, dissect a frog, marvel at the publicity still of the guy who runs the National Science Foundation. In his spare time, Lewis has designed the Space Activism Home Page (http://muon.qrc.com/space/start.html), which provides updates on such legislative issues as private mining on the moon, and offers links to NASA archives. He showed me a brief video clip that depicted the space shuttle docking at Space Station Alpha. "It's our movie now," he said, downloading it from NASA in seconds, demonstrating how truly free the World Wide Web is.

"Copyright is going to be a big issue. People are taking pictures they don't own and slapping them onto their Home Pages," said Lewis. NASA photo files and other government offerings are not a problem, but once people have the ability to post entire CDs and current movies on the Web, the intellectual-property lawyers are going to start prowling bigtime.

For now, even the shamans are groping to discern WhatItAllMeans. "We met with many CEOs and found that people have no clue where things are going, they really don't," said Chuck Martin, publisher of Interactive Age. Which presents a perfect opportunity for us lowly Cyberserfs to baffle them with our newly acquired brilliance. The boss might think you're exploring "paradigm shifts" in a "borderless fractal enterprise," but really you're checking out the weather in Maui and the totally tubular "Wave of the Day" file at the SurfNet Home Page (http://sailfish.peregrine.com:80/ surf/surf.html).

Richard Leiby


GETTING THERE: To get onto the World Wide Web, you should have a SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) or PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol), a 14.4 KB modem, 4 megs of RAM and ample hard drive space for GIF and sound files.

Found something intriguing, improbable, insane or especially useful on the Net? Tip Karen Mason Marrero (marrero@aol.com) or Joel Garreau (garreau@well.sf.ca.us).