The Internet and its offspring, the intranet, have been joined by another player called, not surprisingly, the extranet. Although at first glance these terms seem to come straight out of marketing - as indeed some of them do - it is more than just marketing rhetoric. The intranet was created by companies to allow information to be disseminated throughout an enterprise with the least amount of trouble. This system works for some companies, but it can also degenerate into a kind of on-line magazine that is updated rather too often and can be as disorganised as the Internet itself. The extranet is also modelled on the Internet, but it is an intranet between companies or partners. Because it is between companies, there is a tendency for it to be more carefully controlled than either the Internet or an intranet. The alliance and marketing director for greater China region at Oracle, Bob Carlston, believes the extranet is going to be far more significant. 'Networked data systems are not always understood properly,' he said. 'If you look at the growth of the Internet, it is about access to public information, which is mainly unmanaged. Intranets are similarly unmanaged.' Many companies acorss the globe have been trying to use the Internet in profitable ways, but only a few have been successful. In the US, for example, Amazon, the bookseller, is an outstanding example. In Hong Kong, Asian Media Sources (ASM) is another. 'ASM puts worldwide buyers in touch with Asian suppliers to conduct commerce,' Mr Carlston said. 'Extranets are about management, because you need to have a more practical reason to set one up. You are giving someone else your private information. 'An extranet, in fact, almost defines a business partnership. It's about access to information and collaboration.' The rise of the extranet has taken the whole Internet phenomenon away from its extraordinary roots, first in the often weird and paranoid world of the military, then to the almost Bacchic anarchy of the university-based Bitnet and then, finally, to a hard-headed business-oriented use of networking. It had to happen because market forces are among the strongest in the world. However, many people believe the fundamental nature of the Internet will not change, that intranets and extranets will simply be add-ons that enhance the Internet. Those who wish to continue to surf for free will most likely be able to do so. 'The value of the network is that it has a lot of different ways in which information can be exchanged. One is for free and one is for fee,' Mr Carlston said. 'We are only just beginning to become aware of what networking is really about. When word processors were being created, it was thought that being able to move from one word to another at the touch of a special key was important. The mouse killed that quite quickly.' Technology was not unlike many other things that set out to do one thing, but ended up doing something quite different, he said. 'What became the Internet began as project to protect America from a hot war during the cold one. How silly that seems to us today. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to imagine a world without networking. 'It is also clear that we need to understand better how networks are used. They are not going to go away soon.'