A Clue...to Internet Commerce

by Dana Blankenhorn

For the Week of September 1, 1997

Volume I, No. XXVII

This Week's Clue: Content Analysis

A friend in journalism asked for help on their Web site. My recommendation started with a content analysis.

A good content analysis looks at your ads as well as your editorial. Magazines do it to see if they're hitting their target markets. If you think you're running a magazine on "men's health," but find you've got lots of ads for 1-900 sex services, for instance, you know you've got a problem and can rationally talk about solutions. (If your magazine is still making money, this can be done at a Florida retreat. If your magazine isn't making money, go to Starbuck's.)

For a publisher looking at the Web, however, you're not trying to identify your business model. (You already know that.) Instead, you're looking to identify your *readers'* business model. What is he or she looking to buy in your pages, and what are your advertisers selling? This exercise doesn't just help you identify holes in editorial (as it would on paper) or opportunities for your ad staff. It shows you what your Web site should be doing. Namely, modeling that interaction.

What if you don't have a paper publication? Here, your Clue is more basic. Content analysis must be a continuing, interactive process. You create a feedback loop, identify regular users, ask them questions, and use those answers. The most important features of any Web site are (in order) e-mail, conferencing and chat. It's not streaming, not multimedia, and not cookies. The last three are editorial or advertising tools -- they're used to implement the results of your content analysis.

The difference between the Web and print, the one thing which makes it possible for you to "get hungry" and model the entire economic interaction between your reader (or user) and your advertiser, is the feedback loop. Feedback between advertisers and readers, between editorial and readers, and (this last bit is most important) feedback among readers. This last builds community, it builds loyalty, it builds hours online, it lets you create real service out of the editorial and advertising feedback loops.

There's a step beyond that content analysis, which Web-only companies find simple and print companies find difficult (if not impossible) to move on. Once you've modeled the economic interactions between readers and advertisers, your job -- what you get paid for -- is facilitating them. Why this is difficult I don't know. Most journalists claim it's a "church-state" thing. But readers see ads, and ads pay bills. Ads are used to begin a process which leads to sales. No sales, no ads, and no ads, no magazine. Since this entire process can be modeled online -- the process which leads from seeing an ad to making a purchase and getting customer support -- it *must be* modeled online. Those who do so, using such tools as content analysis, will win the game. Those who don't (even due to what they call a "rational fear" of bridging the wall between editorial and advertising) will go under. This has happened many times as the publishing industry has evolved, so I'll leave reluctant publishers with these words. Look. Liberty. Collier's.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

We got game. In May it was USA Today , calling us a "hot site." Next came Jayde , which gave our PPN site, run by Sean Cafferky of Houston, its coveted "Jayde Gold Diamond" award. Now the "San Jose Mercury News" Online Today columnist, Patricia Sullivan , wrote in her "Good Morning Silicon Valley" column we've got things to say which are worth hearing. Thanks so much.

Want to know what you can do to help? Remember that it's Journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully, writing on deadline -- which keeps the clues coming, although I also handle consulting and commercial writing (ask about those rates via e-mail). If you're looking for excellent work -- like that found in my column at Atlanta Computer Currents or my regular work for Net Marketing magazine don't wait for the e-mail -- give me a call at 404-373-7634.

And now back to our show...

Whither The ISPs?

A lot of misunderstanding has arisen over Gartner Group's report, released at ISPCon, saying that "most ISPs will fail" and "flat-rate pricing will end." Since this has dramatic impacts on anyone trying to turn a dollar online, it deserves to be cleared-up.

First, the casualties will be among "mid-tier" ISPs like GoodNet and PSINet which offer "plain-vanilla" access in direct competition with better-heeled phone companies . Some have already smelled this and begun offering creative pricing strategies to lock-in mid-sized customers. Second, Gartner was plain in stating that small, local ISPs offering consumer access in small towns should thrive -- it doesn't pay for BellSouth to put nodes in Americus, Georgia, and aggregating such customers can mean a good living for someone.

