A-Clue.Com
by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume III, No. XIX
For the Week of May 10, 1999

This Week's Clue: Missing In (Web) Action

This Week's Clue: Missing In (Web) Action

Shameless Promotion 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

People Learn Fast

Real Hysteria, False Fears

Definition of the Week

Idiocy of the Week

A Clue from Littleton

Clued-in, Clueless

The Web is great. I don't think Tim Berners-Lee deserves to be among the Century's Top 50 Scientists because of it (I'd go with Bob Metcalfe or Vint Cerf instead, since the Web rides on the Internet), but it's certainly the story of the decade. 

Still, the Web's success has obscured the Internet's true value. That's because the Web has been used primarily as a publishing medium. The interaction requested of users is a click, preferably in the "buy" box. Links are even seen as a form of conspiracy aimed at "giving away your users" to other sites. Links are even treated as commodities (high priced ones).

Just as important, the Web's success has destroyed other Internet services. E-mail is an exception, but even there the Web-based interfaces of services like Hotmail are enormously popular, and millions of others use e-mail clients that come with their browsers (AOL, Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator). Most users don't even know how to use their News clients - many don't know they have them. FTP is only seen as a way to download stuff from the Web (it's a one-way street) and most ISPs refuse telnet access to even Webmasters. Gopher, Archie, Veronica? They don't exist anymore.

Rather than seeing this last as a form of mourning, however, I want you to look upon it as a big opportunity. While the Web is just one service riding on today's Internet, it is our primary Internet interface. But it's a base service. Many other services - like streaming and high-end graphics - ride on top of the Web in the form of plug-ins.

I think it's time these older Internet services get plugged-into the Web. I'm especially interested in news. While unmoderated newsgroups have proven very easy to abuse, moderated groups remain popular, not just on Usenet but on Web sites. QVC runs one of the best news sites among the major online merchants, and Yahoo could really take some tips from it. QVC takes the real names of those who post, stops flame wars before they start, and reads each note before it goes in. It doesn't have any anonymous dumps on breadmakers that turn out to come from rival breadmakers, or even Rival. Instead, you can quickly get good advice here, from real people, advice you can take advantage of immediately, either on QVC's site or (yes, it's possible) on someone else's.

The only problem I find is the Web interface of QVC's news. In fact, I find the same problem with every Web site's news interface. Frankly, Windows Explorer (the program, not the browser) is better. I want to be able to see the whole tree at a glance, compressing or expanding groups of branches quickly. Dejanews is clever to build a database on top of its feeds, but even a database metaphor can be limiting when the feed gets big enough.

A few years ago Apple offered a "meta-format" plug-in, which I used to "cruise" through Yahoo's index. Like a lot of things Apple does (this was before Steve Jobs returned) it was cute, but clunky and useless (bad case of Xerox PARC disease). Still there was an idea that could prove powerful. If you can find a way to offer better navigation of your news site, then offer that navigation in the form of a plug-in, you have a great premium to offer those who register for your service. You may also have a new product. There may be other Internet technologies that, if they rode on top of the Web instead of competing with it, might come back as well. Your Clue is to look for them.


Shameless Promotion
 

http://www.newsbureau.com/aclue

Type "A-Clue.com" in the Offer Code field on the INB order form and receive a 15% discount on any order.



SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

You can now get your Daily Clue at ClickZ, putting a "clued-in" spin on the day's news. I'm also continuing to do monthly columns for  NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and  Intellectual Capital. I'll also begin work soon with the IC folk on a book project concerning politics and the Internet, which will appear first on the Web. A-Clue.Com is also the Monday e-commerce column of Andover.News. Buy my book now. Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.

Remember that it's still journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully and writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming. If you're looking for excellent work, give me a call at 404-373-7634. Now back to the show...


People Learn Fast

How fast do people learn whether or not you have game? Very fast, it turns out.

So hearken, please, to the sad tale of Autoweb.com . Autoweb, like rivals CarPoint and Autobytel, is in the car business. Actually it's collecting and passing along leads from car buyers to dealers, then hoping to win by selling things like financing and insurance.

In order to win dealers, Autoweb charges a low price for its referrals (about $30) and doesn't require that dealers be trained in the "Saturn" way of business (fast service, no haggling, and a separate department). This makes it popular with dealers, and it does face a lot of competition there. But the risk is that consumers will stop trusting it if it fails to police dealers. The question is, which side is more important?

Thanks go to Clued-in reader Bruce Onder  for passing along the predictable results. Basically, he got the runaround. He didn't like the treatment he received from either the dealer or Autoweb, and he contacted me. Well, Bruce, I had nothing to do with this, but as you'll see from this chart Autoweb isn't behaving like an Internet stock. Quite the opposite...as ol' Ross would say, "it's just that simple." The Clue is that when you make a promise, invest enough to make sure you can fulfill that promise. Unhappy customers have very big mouths, and very fast fingers.

Real Hysteria, False Fears

The biggest fear we have is that corporations will gather all sorts of data on our habits, using the Internet, and then use that data to manipulate our lives.

It's true that a lot of data gets collected, and there are companies who can help marketers build detailed "dossiers" on customers and prospects. But the use of that data is strictly limited, just as the use of credit reports  is strictly limited. And, as a recent report from Jupiter Communications makes clear , only 22% of online advertisers are using the data they collect efficiently. In other words, instead of fulfilling the "promise" of finding you with an ad, they're drowning in data just like you are.

The Clue here is as old as time. There's a big difference between data and information. Turning one into the other is expensive, and since information (as opposed to data) is so valuable, information is seldom shared. If you care about your privacy, thank your lucky stars for Clueless marketers.

Definition of the Week

A tip of the hat to David Strom and his "Web Informant" letter for updating the definition of an Internet "portal." It is now "a company whose stock is flying so high or who has so much idle cash lying about that they can afford to buy whomever they want, and are a popular destination for budding Internet entrepreneurs looking to sell out." In other words, they're Daddy Gigabucks.

Idiocy of the Week

As a publicity stunt (he sent me a news release on it), Peter Kagel put his company, 1-800-Remind.Com up for auction on eBay. The minimum bid was $10 million, and my visit to the site found nothing but a graphic. Essentially, the man was selling a URL. Anyone who bid deserved what they got.

Just for fun, I checked out the word "remind" and its availability in 50 different domains, through a site called alldomains.com  (Thanks to Larry Chase for pointing them out.) In addition to the .com, it's sold as a .net (to Changepoint Corp. of Richmond Hill, Ontario), but it's still available as a .org (and, as a Clue to the people at Changepoint, as a .ca (Canada)). Only two foreign countries (not .to (Tonga), not .nu (Nuie) and not .cc (the Cocos Keelings Islands), all of which have active U.S. registrars) have sold it. Mediateam Austria in Salzberg holds remind.at, and Christian Rosskath of Rosskoth & Esch in Witten holds remind.de. (The latter is an ad agency.) Your Clue is to save your money, and try Alldomains if your .com isn't available but you want the name anyway.


A Clue from Littleton

I don't like to make political pronouncements here, so skip this item if you don't want to hear one. But the Littleton tragedies have caused a swelling chorus for censorship of every medium, especially this one. I hear it and understand - I've got two kids of my own. But here's your Clue. Look carefully at who is whipping up the frenzy, and who pays for their campaigns . It's true that guns don't kill people -- people with guns kill people. If you want your child to live to adulthood, don't think of letting go of your anger until kids can no longer get guns. As my memorial to the tragedy, I'll never vote for a NRA candidate again.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Federated Department Stores Inc. . It spent $1.7 billion on Fingerhut (not an Internet valuation), and put Fingerhuttites in charge of both its Internet and mail order operations. If they fail, Federated still has the infrastructure, and can grab someone off Dell or Amazon's bench.

Clueless is Al Gore . First the candidate claims he invented the Internet, now his minions claim their site is "open source" when it's anything but. Al, here's a quick Clue for you. There's no "e" in potato.


A-Clue.Com is a free weekly email publication. Subscribers can receive either a .txt file or .htm file. The .htm version features links that become active from inside a browser. To take your name off the list, simply write REMOVE as the subject, or content, of a message replying to any issue. To request your free copy, write us at Dana.Blankenhorn@ att.net  or +A_Clue . To subscribe you can also write to a-clue@list.mmgco.com  with the word "subscribe" in the subject. (Address your request for the .txt version to a-clue_textonly@list.mmgco.com . You can unsubscribe with a note to the same addresses and the word "unsubscribe" in the subject.. We're on the Web at http://www.a-clue.com and http://www.ppn.org/clue.