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You, Sources, and Getting
the Most Out of the Internet
By Barrie Zwicker
The Internet is remarkable - perhaps as important as the book in its eventual impact on civilization. It is also in its early days. Current Internet technology can be compared to 1950s television technology.
We've been promoting the Internet for years. Dean's Digital World has been running since the Summer 1993 edition. SOURCES SELECT® Online - featuring this directory, Parliamentary Names & Numbers, the Connexions directory, and more - launched more than a year ago. Our Internet site (www.sources.com) launched in January. Through our ISDN line we're a budget-priced Internet provider as well.
It's a truism that no one knows how the Internet and its most visible current manifestation, the World Wide Web, will evolve. The potentials appear major but there are pitfalls that are not minor. Questions are more appropriate than answers. Nevertheless, in working our way through our developments we've gained some ideas for getting the most out of the Internet, and have encountered some of the pitfalls.
Organizations reaping net benefit from the Internet will be those that use it as a new element in a multi-media strategy and follow the evolving mix closely. To look upon the Internet as a do-it-all communications medium is the main danger for an organization.
Another widespread misconception is that money will be made on the Internet. This will be true for a small fraction of those with sites. But increasing evidence shows it's prudent to proceed on the assumption that the Internet will constitute a net cost indefinitely for most organizations with sites.
The cost of launching a site that really works, and maintaining it, is usually much higher than at first budgetted. The famed Hot Wired site employs 200. Most of their pay comes from revenue from advertising in the print parent, Wired magazine.
With the help of suppliers that know the ropes you can, however, come out a winner in terms of the aims and objectives of your organization. We recommend the Internet-knowledgeable organizations named at the end of this article. All are listed in Sources and therefore can be found through the Internet at our site, SOURCES SELECT Online (SSO) at www.sources.com.
From our many customer organizations we hear a variety of "takes" on communications activities in general and the Internet in particular. We hear:
* Most organizations are carrying out their communications strategy with less money. We've can appreciate the re-thinking that this forces; we've undergone our own cost-cutting.
* With computers and other new information technology, organizations are trying to accomplish more, with a given number of people, than they did before.
* Scarce resources are increasingly being diverted to development of Internet sites or home pages.
Over the long run, successful sites will be those that:
* Provide excellent content: particular, accurate, and up-to-date useful and/or entertaining information. Useful or entertaining to the user, that is.
* Are timely: provide information on current or emerging topics of growing interest to large or increasing numbers of people. Examples: bicycling, spirituality, investing, the environment. And combinations of such topics (e.g., green investing).
* Are easy - and fast - to use.
* Provide meaningful interaction, including transactional opportunities (that is, provide the user with an ability to access more information right away [as with hot links], buy something, order something, leave a message, leave a query, etc.).
* Tend not to be over-designed. The Internet is not TV, something a lot of page designers appear not to understand. Graphics slow downloading. Eventually people either become impatient enough to feel like skipping over-designed sites, or they turn off the graphics.
Ottawa-based Michael Strangelove (Michael@strangelove.com) is publisher of the excellent Internet Business Journal. In the April 1996 edition he concluded an article on the myths of the Internet: "The killer application of the Internet is not Mosaic or Netscape. It should be plain to anyone not accessing the Net over a T1 line that the major contribution of new browsers and related multimedia applications has been acute boredom. Over-designed Web pages have spread through the Net like a virus. In a simple twist of fate, Netscape is killing the Net. Most Web developers are still treating the medium as if they wished it were television. The reckless disregard for the person on the other end of the commercial Web site is now responsible for a high turnover rate among surfers." For Internet Business Journal subscription information phone (613) 241-0982 or fax (613) 241-4433.
Some assertions we hear are mistaken enough, we think, to be called
fictions. See what you think.
Fiction #1: "We're on the Internet. We're reaching the world."
* Those of us who have hung out our digital shingles on the Internet aren't reaching the world. We can reach certain target groups if we apply Netiquette. But the Net is not essentially a broadcast medium. Some people reach us.
* A new home page is launched every four seconds, notes Julian
Sher, an Internet trainer and a producer with CBC-TV's the fifth
estate. Lately the Web has been doubling every 50 days. Who
could keep up? No one is "reaching" all these home pages.
It's probably technically impossible. If it was possible, it wouldn't
be desirable for any organization we can think of.
Fiction #2: "We're doing all our marketing on the Internet."
* It's extremely unlikely that all customers, let alone prospective customers, of any organization would even have access to the Internet, let alone use it exclusively. On that score alone all the marketing of an organization cannot be done through the Internet.
* As Mark LaVigne, Senior Associate with Toronto-based McMaster
Communications and a former radio journalist, notes regarding media
releases: "Many journalists are not on the 'Net. A lot of journalists
who are on it hate E-mail news releases, although you can send out
a one-liner, ask who wants to see the full release, and wait for
Fiction #3: "Everyone knows us. And now they can reach us on the Internet."
