Mersey connects online benefits to public

July 12, 1996

Pick a house on Brookside Close and discover, at a few clicks of a button, what domestic traumas it has witnessed and how many bodies are buried in the back garden.

Alternatively, take a tour of Merseyside businesses, stopping here to buy a china figurine, there a Liverpool FC strip, while remaining hundreds of miles from the Mersey.

Dedicated gamblers can even check out the latest statistics on the likelihood of winning the National Lottery.

All are services provided by Connect, part of the Computer Science Department of the University of Liverpool.

Its aim is to make Merseyside a hub on the information superhighway, while giving unemployed people in the region the skills to exploit the Internet.

Given more than Pounds 3 million of Objective 1 European money for its first three years, Connect runs courses on Internet awareness, trains unemployed computer professionals and gives businesses advice on marketing themselves through the World Wide Web.

It has set up a Web site, MerseyWorld, giving information about the region and promoting small and medium sized businesses through its electronic shopping gallery or "Mersey Mall."

Connect also takes orders for goods advertised in the mall and will fax them automatically - no human intervention necessary - to the individual companies.

Businesses therefore do not even need to be online to have an Internet shop window.

So far, most services are free, although there is a charge for more sophisticated Internet schemes.

For example, one large local company uses Connect to coordinate orders for wines between warehouses and chain stops.

Three members of the university combine teaching with running the service, which has a full staff of 30.

This autumn it plans to take the Internet to local people with a kind of mobile cybercafe - a collection of computers travelling around the region and stopping in schools and community halls to promote online benefits.

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