Demystifying The Internet: Technology Makes A Global Leap

You’ve heard plenty about the burgeoning growth of the Internet, and know that big corporations are sparing no expense to jump on line. After all, not a day goes by without the media trumpeting a new cyberspace alliance, or plans to extend the reach of this much-hyped medium. But learning about an Internet news network under development, or an imminent virtual video games arcade or personalized electronic newspapers doesn’t answer the basic question small business owners are asking: Will the Internet pay off for me? The following articles are designed to provide the answer.

Depending on your sense of culinary adventure, the shelves of Hot Hot Hot in Pasadena, California is either a garden of earthly delight or a chamber of horrors. The store sells nothing but hot sauce, barbecue sauce and salsas ranging from moderately potent (Pirate’s Blend and Century Pepper Sauce, for example) to devastatingly spicy (such as the Last Rites sauce and Dave’s Insanity Sauce, the latter classified as “off the scale” for potency.)

The store itself was doing moderately well until co-owners Perry and Monica Lopez took a consultant’s advice and established a World Wide Web page, opening their colorful shelves to an international audience and generating inquiries within 30 minutes. For a percentage of the business generated online, another Pasadena company, Presence, designed the website, promoted its existence, and keeps the online material updated. Every four weeks, Hot Hot Hot’s page (http://www.hothothot.com/hot) is revised to feature a new sauce of the month, and users get the opportunity to win prizes by sharing colorful anecdotes about their hot sauce experiences. The payoff: About 20 percent of Hot Hot Hot’s revenue is now generated through online marketing.

Lopez says he has received many calls from other companies that are considering forming their own websites. His advice: Get an Internet account and explore the Web for a while to get a sense of what is appealing online. Then either do a first-class job yourself or hire a consultant who can help chart your course of action.

Internet: What’s in It for You?

Tens of thousands of users are crisscrossing the Internet on any given day, tens of millions during the course of a year. But that doesn’t mean legions of new customers will beat a path to your electronic door when you go online.

Making new contacts through newsgroups, researching business opportunities via computer, and attracting the eye of customers with a World, Wide Web page can all be strong and helpful tools. They can’t, however, substitute for the basics of good business: a solid product or service, financial soundness, realistic planning, effective marketing and advertising, and an inviting business location.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time when you don’t need a retail store,” predicts Blake Glenn of The Info-Age Group in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. “A lot of people still prefer going to an actual store. They want to get out of the house.”

The Internet is just one part of a vast information revolution that businesses can use to their advantage, Glenn says. New technologies and services in broadcasting, publishing, and communications continually provide new power tools for marketing and sales. For technology-based companies, this means new opportunities in providing services and training. For others, it means new avenues to explore in the never-ending search for customers.

On the World Wide Web, those customers come straight to you — but only if you strike them as appealing, and only if you’re easy to find, emphasizes Dave Taylor, co-author of The Internet Business Guide. New entries pop up on the Web every day, which means you have to keep your presence there fresh and interesting to avoid being forgotten. On the other hand, you can’t load a Web page down too heavily with colors and graphics because the mass of data could take many minutes to assemble itself on the viewer’s computer screen. By then, the patience of potential customers may wear out, and they will leap to another website.

Any kind of business can succeed on the Web if it goes in with realistic expectations, Taylor notes. Accurate demographic information on World Wide Web users is hard to obtain, except for the knowledge that anyone browsing it has access to a computer. You don’t know whether hundreds of potential customers for your product will see your work, or merely a handful. However, even a company making, for example, machine tools might find the small investment in a Web page to be worthwhile if it generates only one new customer, Taylor concludes.

