by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. XXII
For the Week of June 4, 2001

This Week's Clue: Balancing Me and You

This Week's Clue: Balancing Me and You

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

SP (Shameless Promotion)

Spam Bill Death Hurts Business

Fight The Power And Encrypt Everything

Desktop Linux Is Coming

Clued-in, Clueless

A-Clue.Com violates many rules for successful Internet publishing. First and most important it's based on my needs to write and think rather than your needs to read and learn. It's personal - that's what makes it good - but it's my person, not your person, I'm thinking of when I write.

Still, after Whitehat.Com  graciously began delivering this work to you we launched a little survey of your interests as part of the sign-up process. About 2,000 responses have run through the system, and they reveal something important. While we're all free with opinions (most of you are looking for fun here, and most felt free to answer the question) we're not nearly as free with information (just a few hundred were willing to volunteer information on the role you play in this great game). 

There's an important lesson here. One primary purpose of a successful Internet publication should be to become an intermediary between the market information held by customers and the information needs held by marketers. Marketers are reluctant to invest in Internet advertising today because publishers can't prove they reach their markets the way print can. Consumers (and businesses are consumers whenever they buy) are reluctant to part with honest information because they don't trust the recipients to treat it gently.

Having an honest information policy isn't enough (although credibility in this area is a necessary ante to play the game). You also require the chutzpah to ask your readers the right questions, to demand honest answers, and to compile the results effectively. 

Gee, I hear you say, isn't that how journalists treat sources already? Yes, it is, but the difference here is that you're dealing with readers the way I deal with sources. The difference between an effective editor and effective publisher in the 21st century, then, is in who they're asking questions of and demanding answers from.

Journalism is a moving target, and so are markets. Marketers are trying to hit this moving target and will put their money where they feel the target will be hit. You prove you're hitting the target with both an audited circulation and (this is the part print doesn't have) a deep, ongoing dialogue with your audience.

Here's what I'd ask for from any publisher before I'd edit his (or her) publication:

This is the difference between a Web publishing business - one people will invest in - and a personal letter like the one you're reading. A full Web publishing business has the budget to meet every challenge and the ability to exploit every opportunity. 

The most amazing fact of 2001 is that few publishers have the complete package. C|Net (http://www.cnet.com), when all its operations are taken together, comes closest, but it lacks the registration up-sell (let alone a paid version of the product that makes economic sense for buyers). 

The reason for this isn't a lack of money. The reason for it is that all publishers have come to the Internet publishing space with a limited vision. They don't understand the full dimensions of their roles, the actual financial requirements for delivering those dimensions, or (most important) the true pay-off - the elimination of print competition. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

"Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is tentatively due for release around Labor Day. I'm still writing it, but it looks good. I call it the "first book of the 21st century" because it is designed to feature hyperlinks in all formats - PDF, eBook, and print. Drop me a note to get on the mailing list for more information on this book.

Boardwatch has launched its newsletter under my byline called ISP Executive. Check it out. You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, at Boardwatch, and at Internet Content. More deals are being negotiated as we speak. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

What, you haven't signed up for WZ.Com's "The 45-Second Mentor?" What will it take to convince you?

If you benefit from the insights of a-clue.com but can't turn my advice into knowledge, you need this. If you're short of capital but still need pre-digested, actionable knowledge (rather than random news stories and insights) you need this service. If you're a player (not just a poser) you need this service.

So don't delay. Your investment is minimal and the potential benefits enormous. Click the link.

Takes on the News

Spam Bill Death Hurts Business

The direct marketing lobby once again has succeeded in killing effective anti-spam legislation . The result is not what the Direct Marketing Association would want.

People aren't stupid. They distrust junk phone calls, junk faxes and junk e-mails. As a result 95% of those sending opt-out offers are crooks. Attempts by spammers to verify addresses just make things worse for everyone.

Here's one example. I recently got a spam message addressed, supposedly, from "confirmation group," asking me to confirm I'd joined one of their lists. But the return address was a hotmail.com address. It was an attempt to verify I read my inbox so the spammer can sell my name to other spammers for a premium price. You're darned right I junked that note, with prejudice.

Direct marketers trying to avoid legal liability are destroying e-mail marketing. Spam like the note described above can even cut returns on double opt-in systems like Whitehat.com (which may be part of the intention - it's a scorched-earth program).

Until direct marketers get behind real reform they will continue to destroy the long-term effectiveness of the medium they're seeking permission to use. But the law won't change until they change. Anti-spam activists can't win this medium back from the spammers - only direct marketers can by demanding effective anti-spam laws.

Fight The Power And Encrypt Everything

The delivery of a system called Echelon designed to retrieve and analyze all e-mail for dangerous criminal intent, has many honest users considering the only possible response - encrypt all their e-mail.

Encrypted traffic places a heavy load on all servers and clients that need to decrypt, and it seems silly for someone who is honest to encrypt their e-mail. But just as the DMA has overplayed its hand with spam, so law enforcement has overplayed its hand with encryption.

Privacy is the right to be left alone. Law enforcement doesn't respect that right unless it is forced to do so by democratic governments. Until a democratic order is created for the Internet, people must protect themselves. So the use of encryption will rise, and the only real winners will be the terrorists. They protected themselves with strong encryption already.

Desktop Linux Is Coming

Microsoft's continuing moves to make its software a law enforcement mechanism will, despite predictions to the contrary, result in a viable desktop Linux platform .

But it won't happen right away and it won't happen the way you think. Linux desktops won't be sold in stores. Broadband ISPs will simply give them away as part of a service contract, as with cellular phones. They will also be offered as terminals bundled with Linux servers to business.

The initial market will be among home network users. These are savvy consumers. Make their current Windows desktops accessible clients on their networks. Then they place Linux desktops (they will be single-board systems that fit in the footprint of current desktop flat-panel displays) in each room. These desktops can access both the Windows system and the broadband connection. When it's time to upgrade these homeowners will prefer the lower costs of Linux servers to anything Microsoft offers (since they'll still have the old Windows box). My guess is that this will greatly extend the useful life of systems like Windows '98.

It will happen. The question isn't whether but when and by whom. (My best guess is it will be next year, and by IBM.) Microsoft, like the government and like the direct marketing industry, is over-reaching, demanding power over people that people don't want to give them. When savvy consumers are given viable alternatives (and a service plan is a viable alternative) they'll jump on it.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in (based on a March Slashdot interview conducted by Robin Miller) is Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher . Boucher shows himself as thoughtful, honest, and even insightful in this exchange with Slashdot readers. One out of 435 isn't great, but it's something.

Clueless is CNN, which let another 20 employees go from its Internet unit. If AOL doesn't have an online news strategy to compete with Microsoft, it's going to lose the war, and CNN must be an important element in that strategy. Now, open the checkbook, Steve.

A-Clue.Com is a free email publication, registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as number TXu 888-819. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com.