A Clue...to Internet Commerce

by Dana Blankenhorn

Volume II, No. I

For the Week of January 5, 1998

This Week's Clue: Smaller, Faster, Smarter

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Latest From The Spam Wars

Meta Tags

PopUps - They're Not Just For Videos Anymore


Last Word This Year On Microsoft


Clued-in, Clueless

This Week's Clue: Smaller, Faster, Smarter

Over Christmas I caught up with my reading about small sites and their problems, discussions hosted expertly by folks like John Audette and Richard Hoy . It was a heartening experience, because not only do small site owners tend to share, but many of them are very smart. It takes time to go through all they have to say and find the pearls of wisdom, but that's what I'm here for...

First, let's repeat some thoughts on the use of color from Jacqui Kinney of Blue Valley DesignWorks in Walton, New York, posted to Issue #29 of I-Sales' Help Desk list on December 3. Pastels are restful, not just feminine, Jacqui writes. Select from a "Web safe" palette of 216 colors for faster downloading. If using red or black know why - for dramatic effect. Use a few, small, strong images - I'd add that Java will animate them for very little k-overhead.

Second, some ideas on picking a Web marketing company from Shari Thurow, from a note posted by I-Sales December 16. There are an awful lot of fly-by-night operators, and her rules bear repeating. Check credentials and experience carefully - do they know the ins-and-outs of writing Web pages, for instance? Ask why big image maps are bad, and how your frames will be indexed by Excite - bad answers are bad business. Demand good copyrighting, and beware of promises you'll make the "Top 10" in any search engine...that's a sure sign of a charlatan.

Mary Firme was part of I-Sales' December 17 posting, with a reminder that using something like Freestats to monitor referrer logs is the smartest thing a new sales site can do. (It taught her the best honor you can get, for instance, is the Netscape "What's New" button , the worst probably Cool Central). Knowing where your users come from is a great way to get more of them.

Larry Chase introduced us to a great resource if you want to start a new site but don't know what URL to go for. Tabnet, a registrar, has developed a cgi script that can find an unused URL for you. It found that A-Clue.Com has yet to be taken. And while you're at it, check out Ask Jeeves, a new search service. I asked it "who has a Clue" and it found this newsletter in 15 seconds, after the Jeeves spider did a search on Infoseek.

Finally, Murray Ceff wrote to I-Sales from Australia to tell of how he dealt with plagiarism in a positive way. Some of his content was copied by a U.S. site, and he felt a lawsuit would be impractical. So he sent an e-mail asking the offending site's Webmaster if he could use their material on his site, given they were using his material on theirs. Not only did he get a "used with permission" tag and a link back, but they asked him for a quote on exporting his product, called a mediBall, to the U.S. through them. Win-win.


SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Here's the deal. John Audette will soon host the e-mail editions of A Clue, and we hope you'll join the discussion and help us build a digest of Clues we can share. (The Web version stays with Sean Cafferky and Tommy Bass.) Our present estimate for the hand-over is February 1. To pay for all this, we'll add a weekly, tracked ad (http://www.adniche.com). I figure on calling it shameless promotion, running along this SSP we've always done. The theory is you first provide service - real newspapers don't put ads above the fold.

Still, 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, as found in Atlanta Computer Currents, on Access Atlanta or Net Marketing magazine and Internet & Electronic Commerce Strategies don't wait for the e-mail -- give me a call at 404-373-7634.

And now back to our show...


Latest From The Spam Wars

Spammers, not pornographers, will be the first test case of whether the law can reach those on the Internet. Success there will doubtless spread to other areas - sex, sedition, and sales taxes come to mind.

But the need to put spammers in jail becomes increasingly obvious with their latest nasty tricks. Now they're making up e-mail addresses, writes John Brogan of ReplyNet, who conducts surveys via e-mail. (He calls the tactic "blind broadcasting".) Earlier tactics, like sending spam through multiple servers, could be fought by technical means and civil suits charging spammers with trespassing. Junk addresses clog the whole net's arteries, with specific victims as well as perps becoming hard to identify.

This is an area where public opinion would be solidly with law enforcement. Even the ACLU hates spam. The danger (the promise for prosecutors) is success provides a road map for going after anyone, for anything a local zealot deems unreasonable. But that's a risk it's obvious now must be taken.

Meta Tags

I'm not a big believer in "meta tags." Maybe I believe too much in word of mouth, that if you provide a good service online smart users will find you. Besides, I've noticed lots of news stories from Cnet , ZDNet and other sources have become so cluttered with tracking, tags, and graphic calls I can't find the stories in the files anymore. Meta tags, however, can be useful for identifying you to some search engines. Since there are now lots of specialized engines the technique may prove useful to you.

