A Clue...to Internet Commerce

by Dana Blankenhorn

Volume II, No. VI

For the Week of February 9, 1998

This Week's Clue: Peace in Our Time?

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Another View On NT and Y2K

They're Coming To Take Me Away (To The Web)

What's The Password?

Remember The Resellers

Clued-in, Clueless

This Week's Clue: Peace in Our Time?

There was great rejoicing recently when the White House released its report on privatizing the Internet, especially the area of domain names, and adding five top-level domains (TLDs) to the mix. The Magaziner report claims that, by creating new TLDs, it's dealing with the current monopoly held by Network Solutions (http://www.internic.org.) Their stated goal is to cut the cost of registering names.

Well, hold the phone. The problem is not the protection of www.cocacola.com . It's whether they'll be protection for cocacola.store, cocacola.firm, etc. etc., not to mention protection against cocacolasucks.store and cocacolasucks.firm.

The problem with TLDs comes before the dot, not after it. The problem is many words are trademarked in multiple industries by multiple companies, and are held as well by individuals. Why shouldn't NetGrocer head Daniel Nissan have an .arts domain, if he wants one? It's his name, isn't it? Well, it's also the name of a Japanese car company, which may not want to risk his turning www.nissan.arts into an attack on its products. (Not that he would...I'm just using him as an example here because the name's spelled the same as the car company's, and I hope he'll understand.)

I have yet to see a proposal on URLs that criticize other URLs, nor do I see a proposal on what to do with URLs trademarked by multiple firms in multiple domains. Here's how silly it gets - the city of Decatur, Georgia is found at www.decatur-ga.com, rather than in a .gov or .ga domain. They just don't know better. What we have, in other words, is a mess and no one even suggesting what's to be done about it - save to have competing folks with competing standards (and an impulse to register competing domains for a quick buck) have at it. That's a recipe for lawsuits.

So, what can we offer?

  • Use the vanity license plate rules to keep out critics. I can't get a dirty vanity plate, or a politically-critical plate either like PPKILLS or NRASUCKS. Why should I be able to do that on the Internet?
  • Raise the Prices. The key to the "ransoming" of TLDs was that it cost just $50 and it was first-come, first-served. Magaziner wants to make it cheaper. You don't have to just demand new cash, but content. If you're to get a TLD, you should be obligated to go online with it, fast.
  • Investigate. Domains should be given when it's appropriate, and the appropriate domain should be given the first time out. That's where the extra money for registrations should go. These are business licenses, and should be treated as such.
  • Use International Trademark Law - Trademarked domains should be automatically reserved in the nations where the trademarks are held, even if they're unused. That would have prevented the recent nonsense over Oreos.com.
  • The main TLDs should be enforced. The Gore and Gingrich campaigns should be on .org, not on .com domains. Government organizations of all types should use local or .gov domains. Do this before the hand-over so it's enforceable afterward.
  • You don't need a URL to criticize someone, unless you're just trying to get in the face of the unwary with it. Maybe we need a new .dump domain. You'd know what you were getting into at www.aol.dump and www.cocacola.dump.

If we want the Net to replace the real world, then the rules of the Net and the real world must coincide in some way. Here's a place where that can start.

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Just for fun, I've written a novel. E-mail me for a copy and you'll get a ZIP file that unzips to reveal 20 chapters in MS Word 6.0 of "The Time Mirror," which tells you what we can really do with the Pentium II. (Yes, I'm working on a sequel.) If you like, you might also pass some Clues about how to get some money out of this thing - it's not my day job.

Meanwhile, CoolTool is just the latest outlet to admit we work hard to give you the best coverage possible of Internet Commerce. 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. 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...

Another View On NT and Y2K

Doc Don Taylor, a member of the Y2K Working Group, and a subscriber to this letter, took some exception to our item last week on the Y2K problem, and the belief (by some) that Windows NT is a valid solution. My point is that some large companies figure new software (like NT) should solve their problems, creating a compelling argument for Enterprise-Wide NT. But I am not a technician. Doc Taylor is. Following are his thoughts on the matter:

"While I will acknowledge that NT has some of the most recently developed applications, this does not mean that they were properly programmed to eliminate the date-dependency issues that are at the root of the Y2k problem." The problem is a default date format with just two digits for the year - NT still has it, he writes. "While using four-digit years in your dates is no guarantee by itself that your software and data have no problems, it does reduce the ambiguity."

