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 July 1, 1996

Geek News: Keystrokes

I’ve been looking at the columns I’ve written over the last few months and have noticed a certain curmudgeonly theme. In a number of these columns, I’ve done my best to burst various bubbles, from the “$500 Internet Box” bubble to the “viruses will get you” bubble.

Now, my wife probably would say that I “am” a curmudgeon, so obviously that’s the way I’m going to write. But I have another explanation. It’s just so damn easy to burst bubbles on the Internet, it’s almost impossible to avoid the temptation.

There’s just so much nonsense flowing from computer geeks and the media, that a columnist has an almost unlimited choice

of bubbles to burst. So I’m going to try to get some of this out of my system this month, and deal with a few of the more ridiculous Internet

assertions.

Here’s the first idiocy I want to deal with, the oft-mentioned theory that, to quote an Internet World columnist, “cyberspace will level the playing field

between the corporate Goliaths and the entrepreneurial Davids.” (Actually this columnist cites this claim as currently true, though about to become

untrue – though he doesn’t explain what changed.)

What a load of hogwash. Exactly how could this be? By what law of finance, physics or business could this situation possibly occur?

OK, so here I am, Joe Bloe and Associates, and I’m going to compete on the Internet with the “corporate Goliaths.” Yes, those Goliaths may be

willing to spending several million dollars building a Web site, paying writers to produce the editorial material for the site, buying the very best and

fastest Web servers, paying a couple of full-time “Web masters” (oh, I hate that term), promoting their Web site in the press.

But I, Joe Bloe, can compete on an equal footing, because, well, just because. Actually I really don’t know why these Internet pundits think Joe Bloe

can compete with Microsoft’s and America Online’s Web sites, because they don’t actually say how; that’s because they’re full of hot air, not rational

explanations for their absurd assertions.

Here’s another stupid claim: Any businessperson with more sense than a tomato seed will want to set up a Web site, because if he doesn’t, the

competition will get there first. This piece of advice is incredibly arrogant, usually coming from some geek who’s never had any business other than

giving advice about setting up businesses on the Web. In many cases, the business advantage goes to the company that didn’t beat the competition to

the Internet, because the competition has just wasted tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a worthless Web site!

And another. A business can save thousands of dollars by moving all of its promotional materials to the Web, saving on printing and mailing. (I really

have heard this claim, in a book about setting up a business on the Web.) Why, then, do about a dozen software dealers keep sending me catalogs in

the mail? Because they know that if they stop doing that, they’ll be out of business in a month. I really don’t understand how anybody can say

something like this, and keep a straight face.

Of course it’s partly because many people believe the propaganda about the huge numbers of people “on” the Internet. Of course “on” has many

different meanings, from someone who sends e-mail messages across the Internet once in a while, to the cybergeek who’s almost permanently wired

in. If you think there are really 30 million to 40 million people regularly cruising around on the Web, think again!

How about this one? The Internet is “The World’s Largest Market.” (I got that one off BookZone’s marketing blurb, which was printed on paper,

incidentally.)

What’s that mean, though? The term “market” has all sorts of meanings. There’s the U.S. market, the North American market, the European market,

the soccer market, the booze market. But what is it about the Internet that makes it the world’s largest market? I’d bet there’s no way to justify this

statement, but it makes good advertising blurb.

Related to this nonsense is the rubbish about how you can set up a Web site, and it can be seen, potentially, by 30 million people; the stress being on

the word “potentially.” (Real world analogy: Texas has a population of about 16 million, which means that if I put up a billboard in Dallas, that

billboard could be seen, potentially, by 16 million people. Wow!)

Then there’s all the “compelling” idiocy. Web sites only succeed if they are compelling.

Rubbish! Web sites succeed if they serve a purpose, which far too few do.

Telling a business to make their site more compelling is, in many cases, telling it to throw good money after bad.

“Nobody visiting your site? Oh, we can fix that, just give us $100,000 for a couple of Java programmers, and you’ll have compelling seeping out of

every square inch.”

(Why is everyone using the word compelling all of a sudden, anyway? Everything has to be compelling these days, particularly Web sites. There

seems to be an editorial rule at Internet-related publications that the word compelling must be used at least twice in every article.)

What about the “you must have links” theory. “The secret to a successful Web site is adding loads of links,” I read recently in a major computing

magazine.

Oh, is success that simple? Actually I’ve noticed that a lot of Web sites break a very basic rule of sales and marketing: Don’t confuse potential clients

with alternatives (especially alternatives from your competitors!). I’ve seen many Web sites that seem to use the “hello, goodbye” method. The very

first page that users see is full of links to other people’s Web sites. It’s almost like say, “here, why don’t you go visit someone else.”

What’s the moral of this story? Don’t believe half of what you hear about doing business on the Internet. Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m

not saying that it’s not possible for a business to use the Internet as a tool, just that the Internet is not paved with gold & though many proponents want

you to believe it is.

Well, that’s it, I’ve got it out of my system now. Oh, wait, what’s this I see here in this Internet publication? Within seven years, 30 percent of all the

world’s business transactions will be carried out on the Internet &

I’ve been looking at the columns I’ve written over the last few months and have noticed a certain curmudgeonly theme. In a number of these columns, I’ve done my best to burst various bubbles, from the “$500 Internet Box” bubble to the “viruses will get you” bubble.

Now, my wife probably would say that I “am” a curmudgeon, so obviously that’s the way I’m going to write. But I have another explanation. It’s just so damn easy to burst bubbles on the Internet, it’s almost impossible to avoid the temptation.

There’s just so much nonsense flowing from computer geeks and…

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