CYBERTALK: THE NEW LANGUAGE

To define a few of the terms that you will come across while online:

  • Bookmark – A World Wide Web address that can be automatically stored by the browser software (which displays the Web pages you’ve downloaded) for immediate retrieval later. It saves you the trouble of typing in the lengthy and complex addresses of specific Web pages to summon them again; once you identify a place you like, a bookmark will take you back instantly.
  • E-Mail – Electronic mail, an easy way to send messages via the Internet to other individual users or entire groups.
  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol) – The method of grabbing a file from a remote computer through the Internet.
    On the Web, you need no expertise to get a copy of something interesting. For some other big computers operated by the government and certain libraries and companies, however, you need to follow certain specialized procedures – the protocols – to get what you’re looking for. Home Page – The document at each website, usually seen first by visitors, that serves as a kind of book cover or table of contents to organize and introduce the other pages and material at that site. Host – The gateway computer you use to connect to the Internet. If you have a large or computer-intensive business, you might own this host. More likely, however, you will pay a commercial provider to use its host to gain access, subsequently dialing into that gateway over the phone lines using the modem on your PC.
  • HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) – The programming language that is used to create World Wide Web pages.
  • HTTP – The command for connecting to the World Wide Web.
  • Hypermedia – Any combination of computer text with graphics, video, audio, and other media. The Internet – Originally designed by the Defense Department in 1969 to link computer research, the Internet first spread to other government research departments, and subsequently to universities. Today the Internet is composed of millions of “host” computers, all but a few of them privately maintained. Tens of millions of people in more than 150 countries tap into this vast ocean of data on any given day. In fact, it is now as easy to retrieve data files from halfway around the world as it is to get a file from a computer on the adjoining desk.
  • Link – A special spot on a Web page that a user can click on to jump to an entirely different page — possibly in a whole different website in another state or country — that has material related to the link. Links also called hyperlinks, usually appear on a page in the form of underlined words or phrases in special colors, or small pictures or graphical icons.
  • URL (Uniform or Universal Resource Locator) – The complex address that directs your computer to the location on the Internet of any Web page, e.g., http://www.apple.com,” which is the address of Apple Computer’s home page.
  • The “HTTP” refers to a protocol or communications method.
  • The “www” stands for World Wide Web, and “apple.com” refers to a big computer at Apple. The suffix “com.” means the site is commercial; colleges use the suffix “edu,” and government agencies use “gov.” If a URL points to a page located outside the U.S., it also includes a two-letter country code such as “UK” for United Kingdom. World Wide Web – The hypermedia environment of millions of documents that is the most famous and usable feature of the Internet.

PRODUCTIVITY AND RESTRICTIONS ON THE INTERNET

After the Internet invades your office, are you worried that your employees will be spending more time surfing on-line than doing their jobs? While it is indisputable that the Internet has many valuable resources to help people carry out their work responsibilities, it also is loaded with entertainment that can impair productivity. Even worse, illegal content can be found online; your company could face serious trouble, for example, if an employee uses your system to send or receive child pornography or bomb recipes. From a productivity standpoint, think of the Internet the same way you do the telephone.

In theory, an office telephone could be used to manage drug deals or coordinate terrorist attacks, but in practice, managers probably worry most about unauthorized personal calls or time wasted talking with friends. For the majority of employees, it should be sufficient to simply establish and communicate Internet use policies for the firm.

Internet restrictions, similar to an overly stringent phone policy, communicate distrust and are potentially damaging to company morale.

Realistically, if you have an employee who can spend all day downloading pornography without anyone noticing, you have a management problem. Let your staff know Internet is a tool that should not be abused. Education and management skills ideally allow your employees to monitor themselves, and keep you from becoming the company version of Big Brother. Additionally, technical solutions to Internet abuse are available. Microsystems Software Inc. offers a program called Cyber Sentry that works as a filter between desktop computers and the Internet access server.

Managers can use the program to monitor, manipulate, control or block access to any specific or general combination of Internet addresses. In addition, managers can construct a variety of reports on employees’ Internet use. Because Cyber Sentry is undetectable by the Internet user, employees won’t even know that they are being watched.

Managers don’t have to be Web experts to keep Internet use focused on business. To work with Cyber Sentry, Microsystems has created the Cyber Not list of objectionable or inappropriate websites. The list, which can be upgraded as frequently as every 10 days provides a ready-made restriction reference of sites containing objectionable or questionable material. Divided into categories of objection, Cyber Sentry can restrict access for a few or all employees to any or all categories on the Cyber Not list.

Similar programs such as Surf Watch and Net Nanny compare a user’s request for information against a list of prohibited sites. Each program’s list is updated periodically, either by computer programs that scan the data stream for keywords or by teams of people employed to find objectionable material on the Internet.

Posted by on February 21, 1999