Besides, there's a problem here that goes beyond software. "Data entry operators and others who spend a good bit of their time entering dates have been typing the mm/dd/yy format for a long time. They often get paid by keystroke. Getting them to enter mm/dd/yyyy, if the Windows' date display settings are changed and if the application allows it, will be a significant task."

They're Coming To Take Me Away (To The Web)

In the last few weeks two companies dropped their physical incarnation, claiming they'll make their money online.

Egghead lost nearly $40 million last year, so it's closing its 80 stores and keeping its Web site. Datamation is an old-line mainframe magazine whose publisher, Reed Elsevier Business Information, is also keeping its Web site.

Well, it happened to me, and it's bunk. When Interactive Age closed in 1995, CMP Media kept the Interactive Age Daily. I was named "director." But there was no incentive for my new bosses at Communications Week (now Internet Week) to keep IA alive. All my resources were taken away, and after I left a desultory attempt was made to keep the thing going, a move designed in advance to fail.

Since then, "we're going to the Web" has become a standard line when magazines go under. Why doesn't it work? It's because magazines are a built-in market presence, with an established business model. Smart Web site developers have learned to bring-in transactions based on the communities they create - not just their content. You build the community with help from the content, tie it to commerce, and then build value you can capitalize on.

That's not a quick or easy buck. So here's what's going to happen. Datamation Online will drift along for some months or years, then quietly go under. Egghead needs to learn how the online business works now (it's not just offering products, but building brand, offering information, and building community) or it will have no tomorrow. If the Egghead folk want to learn how to make this work, they can click here.

What's The Password?

There are two ways to build content. You can hire people who know something, or try to piggy-back on volunteers who know little.

CMG Information Services has become a pioneer in driving the latter strategy and their latest effort is called Passport Internet Publishing . The deal here is you'll use their software to create searches on vertical-market topics, and the resulting pages will be, in effect, customized spider programs that others can learn to research the same topics.

GeoCities' free home pages are designed to spam viewers with pop-up ads (and anything else they can think of). While the users get no sympathy - they have no choice but to be used for the free space - the users' users do have a choice, and time will tell if they exercise it. PlanetDirect wants ISPs to hog-tie users (through unbreakable browser defaults) to pages of preferences that let CMG mine consumer profiles and other marketing data from clickstreams. Passport will be much the same, only using spiders instead of HTML or links.

Time will tell whether this works, as GeoCities has until now. My own feeling is you'll get further giving individuals the products and services they want than treating them like a mass anything.

Remember The Resellers

A move by IBM to launch a $1.95/hour surcharge on its formerly all-you-can-eat (AYCE) $19.95 access plan (after 100 hours/month) may be more important than it seems.

While media attention focused on anger among direct IBM customers, and moves by other ISPs to discourage over-use of the resource (or refuse to move to AYCE pricing at all), IBM is also a large reseller of ISP service. Many newspapers, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as well as regional phone companies resell IBM's Internet service, and will have to pass-along the surcharge. IBM's risk is in a revolt by these customers, for which it will be blamed. Ignoring this aspect of the story is...Clueless.

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Online Press, which is quickly becoming the "Folio Magazine" of the online world, based on the quality of their stories. Ken Glaser doesn't blindly critique content - he keeps a sharp eye on the bottom line and its relation to content. His report on the San Francisco Guardian pulling an "expose" on Wired was a fine example of what he can do editorially - time will tell if he can turn this into a business.

Clueless is The New Yorker. Yes, the New Yorker. I'm tired of throwing the best magazine writing on Earth against the wall whenever the topic turns to the online world. There is no contradiction between understanding this world and knowing how to write. There may, however, be a contradiction between understanding this world and getting an assignment, but that's not my fault. (Tina Brown is welcome to my resume.)


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.