Confusion was strongest in Gartner's claim that "all you can eat" pricing will die. Note their caveat -- for large customers. It's driven by "user demands for upgraded 'performance-guaranteed' services." If you need $19.95 modem access from your home, in other words, you'll be able to get it. But you'll also be offered faster, more-expensive options via cable, XDSL and (they didn't mention this) wireless. An accurate report, inaccurate reported.

Back to the Books

Last week we suggested a neat idea -- just-in-time book publishing -- and drew some good feedback from it.

Tony Bove , whom I quoted in another context, was most helpful. Unlike most of us, he's *been* a publisher, starting in the 1970s with the "User's Guide to CP/M," then continuing in the 1980s with "Desktop Publishing" and the "Bove & Rhodes' Insiders Report." When he wrote to inquire about our idea, he made an interesting point -- "The cost of *marketing* (especially promotion) is the main barrier, and I don't see how going Web changes that. It may increase them."

Well, he partly answers his own question in the next line. "I have two niches that I find interesting for possible Webxploitation." The key word here is niche. You can draw some Lookie-Lous (as they're called in real estate) through a banner campaign on Link Exchange or other Web ad networks. Next, check out your niche -- all of it -- and build a "good links" page. Are there newsgroups and mailing lists there? Join 'em and start participating. Tony's willing to eat his own cooking -- he wants to start his company by publishing books he's written, about things he knows -- so he's way ahead of most of us in quality and motivation. Don't forget to look for manufacturing and examine their sales efforts closely -- do 'em a few better and they'll become investors.

Is he ready to quit his day job, class? No way. He'll still need capital. Since he's building a model existing publishers might use, but can't yet, book publishers are one good potential source of capital. O'Reilly & Associates is in his back yard! But now that we've started the research ball rolling, let's see how long it takes to build a business plan. Let me know if I can help.

A Fair Test

Having watched NetGuide Live closely, and taken a jaundiced view of C|Net's Snap and CMG's Planet Direct , the time has come to stop carping and start testing.

Thanks to the last-mentioned, we're about to get that test. (Snap doesn't count -- they got their money up-front.) Viacom's Paramount Stations Group has agreed to make PlanetDirect the interface to local services for 10 of its UPN O&Os (owned and operated) stations. "Star Trek: Voyager" excluded, UPN's programming is "urban contemporary." If PlanetDirect can make UPN money, and build a bottom line for itself, all the nay-sayers are proven wrong. Including me. So good luck -- you'll need it.

Ending the Spam Debate

Naturally, spam drew the most heat, and least light, at the recent ISPcon in San Francisco. No surprise here -- ISPs are the biggest victims, since they're the ones caught carrying useless traffic.

Experian (formerly TRW) is backing an "opt-in" plan and a "postage" fee ISPs would share-in. The Direct Marketing Association responded with libertarian rhetoric and attacked Congress (House HR1748). The closest thing to reason came from Gene Crick of the Texas ISP Association, which is suing a Californian who forged a valid Texas DNS in order to hide a spammer's source location.

I've said this before, and Gene has come closest to getting the job done. Forging your return address to prevent flames or unsubscribes is mail fraud. Plain and simple. That's a small felony, but if a spammer sends 1 million such messages it's 1 million felony counts. Taking these guys to civil court, however, won't work - the penalties aren't severe enough. But if Gene, or someone like him, can convince one U.S. attorney to get their heads out of the "battle against porn" long enough for one high-profile prosecution, filters will begin to work. Remember -- you prosecute the source of the spam -- running it through a foreign DNS doesn't change the location of the crime.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in this week is Bob Hirschfeld . Not so much for his send-up of Matt Drudge -- satirizing a satire is no feat, and eating your own can also mean feeding it to your enemies. This is more for his consistent excellence, his ability to skewer graphics as well as text, his clever use of links which don't mean-what-they-say. And because I'm jealous. His ability to make a living online at this represents hope for all of us.

Clueless is CyberPatrol and any censorship-software company which imagines its choices on what-to-censor aren't subject to question or that those questions can't destroy their business model. Any journalist who wants a Pulitzer has a simple assignment -- analyze those choices, and use your power to show the world what those choices are. Here's a start .

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. (Unlike Netscape, we don't expect you to pay it.)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