* The "everyone knows us" claim has been around since long before the Internet. This alone does not make it mistaken, but consider:
* How does one find all the organizations that believe everyone knows them? "Organizations everyone knows" will hardly work as a search query.
* How, exactly, does one find even one organization that believes everyone knows it?
* What does "finding" an organization mean? In the context of niche marketing, say, or in the context of serious information-seekers?
* In the case of a nationally-known brewery, for instance, how does a reporter reach the right person in the brewing organization on a weekend it's staging a sporting event or festival?
* How many World Wide Web sites list home phone numbers of key people?
* When sites do, how will reporters who don't have access to the Internet learn those numbers? What about serious inquirers who normally have Internet access but are away from that access when they need to reach your organization or a particular person in it?
* If any organization can make stick the claim being known by everyone
(meaning everyone on Earth), it must be Coca-Cola. Why do Coca-Cola
and other almost equally-well-known corporations continue to invest
millions on non-Internet advertising, marketing and promotion? Why
do Coca-Cola and other major organizations - as well as a thousand
medium-sized and small organizations -- maintain their listings
in sources? Because they know the Internet is, and
will continue to be, one communications medium among others, not
suddenly the only communications medium there is.
Fiction #4: "We're on the Internet, so we don't need anything else."
* How do people learn our Internet URLs? By Web browser searching. Yes. But there are and will inevitably continue to be limitations to such searches. Internet research trainer Julian Sher says that if he does not get on the trail of what he's seeking after five to 10 minutes on the Internet, he turns to non-Internet resources.
Those who are not aware of the limitations may miss our sites because they think they have conducted a comprehensive search, but haven't.
* Why do TV networks such as CBC and CTV run their Internet addresses at the end of their nightly newscasts? (And maintain listings in sources?) Why do radio programs announce their Internet addresses repeatedly? Because non-Internet communications promote meaningful Internet hits.
* Why do a growing number of newspapers run their Internet addresses on their front page folio lines? Because non-Internet communications promote meaningful Internet hits.
* Why do periodicals (including Maclean's, The Globe and Mail, Masthead and sources) promote their Internet addresses? Because non-Internet communications promote meaningful Internet hits.
* Why are organizations of all kinds increasingly including their WWW addresses in print ads, in brochures and flyers, on their TV and radio spots, on billboards, and elsewhere? Because non-Internet communications promote meaningful Internet hits.
* Perhaps most tellingly, why do the most successful Internet-based organizations invest heavily in non-Internet communications (for instance, in books, manuals, radio programs, print advertisements, non-Net directories, and more)? Because non-Internet communications promote meaningful Internet hits.
* To say "We have a Web site" is comparable to saying
"We have a phone number." The phone won't ring unless
steps are taken to attract calls, starting with a listing in the
white pages directory and an ad in the Yellow Pages, then going
on to a variety of other marketing activities..
Fiction #5: "We're getting (fill in the blanks) hits a day/week/month. It's amazing."
* We're as proud of the rising number of hits to SSO as is the
next site of its hit count. But hit counts are not body counts,
as Rick Broadhead, co-author of The Canadian Internet Handbook
told a packed Internet seminar at the recent Magazines '96 conference.
Included are multiple hits for text and graphics, a large number
of casuals, and repeats. They conceal more than they reveal. Until
we can identify who visits our sites, what they're looking at, and
how long they're staying, we don't have very useful hit information.
Fiction #6: "We have a World Wide Web site, as everyone knows."
* Consider conversations we had recently with communications people in three organizations - a national trade association headquartered in Ottawa, a private firm with marketing headquarters in Mississauga, Ont. and an Ontario professional association.
All three individuals told us they were switching their communications efforts virtually entirely to the Internet. Each went on to suggest to us that Sources "should go on the 'Net." We are not making this up. Each, including the one who called us "a dinosaur," were surprised to learn we have a World Wide Web site. (We weren't surprised, even though we've announced it by mail, in sales and promotional literature, in house ads and on the cover of this directory.)
The point they seemed to miss: if they didn't know we're on, why should others know they're on?
Currently, the Internet Business Journal notes, domain names are being registered at the rate of 25,000 a month. A lot of sites have hard-to-remember names such as this one we saw advertised recently: http://www.iiasa.ac.at/docs/Admin/INF/AR95/IIASA_AR95.html.
The more your address is like www.[YOURNAME].com, the better.
All of which is not to attempt to downgrade the value of the Internet and its fastest-growing facet, the World Wide Web. As we said at the beginning, we were early boosters.
It is, rather, to suggest that those who will reap the most benefit from the Internet are, those who keep it in perspective. As Mark LaVigne says: "The Internet is another medium. It is a big mistake to abandon previous avenues of communication."
Published in Sources,
Number 38, Summer 1996