201 W. 103rd. St.
Indianapolis, IN 46290
The Internet Business Guide: Riding the Information Superhighway to Profit
by Rosalind Resnick and Dave Taylor
418 pages, softcover
This book is a winner. It sets out to accomplish ambitious goals and hits its target in chapter after chapter.
201 W. 103rd. St.
Indianapolis, IN 46290
Co-authored by two veteran technology reporters, The Internet Business Guide reads like a Michelin travel guidebook. It takes you by the hand to enchanted lands and shows you that the local customs are not that bewildering after all.
Who are the authors of the book? Rosalind Resnick is a former Miami Herald business reporter, who has written for The New York Times, Forbes, Nation's Business, and Internet World. She currently writes a syndicated newspaper column, CyberBiz, addressing the very subject of this book: doing business in cyberspace.
Providing a counterpoint to Resnick's "business suit" point of view is counter-culture journalist Dave Taylor, who enjoys cooking gourmet vegetarian food and has a child named "Karma." Taylor himself is no slouch when it comes to writing, having published 500 articles and two other computer books in the past few years.
The Contents of the Book
What does this book exactly cover? Here is a brief listing of the chapter titles:
1. Putting the Internet to Work for You
2. Getting Connected: Your Ticket to Ride
3. Risks and Realities
4. Doing Business on the Internet
5. Marketing Do's and Don'ts
6. The Electronic Schmooze
7. Dialing for Data
8. Connecting the World with Internet E-mail
9. Customer Support
10. The Virtual Corporation
11. Internet Cybermalls
12. The Commercial Online Services
13. The Future of Internet Business
Appendix A: Internet On-Ramps
Appendix B: How to Start Your Own Usenet Newsgroup
Appendix C: The World According to the Internet
Appendix D: Working with the World Wide Web: Tips and Tools
Appendix E: The Full Scoop on Gopher
When covering a subject such as business possibilities on the Internet, there is a temptation for books to hype the possibilities of everything and anything. While you'll find the occasional hyped comment in this book, for the most part the authors exercise commendable restraint. (And Resnick and Taylor keep exclamation marks to a merciful minimum. Perhaps they had advance notice of the Congressional bill proposing to place heavy taxes on the use of exclamation marks in books about the Internet.)
After all, people do not read a business guide to the Internet to help them make up their minds about whether business possibilities exist on the Internet. They read such books to unearth practical information about how such business possibilities can be developed and implemented.
The Blessings of Electronic Mail
You hear so much hype about the multimedia possibilities for the Internet that you might well forget how gosh-darn useful regular old e-mail can be. E-mail is sure to remain one of the most useful of all business tools. The authors of this guidebook reiterate this point when they say: "Much of the traffic on the Internet is electronic mail. Indeed, it's been estimated that well over 4000 messages are sent each second of the day on the Internet. Being able to send messages in seconds to a user anywhere in the world is probably the single most important reason so many companies find the Internet so appealing." p. xxv.
And bucking the trend to wax poetic about the capabilities of Mosaic, Resnick and Taylor tell it like it is: "Graphical browsers such as Mosaic can be difficult to install, and as Rosalind knows from her experience in accessing Mosaic through a 486 PC and a 14,400 bps modem, the program can be as slow as molasses when retreiving large amounts of graphics." p. 115.
Bravo. Score one for candor and honesty. Mosaic has great potential down the line, to be sure. But 1994 will not be the year it becomes widely used.
E-mail Technical Support
Computer manufacturers and software publishers have frequently been the first businesses to put the Internet to use. In the chapter titled "Customer Support," the authors cite the example of Sun Microsystems' overwhelmingly successful online support project: "In August, 1993, Sun Microsystems, a Mountain View, California, workstation manufacturer, launched a program called SunSolve to answer its customers' technical questions through Internet e-mali... In the year since SunSolve was introduced, use of the toll-free telephone support line has dropped by 90 percent, and the company has cut support costs by $1,000,000 a year." p. 234.
