A Clue..to Internet Commerce

by Dana Blankenhorn

For the Week of May 12, 1997

Volume 1, No. XI

This Week's Clue: A Whole New Ballgame

The problem with linking between, say, the review of a scanner and a page where the scanner's sold is that you can't link to a database call. Look at the URL next time you're on a shopping site based on a SQL database. You can't enter that in your browser's window and get there, either -- database-driven sites don't work that way.

Until now. Blue Angel Technologies has a deal with AltaVista to integrate their tools and allow searches of Web databases. Specifically, the AltaVista Intranet Search eXtension Developer's Kit (SDK) will be combined with Blue Angel Technologies' Meta Data Server (MDS), under the ANSI/NISO Z39.50 standard providing a uniform interface for queries and results -- the result will be sold by Blue Angel.

"Today you can get 4,000 hits on AltaVista," says Blue Angel spokesman Jon Riewe. "Our software will let you narrow that down."The result will be powerful search results, which is good for everyone, because Find/SVP reported last week 9.3 million people stopped using the Web last year because of search difficulties. Best of all, the deal's not exclusive -- Blue Angel's looking for other search engine partners, Riewe says.

I learned the power of this first when I did a story on Web shopping for AccessAtlanta and used the search term "breadmaker," getting in return a chart of breadmakers available on InterCenter, a gourmet's shopping service. Getting a database link from a Web site "is not trivial," Riewe says, but "not overwhelming."

This particular hit should be credited to the site, however, not Blue Angel, says Dan Ryan of Intercenter, explaining how his software turns queries into URLs. "When a URL (query) is passed to the software, the software interprets the URL and displays a page accordingly." The program which does this is called webSession and its creator, Isometrics , also launched Intercenter. It's available -- for now -- only to Isometrics clients as part of Web site development and maintenance contracts.

Obviously, there's much to do here. Riewe notes that databases don't put data elements in a standard order, which would enable their general use by search engines. But he says governments are working on just such standards, for museums and other government databases. That work, like the Web itself, will eventually find its way into the commercial market. Next, in order to make such links common, you've got to break the capability down to a module, an object call which would work like a conventional link and produce a desired result.

But once that work is done, a brave new world opens up. Search engines become "find" engines, and linkers can charge more for deep links, or try to extract that value from the linker. It also means that, over time, Web page authors become database programmers. It's a whole new ballgame.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully, writing on deadline -- is how I keep these clues coming, although I also handle consulting and commercial writing (ask about those rates via e-mail). Right now I'm looking for a daily gig to complement my monthly work for Atlanta Computer Currents , and weekly work for AccessAtlanta. Now back to the show...

Thoughts on Banners

For most site managers, banners are a scam. Small sites trade ads for "credits" which somehow never become money. Large sites sell ads to each other, and real money never comes down. The big winners are those who run the networks (Doubleclick alone has placed over 1.5 billion -- with a "b" -- banners), and the advertisers whose banners draw sales.

A lot is suddenly happening in the latter area. Prof. Sunil Gupta at the University of Michigan has found, for instance, that banners on the right-side of the page do better than those at the top or bottom, and that smaller banners are just as effective as big ones. To learn more, you may click here .

The folks at the Online Ads list are looking at all sides of this issue. How about putting sound inside the ad? (OK, if it's in keeping with the editorial, and advertisers pay for the privilege.) How about getting sound when you click on the ad? (Might work.) How about ads that look like editorial, or vice versa? (NOOO!) How about "eye candy" ads aimed at attracting the eyes of surfers? (Only if they're surfing, as opposed to searching.) How about embedding an order form, or some other content, which responds to the click -- instead of a mere link to your site? (Clever, and being done.)

Some clues to all this. Remember the goal of an ad is to identify potential buyers and begin a process that leads to the sale of your product or service -- the goal is not click-through, but sales. Experiments are good, and results easier to measure than ever. Refusing to experiment, for an advertiser, is truly clueless. There are also clues for those running editorial sites. What's clueless is forcing someone to watch a huge, Java-fed ad download before any content becomes available. What's clueless is refusing to experiment with new forms of placement. Remember you stand between the interests of buyers and sellers -- credibility depends on defending the valid interests of both.

International Flavors

Last week, I suggested you look overseas for growth. This week, subscriber Pierre Schurmann writes to describe what's already available in Brazil.

Seems he's already building a search engine , which he says will look a bit like Yahoo. There are two sites which review other sites (http://www.uol.com.br and http://www.zaz.com.br) , even an online bookstore .

Some clues on entering these new markets. You can do a lot of market research from your desk. But you'll also want to know who, and how many of what kind of whos, have Internet access in the target market. (It's not all college students everywhere) And you'd better do a lot of this before proceeding. Also, remember local languages and customs. Find a local partner, if you can find one who's reputable. Just don't sell-out your own expertise in the process of cloning yourself "over there" -- you became a success here for a reason, and no one there knows that reason better than you do.

Click Here for Design Help

If you want to keep-up with the latest in Web page design, on the Web, with Web-based lessons on the Web, check out Richard Sprince's Mediazine . Here you can get software tutorials on Shockwave animations, product reviews, and links to other sites with equally good stuff.


Clued-in this week is Harry Motro, who started CNN Interactive and re-emerged last week as head of Infoseek . He may fail at his new gig, but since he's from Turner he was going nowhere fast at Time, anyway. He knows branding, knowledge Infoseek lacks, and they have some interesting technology called Ultramatch which generates profiles of user behavior in real-time, then serves-up ads based on the profile. Ultramatch gets much better click-through rates than tieing ads to keywords. If anyone can leverage that, Harry can.

Clueless are most reporters covering the Ticketmaster-Microsoft case, which we reported-on here last week. It's not about linking, but about linking, through a database, to a specific product, which is at issue. Ticketmaster has tried to be clear about this, but some of us just aren't listening. They're also noting that Sidewalk is generating ad sales from the database links. A clue -- Microsoft may be taking a deliberate fall here. They only did database links to a few locations, and they'd previously negotiated with Ticketmaster about payments for such links. The only thing clueless about Paul Allen and Bill Gates is they thought the Blazers would beat the Lakers.....oh, and Sanford Wallace , please call your service. Your 15 minutes of fame are up. You can't prove your style of "spamming" makes money for customers, you're stealing bandwidth from the rest of us, and while your moans about being the victim of evil hackers may draw tears from the "Wall Street Journal," everyone knows how clueless they are. It's like the end of "Pagliacci" when you just wish the clown would shut-up and die already.

A Clue...to Internet Commerce is a weekly publication of @Have Modem, Will Travel. It's sent free to a qualified e-mail list. Like Netscape Navigator, it carries a list price -- $49 per year. Subscribers can receive either a .txt file or an .htm file. The .htm version features links which become active when online with a browser, or an e-mail package like Netscape 3.0. (Let us know which you prefer.) To take your name off the list, simply write REMOVE as the subject, or content, of a message replying to this post. To request your free copy, write us at Dana Blankenhorn@worldnet.att.net. We're on the Web at www.tbass.com/clue and www.ppn.org/clue .

A Clue...to Internet Commerce -- Copyright @Have Modem, Will Travel and Dana Blankenhorn, 1997