Meta tags are placed above your content and provide additional information on your page. They usually have a form like <META NAME="whateverisinhere">. You can have a "DESCRIPTION" tag and/or a "KEYWORDS" tag. Christine Ryave also suggests using a "!-NOEDIT-" comment tag so your authoring software won't eat the meta tag. (You can get a good tutorial on this at Search Engine Watch. Be warned, however, not to put in too many keywords - search engines may consider it spamming, and your reputation is everything online. Oh, and by the way, Shari Thurow adds, Excite and AOL's NetFind are among the engines that now ignore the tags, due to their overuse and abuse. If you need to know more, click here .

PopUps - They're Not Just For Videos Anymore

Last week the Link Exchange Digest hosted a fascinating discussion on how GeoCities and Tripod , which offer free and cheap personal Web page hosting services, are trying to turn a profit by sticking interstitial ads and additional "pop-up" browsers on subscribers' pages. It delivered some very good Clues.

First, users of "free" services are smart. They see through this stuff. David Moore likened the GeoCities pop-up to "building your home and having the city place a billboard, with whatever content they feel fit, on top of the roof." That's a nice analogy. Bryan Ferguson noted he was "given" an extra megabyte of space by the service, but it's all going to those ads - he saw through the offer, too. What's most interesting about the "GeoPops" campaign, adds Steven Slawin of The Computer Trader Magazine, is where they got the idea from. As A Clue warned weeks ago, this is a trick of "adult sites" - they call it "console popping" because it increases their hits for each "console" linked to them.

Second, folks getting a deal don't get much sympathy. Many writers to the digest pointed out how GeoCities gives 3 megabytes of storage to each of its users, free, so they're entitled to whatever advertising they offer. Besides, for a "little extra" you might get rid of Tripod's ads, noted member Keith W. . Still, many users wrote they avoid the problem by avoiding those services' pages, and it's become obvious these are no places to be running a business - even one that started as a hobby.

Can the services take these Clues to heart? GeoCities can. They launched a new service, GeoGuide II, without the "GeoStitial" or "GeoPop" nonsense. But here's another Clue for them - next time you want to launch a new revenue-raiser, test it first, on a business as well as on a technical basis.

Last Word This Year On Microsoft

You're going to read a lot this year, and in years to come, on Microsoft's war with the Justice Department. The story has everything -- high visibility, conflict, and it can be written almost entirely from press releases, so it costs nothing to cover. (And less to analyze.)

We, however, have better things to do. So let's just give you some Clues to help you follow this fine mess over time. First, the issue isn't Internet Explorer, but Microsoft's extension of its operating system monopoly by adding new features. It's already lost a civil suit on this subject, when it added compression to Windows, and the situation here is similar. They copied someone else's innovation and gave it away, seeking to drive the competitor out of the market. At risk is not Microsoft's ability to add functions to the OS, but its ability to add others' innovations without payment (or through negotiations that turn the payment to dust through the threat of going around the technology).

Second, Microsoft has already lost. The final straw was its arrogance in ignoring Judge Jackson's order that it temporarily remove Explorer from Windows '95. When a Judge can see through your dodge, you've got to do more than drop the dodge to get on his good side. More important, the Department of Justice took the dodge as a challenge, gaining the legal expertise to fight Gates to the death. They can and they will. They can file another suit, on another issue, they can be joined in their efforts by the states, and they can win political support for their efforts from both sides of the aisle. Henry Ford couldn't keep out the unions and J.P. Morgan couldn't stop the trust busters. If Microsoft ever seems likely to win this fight, some politician will ride the issue to election (or near-election) raising the stakes and changing the rules.

How bad is it? Microsoft's reduced to allies like Mark DeCunha, who's invoking Ayn Rand in Bill's defense and attacking all anti-trust law. This is an argument that was made, and lost, 100 years ago.

Personally, I'd much rather see a $12 billion Microsoft holding the whip hand in this business than a $60 billion IBM. But the law here is clear - an upper hand is defensible, a whip hand is not. Sometime in the 21st century this story will likely end as we predicted it would months ago, with Microsoft divided between its (regulated) operating system unit and (unregulated) applications unit. Until then, enjoy the show, but remember that's all it is - a show.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is the Censorware Project. They released their report on Cyber Patrol's weaknesses at just the right time for maximum exposure, and provided a valuable public service the press itself should have given us long ago. In time, all these products should undergo the same scrutiny, and now there's hope it will happen.

Clueless is Tupperware, which persists in fighting the Web rather than joining it. MLM schemes like Tupperware are all over the Web, so there's a model for making it work. Tupperware could sell direct to its own sales force, or take orders on its behalf and maintain pricing. Instead, it seeks to prevent its salespeople from running Web sites and forces buyers to attend "parties" they don't need in order to get stuff they might like.

A Clue...to Internet Commerce is a weekly publication of @Have Modem, Will Travel. It's sent free to a qualified e-mail list. 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 mailto:Dana.Blankenhorn@ att.net. We're on the Web at http://www.tbass.com/clue and http://www.ppn.org/clue.