The past few weeks have presented a mixed view on the maturity of
and general thinking about the Internet.

On the one hand, a survey of Internet users shows a significant
diversification of 'Net users and a major airline starts to offer a
discount to people who book their flights through a Web site. On the
other hand, Wall Street still considers Internet-related stocks with all
the deliberation of a recovering drug addict being offered crack

On Jan. 14, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
published the results of its latest survey about Internet users. The
center's conclusion is that the Internet is going "ordinary" (to use the
research organization's descriptive word.) The survey
( showed that about half of
the current Internet users started in the past year, and these new users
are no longer as different from the general population as they once
were. Slightly more than half of the new users are female, which is in
line with the general population. The new users are less rich, less
educated and somewhat older then their predecessors.

In addition, Internet usage patterns are changing. Accessing weather
information has replaced technical news as the top use of the 'Net,
and nine out of 10 users now consider e-mail as not just for business
anymore. It's getting harder to paint the 'Net as an exclusive domain
for geeks, social outcasts, libertarians and hate groups. The same
week that the Pew survey was released, Delta Airlines initiated a plan
in which travelers who book their tickets through the Delta Web site
get a small discount. This is in sharp contrast to the banking industry
when it comes to offering Internet-based services. Most banks that
offer customers Internet access to their accounts charge an extra fee,
just like they did during early days of ATM machines.

It is a sign of maturity when companies start to understand, as the
banking industry did over time with ATM machines, that they should
charge less for using services that cost less to provide. Internet-based
stock services have understood this for a while, but it is good to see
established businesses get the picture.

In spite of all the trends that say the Internet is becoming something
less special, the investor community is off in another universe. And
that's a universe in which new Internet-based companies are valued
far above what any rational evaluation would indicate.

The stock prices of Internet-related companies escalate at rates that
are reminiscent of the biotech stocks of a decade ago, almost all of
which are now trading at a small fraction of their peak values.

There will be a crash in the values of these stocks, after which reality
may set in. At that time, the Internet will actually be fully mature.

Disclaimer: If the only gauge is time, then Harvard is mature, in spite
of appearances. But the above is my immature view.