TRON Project Leader's Opinion

Ken Sakamura

The University Museum, The University of Tokyo

The spread of the Internet without a doubt provides an epochal means for the individual to "obtain data." In particular, helped also by the fact that the Web page description language HTML is simple and easy to understand, the appearance of the World Wide Web has provided a suitable means to people who would like to transmit information,

In 1991, the ban on the commercial use of the Internet was removed, and Tim Berners-Lee and others at the CERN made public the concept of the World Wide Web (WWW). In 1993, following the development of the practical Mosaic WWW browser by students at the University of Illinois, we saw the explosive spread of the WWW. According to Hobbes' Internet Timeline in which Internet statistics have been released, the number of WWW browser sites was only 623 at the end of 1993, but it was as great as 956,000 sites at the end of 1999.

The Internet has already come to be recognized as a type of media ranking alongside television and magazines. However, in proportion to that, irresponsible and false information has come to flood the Internet. Thus it is becoming more and more important to develop an eye to properly penetrate what is false and irresponsible.

As we learned through the Y2K problem uproar at the end of last year, lots of irresponsible and groundless information flowed on the Internet to be sure, but also in newspapers, magazines, and on television. It is good to sound a warning to people that a problem like Y2K exists, but people called Y2K specialists appeared who declared that as a result of this "the world will fall into ruin," who threatened people with statements like "a large amount of provisions are indispensable since it will be impossible to follow ones daily routine," and who pointed it out with headlines such as "The Unreasonable Y2K Bug that Computer Makers Can't Understand."

Without limiting oneself to the Internet, today we need to confirm the quality of information as to what is correct and what is strange. On the day that Microsoft Corporation's Windows 2000 was put on sale, only in Japan (it is only in Japan that this type of thing is done!), marketing commenced at midnight in large shops in the same manner as Window 95 and Windows 98. How the media transmitted the circumstances of this marketing was something to behold. I shall narrow this down to only how the media relayed what happened in Akihabara and Shinjuku at the moment in the middle of the night when February 17 changed into February 18.

My staff sped over to Akihabara. They were also in Shinjuku. Using handheld telephones as a conversation link, I had information relayed moment by moment in real time, which I then compared with the information on the Web and in newspapers. Prior to 12 o'clock midnight, around major personal computer shops, it was packed with several hundred people believed to be concerned persons and members of the mass media. Compared to that, there were almost no customers. Even at the largest shops, the lines were several tens of people at the most. Anyhow, they immediately knew because it was just concerned persons looking on. When they stepped away from the stores, it was pitch dark. They took a look around various places. The places with the longest lines were stores that had won the PlayStation 2 lottery. Even then, the lines disappeared in 20 minutes, and after another 30 minutes had elapsed, there were also stores that closed shop.

To sum up the feelings of the people who were on the scene, rather than what could be called bustling, it was slack. When I took a look at how the Web and the newspapers were reporting this in general, the places on the Web that are run by individuals were generally honest. Web sites that report news related to major personal computers were only reporting news like "places doing reserved sales of PlayStation 2 from midnight are blown out by throngs." It took quite some time until the news of Windows 2000 sales appeared. These were divided into those that reported it straight with "the lines disappeared immediately" and "which was greater--the media and concerned persons or customers?," and those reported it superficially by attaching a close-up picture with "it was very bustling." What was surprising were the next morning's newspapers.

There were both newspapers that reported it was bustling using a color picture on the first page, and newspapers that allotted the story a large picture on the society page. Although there was a newspaper that reported "advance orders were 1/10 compared to Windows 95/98," there was also a newspaper that wrote "700 people formed a line." If you added up all the people lined up throughout Akihabara, you might get something on that order. Nevertheless, because the stories were skillfully written, at a glance you end up believing that, but if you verified the actual situation at the scene, a point of view friendly to Microsoft stands out. Why? Why are the large Japanese mass media organizations favorably disposed to Microsoft to this extent? Are they doing this consciously? Is it because they have a strong predisposition to go with the winner? Are they writing articles without thinking very much?

On the other hand, in the case of the U.S., just prior to the release of Windows 2000 specialty magazines were circulating information such as "there are 63,000 bugs in Windows 2000," and at the Web sites of ordinary publications independent viewpoints, such as "10 reasons why it's best not to buy Windows 2000" and "dark clouds in the Windows 2000 market," were conspicuous. Although they reported the commemorative sales events, they also reported that the majority is inclined to put off introducing it for a while. They say what's strong is strong, but it is for that very reason that the U.S. mass media clearly point out also the bad spots. As I frequently say, I do not particularly care here whether Windows 2000 sells or not. I am interested in how close the media's method of reporting is to the truth, in what manner reports that do not cause misunderstanding among readers are constructed here in Japan. Through this one example of whether or not information sent out from newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet is correct or not, I get the feeling that it is necessary to evaluate while always looking around.

The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 62 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

Copyright © 2000 Personal Media Corporation

Copyright © 2000 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo