Work on this column started a few weeks ago, when I wrote about something I know nothing about (politics) for Bob Kolasky, my patient editor at Intellectual Capital. I opined that the Clinton impeachment battle was a generational thing, a rehashing not of the War in Vietnam, but the War over Vietnam. So Republicans demand vengeance for Nixon, and Democrats see Tricky Dick in every GOP heart.
Bob did the right thing, placing my prose in his circular file, but before he did so I added some links to it -- a lot of links. I offered a little theme music , historical references , even a few surprises . I ended with a modest proposal and selections for further research from a clued-in author.
In making such extensive use of hyperlinks, I was fulfilling a promise Tim Berners-Lee wrote about 10 years ago, the basic promise and premise of the Web. It's something too many of us have since thrown over. The "chilling effect" of a single lawsuit seems to have torn the promise of the Web to shreds. In 1997 news sites began eliminating most hyperlinks, and by 1998 portal sites had turned them into revenue sources.
Well, it doesn't have to be that way. It's true there were some link
My point is this is a burden a professional Webmaster, and a working store, should be willing to take up. "If I don't have it, I can find someone who does" is a long-standing merchandising service that drives customer loyalty. It's much easier to perform this service on the Web than in meat space. It's time to try it.
Smaller hardware stores compete with Home Depot by offering real service. Smaller Web sites can compete with Amazon in the same way. Best of all, once you answer a question for one customer through a link, the answer becomes available to others.
So here's a Clue to all Small Web stores. Put someone in charge of handling customer inquiries, finding links to what they want, then organizing those answers (and links) into a form other customers can use. (An FAQ database comes to mind.) Turn customer service into market research. This is how you can grow your site and learn your business.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
The work done at A-Clue.com becomes the basis for a host of real columns in real publications which real editors pay me real money for. In addition to EcommerceTimes , for which I write a daily "viewpoint," there are monthly columns for NetMarketing, Datamation, Boardwatch and Intellectual Capital. The last is a fine Web site whose strategy is guided by former presidential candidate Pierre duPont.
I also write occasionally for Advertising Age and if you are a heavy user of Internet stock trading sites, I want to profile you for an assignment in Salon Magazine. Buy my book here .
A-Clue.Com is sent via e-mail to over 1,100 Clued-in subscribers each week, and it's the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. You can subscribe (or cancel your subscription) through an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or (for .txt) email@example.com. If you don't get service please write me personally, at firstname.lastname@example.org. (If you'd like to sponsor A-Clue.Com, a note to the same address will start the process.)
Remember that it's still 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...
Sometimes I just have to stand in awe of AT&T's cluelessness.
Since 1995 AT&T has blown more leads than the Mariners' bullpen. By right AT&T should be the nation's top Internet Service Provider right now, but instead they've spent years trying to build proprietary sites, pay sites, and commerce sites.
Since agreeing to take TCI off John Malone's hands, they've gotten serious. They've actually got decent 28.8 Kbps service, although many cities still don't have X2. They claim they'll offer broadband, but before they do anything they want to be guaranteed a monopoly in cable modem service over their cable lines. That's very bad PR, and it's over something they don't even have!
More recently, AT&T has switched its advertising focus. Look closely and you'll find their entire TV buy is now devoted to the Internet. But notice how disjointed the campaign is, and how lame the claims are. Trust us, you always have before, the ads say. But the fact is that AT&T does not have a good reputation on the Internet - the ads' assumption that it does have such a reputation, or that it merely has to extend its "monopoly" in consumer long distance, is insane.
Forget the diversity in MCI's ads for its "10-10-220" campaign, they all carry the same message. This is not true for AT&T's campaign. That might be because AT&T can't sustain consumer expectations, or it may be that its marketing is all tactics and no strategy. Yes, I have an AT&T e-mail address, and yes, the service has gotten a bit better in recent months. But they still have a long, long way to go, and they don't seem to be going anywhere fast.
Excited Yet? (Not Really)
Speaking of our friends on the death star, lots of us are misinterpreting news that @Home will buy Excite Inc. for stock worth twice Excite's price set before the deal.
Two points must be made. First, this was an all-stock deal. The claimed price is irrelevant - no real money is changing hands. Second, both sides are backed by venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, so to understand the deal see why they did it.
It's the word Bill Gates and Janet Jackson both understand well, which is control. Once AT&T buys TCI, it gets a large stake in @Home. Giving Excite half of @Home dilutes AT&T's stake while keeping KPC&B's constant. The guess here is that KPC&B doesn't trust AT&T for some reason - see the story above for the reason.
The hype surrounding this deal is great for Yahoo and Lycos, but I think that's now become a sideshow. The real question is who will control the various broadband pipes going into your home early in the next century? AT&T has made clear its stand - it's the owner of the pipes that will control the Internet. The guess here is that government will prevent that in the name of competition, while broadband providers respond by slowing their roll-outs. In other words don't hold your breath for broadband.
Masking Slowdowns for Digital IDs
Verisign flooded my mailbox with announcements last week, using the RSA Security conference to claim momentum for Digital IDs. If Verisign were Clinton, the Republicans would impeach them on that.
Digital IDs, or personal encryption keys, are used to prove your identity. A certificate authority (Verisign) files the keys for money, and they've done a good job selling server keys so Web stores can support SSL encryption. Consumers have been reluctant to buy such keys, however, because there's little they can do with them.
In time, there should be many things you can do with an online proof of identity. They could replace the whole credit card in Web transactions, lowering costs for merchants. They could help you get copies of your medical records or government documents, while keeping others from getting them. But until my bank offers me a "digital Visa," or my insurance company puts a digital key onto a mag-stripe, there's no compelling reason for me to have one.
Verisign sent out 12 releases, by my count, extending its reach to Internet Service Providers around the world, and to the TransUnion credit-reporting agency, under the name Verisign Affiliate Services. The trouble is, there's still no compelling reason for consumers to have these things. Having a vast distribution network for something that isn't being bought isn't something to get excited about.
One of the advantages of Internet journalism should be that you can correct errors quickly, and make the corrections as big as the original errors.
So it is with a recent story on Robert Eichorn and his Highlands Inn in Vermont. While praising the story, he did point out some major mistakes which we need to correct. First, his Web host is a local company, VTWeb, and not CK Interactive as we indicated. Second (and most egregious), the governor of Vermont is Howard Dean. Given the fact the governor was considering a possible Presidential run early in 1997, you'd think we wouldn't call him Thomas, but Jimmy Carter stumped the panel on "What's My Line" in 1974...I will not compare myself to Bennett Cerf.
Clued-in is eBay , which finally decided to start taking its security problems seriously. (And just in time. Sotheby's announced its Web site last week.) For their efforts eBay deserves a word of advice. Don't make this a one-time thing.
Clueless is America Online, for launching a multi-level marketing campaign. This twist on the affiliate idea might have worked 5 years ago. Now they're just letting bad guys into the tent. My prediction is the cost of managing this thing will greatly exceed the incremental revenue.