Don't you love it? The Internet has helped Sun slice toll-free phone costs by 90 percent. That's a sizable savings by any measure. And the saved money can go directly into providing improved online technical support (or to otherise provide better value/dollar to customers).
There's a small company in Cupertino that would do well to take note of such facts. Apple Computer apparently receives an average of 11,000 phone toll-free phone calls per day to their: 1-800-SOS-APPLE phone line. Apple refuses to disclose how many persons it employs to answer these phone calls, but you can make an educated estimate that at least 100 persons are employed at Apple's Austin, Texas facility.
(Here are my rough calculations: 11,000 calls times 5 minutes per call is 55,000 minutes. 55,000 minutes is the same as 916 hours. Divide 916 hours by an 8 hour work day and you get 115 technical support workers.)
If Apple were to set up a free Internet e-mail tech support service, they might be able to slice their toll-free bills in a major way as well. Apple is hoping that their new online service, eWorld, will serve this function. But with fewer than 30,000 subscribers, eWorld might be more accurately described as eGhosttown (or eEerie).
Marketing Do's and Don'ts
When you breach the rules of business etiquette in the real world, you risk temporarily losing a few customers. On the other hand, when you breach the rules of business etiquette on the Internet, you risk alienating 20 million persons. In the chapter titled, "Marketing Do's and Don'ts," Resnick and Taylor explain how to not put your foot in your mouth at 14,400 bps: "On the Internet, the traditional rules of sales and marketing are turned upside down. Not only does junk mail fall on deaf ears on the global network, but it often drives away customers it was meant to attract. Slick ad copy with little or no informational content just doesn't fly..." Actually, in this day and age slick ad copy can alienate in hardcopy form as well as in electronic form. The rules of business etiquette are changing for the better - - - both online and offline.
FAQ's: The Answers to Most of Your Questions
The concept of the "frequently-asked-question" had its birth in the technical fields of the computer world. But the concept has grabbed hold in areas far astray from hardware and software. The whole idea behind FAQ's is to anticipate commonly asked questions, so as to provide quick and useful responses. The nifty thing about FAQ's is that they save work for everyone, allowing a company's technical support staff to concentrate their time on answering the most difficult, uncommon questions.
The authors of this book suggest that one of the best ways of making use of FAQ's in a business setting is to set up a "mail reflector" that automatically sends out your company's FAQ text file to anyone who requestions it via e-mail. The person inquiring about your company's products or services can obtain detailed information about your company's products or services for the slight effort of sending an empty e-mail message. (How much effort is required to send an empty Internet e-mail message? About five seconds of your time. If you're a slower typist, maybe ten.)
From the consumer's point of view, mail reflectors are like instant Karma.
The book then goes on to describe the benefits for companies specifically in the computer hardware or software business to set up a company FTP site. Doing so provides an easy way to distribute upgrades for application and system software. Larger companies also benefit from the USENET newsgroups that are set up for people to share ideas about the company's products.
Tread Softly and Carry a Fast Modem
A recurring theme in this guidebook is that businesses who seek to create a presence on the Internet would be well-advised to tread softly: "The Internet is no different from any other community, and those companies that 'go native' by brushing up on the network's culture and mores will gain a competitive advantage in the electronic marketplace. Taking time to learn about the Internet now can pay big dividends in the future. If the current growth rate is sustained, more than 50,000,000 people will be accessible through the Internet by the turn of the century."
It's refreshing to see this enlightened point of view expressed so well. Sensible businesses on the Internet would do well to heed this advice.
All in all, The Internet Business Guide delivers commendably on its promise. Businesses interested in galloping onto the Internet might do well to lay down their reins briefly to read this book. A comprehensive guide of this sort ought to appeal to the general reading population, as well.
[The author takes a keen interest in the educational and business uses of the Internet. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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