A-Clue.Com
(formerly "A Clue...to Internet Commerce")
by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume II, No. XLIV
For the Week of November 2, 1998
 

This Week's Clue: Prayer for the Firing (Victims) 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)  

Nordstrom's Looks Toward Tomorrow 

How Harry Won His Mouse Ears 

More Stupid Lawyer Tricks 

The Real Threat To The Web 

Clued-in, Clueless

This Week's Clue: Prayer for the Firing (Victims)  

If it sounds like I'm getting sappy, or belaboring the obvious here, that may be true. But I'm "crossing that bridge with lessons I've learned, of playing with firing without getting burned," so bear with me. (Now have you figured out our headline? OK, then...) 

My own business of journalism was rocked recently by Ziff-Davis' decision to cut 10% of its staff, including lots of senior editors, and CMP Media's decision to close LAN Times, which it acquired from McGraw-Hill. For a freelance writer (me), this should be devastating. Any opportunities are certain to be grabbed by "friends" of the hiring editors. 

But my business is doing fine, and I find my heart going out to all the highly paid senior editors now losing their jobs. I was in an identical position just 18 months ago, let-go by CMP's NetGuide as it prepared to slide under the waves. Maybe my example can offer other journalists some Clues they can use to make their way in the world. So let me talk to them personally (yes, you sir!). Let them sit themselves down here, by their old friend Dana. Give them a drink, and let's have a real heart-to-heart. 

A-Clue.Com was born when I asked the hard question of what I really felt most passionate about. It's journalism, as I say weekly in that "Shameless Self Promotion" section of A-Clue.Com most subscribers so blithely skip-over. (Yes, I know you do, don't deny it.) Passion for my subject gave me expertise, and desire to share that expertise gave me the courage to offer a free weekly e-mail to the world. 

Now, your passion may not be electronic commerce. It may be cooking, or your religion. It may be golf, your children, health or your grandchildren. Whatever the interest might be, pursue it, then offer the benefits of that pursuit to others. Set a schedule (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, whatever) and resolve to stick with it. Write what you know, what you learn, and offer it around. Keep the mailing list on your home computer if you like. You don't need a mailing list manager until you get near 500 subscribers. With a Web site (a real URL, please) to offer your wares ($70 for the address, maybe $50/month for initial hosting) you've now got a home. You're no longer unemployed; you're an entrepreneur! 

Next, use the Internet to build that business. Research your subject and build a links page. Update it regularly, every time you prepare to write. Join newsgroups and shared mailing lists discussing your passion and participate in them. Three things will happen. First, your letters will get better. Second, you'll add subscribers. Third, you'll feel better, because you'll be spending your time the way you want to spend it. 

Now, look around you. Are there services you can offer or products you can sell? Can you find Web sites in your chosen field that might offer you work? (Your letter becomes your resume.) Can you become an affiliate of someone who is Clued-in?  Is there an opportunity here to build an affiliate network of your own, or take your business into overseas markets?  Explore every possibility and lead. Did you find regular meetings on your chosen topic? Go to them and try to become a speaker. Report on your adventures in your letters. Don't be afraid to ask for work, or help. If you build it, help will come. 

Sure it sounds like a fairy tale, and it won't work for everyone. If you've got no talent and nothing to say, it won't work at all. But remember you were a top editor at Ziff-Davis (or CMP) - you've got the stuff. You'll do fine. These are the Clues I've learned in developing A-Clue.Com, Clues that have left me well paid, well thought-of, and with real self-esteem to boot. 

But my key Clue to you is this. There is really nothing that special about me. If you're an experienced journalist, there is nothing in me you won't find in your mirror, save perhaps my passion for this particular subject. Find your passion and use it. Then no matter what color your parachute, its true color will most certainly be green. 



SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion) 

You can now order "Web Commerce: Building a Digital Business," , by Kate Maddox with yours truly (but with on the cover) through Barnes & Noble. It's on sale at $20.95, (down from a cover price of $29.95, and down from Amazon's price of $27.95) part of the Wiley/Upside series. You can also read a review of the book, from Dr. Ralph Wilson, by clicking here

A-Clue.Com has also been picked up by Andover News  as its Monday e-commerce column. Thanks to you, A-Clue.Com now goes to well over 1,000 Clued-in subscribers each week. Thanks to Multimedia Marketing Group  a UnityMail  customer, it's also an in-line HTML file (no more messy Web codes). Besides producing A-Clue.Com, I contribute regularly to such publications as Net Marketing , Boardwatch, Datamation  and Atlanta Computer Currents . Your magazine can join the list - send me an e-mail and let's start the ball rolling. 

You can subscribe (or cancel your subscription) to A-Clue.Com through an e-mail to a-clue@list.mmgco.com or (if you prefer the .txt version) a-clue_textonly@list.mmgco.com. Just put the magic word "subscribe" (or join, if you prefer) in the body or header. If you don't get service, feel free to drop me a note at dana.blankenhorn@att.net. And we want your feedback  as well, always. We're still looking for an advertiser to defray our higher costs. 

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,speaking assignments, and commercial writing (ask about those rates via email). If you're looking for excellent work, give me a call at 404-373-7634. 

And now back to our show... 
 



Nordstrom's Looks Toward Tomorrow  

Nordstrom's , based in Seattle, offers one of the best in-person shopping experiences in America. So when I learned that they'd opened a Web site I ran in to take a look. 

Let's start with the good news. The selection is ample - a 53,000 item database. The system can also calculate sales tax for places where it has "nexus." I live in DeKalb County, Georgia, there's a Nordstrom's in Perimeter Mall, so it adds sales tax to my order. (So much for the nonsense that Web sites can't do that.) Nordstrom's has also gone one-up on Amazon's "one-click ordering" system with an "address book," which not only stores your credit card number but lets you input multiple ship-to addresses, making repeat business easy to transact. 

Here's some more good news. Their catalog site offers quick access to those famed personal shoppers . The company has made a major investment in Streamline , which is still trying to perfect home delivery of perishable commodities like vegetables and dry cleaning. So it's obvious Nordstrom's heart is in the right place, and they're taking the long-term view. 

There is, unfortunately, a lot of bad news to report. The catalog designers ruled the meetings when this site was designed, because the home page loads very slowly. (The problem is big graphic files.) The site is very heavy on clothes, in keeping with the retailer's strength, but there are two reasons why clothes are returned and this site deals with neither. First, sizing may be wrong. Second, the color may be wrong. The second is a bigger problem than the first. Finally, the set-up for an initial order is slow and awkward (there are multiple screens and lots of fields to complete on lots of forms). The hardest online order to get is the first one. Someone forgot that. 

Here's more bad news, and it's sadly becoming a common problem. Where did the mailtos go? For that matter, where are the company's address and phone number? I couldn't find them at the Nordstrom's site, nor at many of the other sites I've visited lately. Even press releases are posted without contact information - what's the sense of that? It's gotten this bad. If Mediamap, which produces a directory of journalists and their beats it sells to corporate PR offices, would like a really good Clue, how about a directory of corporate PR people (and in the case of large companies, their beats) that could be sponsored and posted online? 

The conclusion is obvious. The Nordstrom's site may be great when we all have broadband, but it's got some problems right now. 

How Harry Won His Mouse Ears  

When Disney and Infoseek got in bed together some months ago, the Clueless predicted Disney's executives would roll over Infoseek head Harry Motro, who won one of our first Clued-in designations ever when he left CNN

It didn't work out that way, and the reason is the bottom line. By putting Starwave on Infoseek's balance sheet, Motro shed the light of day on just how bad the losses are at such popular sites as ESPN.Com. This was the other shoe dropping on the recent defections from Disney's online efforts - defections that cleared the way for Motro to take total control. Disney and ABC may retain the job of driving traffic to Motro's sites, but it's now clear their bottom line is his responsibility . The betting here is if Harry can't turn that red to green, no one can. 

More Stupid Lawyer Tricks  

While the legal world's attention is focused on the U.S. vs. Microsoft, a host of other lawyers are showing-off stupid tricks of their own. 

Wal-Mart has an uphill climb, but its suit against Amazon.Com is not completely Clueless. Many employment contracts have been enforced when key employees tried to take trade secrets out the door with them. But courts draw such suits narrowly, and may be unwilling to call Wal-Mart and Amazon direct competitors - especially if the Judge checks out the Wal-Mart Web site

I've called this business of patenting business processes Clueless before, so I guess that means CoolSavings  belongs in the Clueless hall of shame. By wasting its equity suing Emaginet  over online "green stamps," an unproven business model, rather than working to prove the profitability of that model (not popularity, guys, profitability), they've truly taken their eye off the ball. Bragging about it, as Coolsavings did in a recent press release, is even more Clueless. But lawyers will do that to you. 

The Real Threat To The Web  

This is a very important story. Serb nationalists have announced a total Web war against their Albanian enemies, and since the U.S. is supporting the Albanians it's likely the war will come to us as well. I joked a few weeks ago we're lucky that no one has yet hung up a shingle saying "will hack for God." Well, someone has. 

Make that several someones. The BBC has the entire U.S. media beat in reporting this story. It's one you need to stay on top of, especially as you consider your site's security requirements. 

Clued-in, Clueless 

Clued-in is Vernon Keenan , formerly of Zona Research, who's launched his own firm with an interesting take on the subject of online auctions . Sport-talk host Jim Rome likes to demand that listeners "have a take and don't suck." The same should be on every market analyst's wall. It seems to be engraved on Mr. Keenan's brain. 

Clueless has to be Softbank Services , which exposed the personal data of tens of thousands of Microsoft customers through a bug on one of its Web sites. When a friend was unable to make a scheduled trade show appearance recently, the gentleman in charge of speakers joked, "I want him dead, I want his kids dead, I want his dog dead," then noted seriously that my friend would not be invited back. This is the kind of story Son-san does not need to read. 



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