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21st Century Commerce: E-Commerce
These articles were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 6, 1999. All rights reserved.
Listen up to Robert M. Worsley if you want to
succeed in electronic commerce. He founded the spectacularly successful
"catalog in the sky" Skymall Inc., the Phoenix, Arizona-based
catalog you find in your seat when you fly almost any airline. Worsley
was one of the many experts who gave advice on E-Commerce in 1998,
and there will be many more in ’99 (See page 6).
In 1999, says Worsley, every business will have to ask themselves
can certainly be no, he says. "You could say I am going to wait
and maybe get involved in a year or two." But if your answer is yes,
systems with our legacy systems?
and bag the legacy systems.
on your feet while you do a "value-waste activity." You will
be spending lots of money over the next 12 to 18 months to integrate
your old systems and become Y2K compliant.
"We spent over $1.5 million converting our entire system to a
webcentric system," says Worsley. He abandoned a client-server
system with a Sybase Powerbuilder application. "Instead of trying
to make the Internet talk to that one, we said, `Let’s have the Internet
talk to the Internet.’"
It’s working for him. Skymall’s sales soared from $300,000 in 1997
to $2.1 million in 1998 (http://www.skymall.com). After
only two years of being on the World Wide Web, those sales are the
fastest growing segment of his business. The number of hits on the
Skymall website rose from 8 million in the fourth quarter of 1997
to 28 million in the last quarter of 1998. Fourth quarter Internet
sales tripled to $1 million.
Design your website for a broad audience. A design that
is clear enough for a novice user will be basic and fundamentally
good. "I’m against designing whiz bang stuff for the sake of the
whiz bang stuff," says Ray Ingram.
Ingram and Mark Hakkinen co-founded the Trenton-based Productivity
Works (http://www.prodworks.com). They offer a non-visual browser,
and they do consulting for the disabled. Ingram and Hakkinen point
out that 90 percent of those who use computers are somehow disabled.
Some disabilities are obvious — blindness, colorblindness, dyslexia,
and nearsightedness — yet the most common problem is unfamiliarity.
"Spawning a new window isn’t bad if it has meaning," says
Ingram. "The key is quality, not showmanship. We don’t want people
to design for someone visually impaired but to design so people can
understand what they are trying to say."
The Internet is just a new vehicle for old principles, says Ingram:
"What matters is quality of interface, ease of use, accessibility
to everyone, and quality of content." His tips:
visit web sites to get information. It’s the same when you write.
You can use flashy words and lose the meaning."
for their own sake. "You see web sites with two or three links
per sentence. Cross references should be meaningful. People won’t
follow the references, and if they do they won’t come back. Information
in context is more powerful."
the novice user to navigate and for the power user to find information
easily. Says Ingram: "You need to be able to follow your trail,
understand where you are, go down different paths, and get back to
where you were."
scrolling: "You need to have a way to get back to the table of
contents. Once they begin scrolling, you take away the ability to
jump around, and you want to give them a way to get back very simply."
out, "A picture may be worth a 1,000 words, but on the Internet
it’s just a file name to someone who is blind."
You don’t have to take credit card numbers to have an
effective marketing scheme on the World Wide Web, says Craig Broadbent,
manager of electronic marketing at Okidata. His firm has chosen not
to sell its products from the Internet but to use its website for
pre-purchase marketing and post-purchase technical support.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your website is to make
assumptions about what the visitors to your website find interesting.
"Find out what is really valuable to the user," says Broadbent.
Reports on "hit statistics" for each page are standard. The
Okidata site, for instance, has an overall "hit" record, for
each page view, of six figures on a monthly basis. But these statistics
can be used in innovative ways, he says. Ask your consultant for numbers
on what browsers are being used to access your site. "We know
a majority of people who come to our site are using a specific browser,
and we know what version they use, so we make sure we maximize the
experience for them — to use the latest and greatest things that
their browser provides."
Next find out where your visitors go when they get to the site. For
Okidata, site visitors’ three primary motives are to get information
on new products, to get support for existing products (probably with
user manuals) or to get a driver. "We make those very easy to
find and very easy to use," says Broadbent.
"We also do user surveys; we have asked people to register in
various areas, such as our small business resource center. We offer
a small promotional item such as a free CD-ROM with tips or a free
issue of a small business question." To get this the visitors,
perhaps surprisingly, are willing to fill out a form in great detail:
how many PCs they have installed and what they use their printer for,
for example. "We get a very good response," says Broadbent.
"For example, we’ve gotten 600 people registered over a six-month
Most cybersurfers probably don’t use one-quarter of
the functionality of search engines. In fact, most don’t even know
what they don’t know.
Enter the second edition of Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner‘s
"Search Engines for the World Wide Web." Published by Peachpit
Press (274 pages, $17.99, http://www.peachpit.com), this
unassuming little book manages to put the hum back into search engines.
Editors at Amazon.com named it one of the top 10 Internet Books of
The Yardley-based authors reveal the quirks, idiosyncrasies, and innate
functionalities for each of the major search engines — Alta Vista,
Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo!. Plus, they have tips
on how to find the right keyword, how to find legal resources, and
how to use Liszt (the mailing list directory) and other specialized
find-it sites like Argus Clearinghouse, and the Zip2 Yellow Pages.
Some Glossbrenner observations:
database created by a Web "spider" that explores 3 million
Web pages per day and is updated every 24 hours. It is almost too
powerful for the generalized search. "Unless you construct your
Alta Vista queries carefully, you’re likely to be overwhelmed with
far too many hits," they write. "You’ll need to spend some
time learning the rules of simple and advanced searches to take full
searching" that intuitively assumes the searcher’s intention and
spits out lots of related sites onto the hit list. "Excite doesn’t
take your query literally as most search engines do," the Glossbrenners
write. It seeks out "not just what you asked for but also its
best guess as to what you really want to know."
(http://www.hotbot.com) will probably have a strong opinion
about it, just like most people seem to have a strong opinion of its
parent company’s flagship publication, Wired magazine.
The most remarkable thing about HotBot, though, is its speed. HotBot
has the ability to deliver hits within the blink of an eye, with super
simple search syntaxes. "Instead of typing your queries with special
punctuations and Boolean operators, you can click on drop-drown menu
selections and radio buttons to conduct even the most complex searches."
to questions with zillions of hits. The Glossbrenners got hooked on
Infoseek shortly after it was introduced in 1995, when it helped
them get tickets for the 1996 Olympics. With 50 million pages in its
database, searches can be made for Web pages, E-mail addresses, company
profiles, frequently asked questions, and Usenet articles. There is
also a Yahoo!-like directory, arguably the Web’s largest.
The Glossbrenners like Infoseek for its set searches — the ability
to conduct a search within a search. "It’s a great way to zero
in on Web sites containing just what you need." However, a possible
drawback is that Infoseek does not permit the use of Boolean operators
(and, or, not, near).
engines, and is quickly becoming one of the most aggressive promoters,
say the Glossbrenners. While its help files for Boolean indicators
or search terms are buried deep, it is adept at finding multimedia
files — graphics, video, and sound files. "With a properly
equipped Web browser, you can even view or listen to the files as
they are being downloaded to your computer." The Glossbrenners
also adore Lycos’ "Top 5 Percent" directory. a system that
rates the hottest websites, per category. (Five percent is probably
an understatement: Lycos rates only 25 sites per category — compared
to thousands of possible websites, we’re probably talking .25 percent.)
The Lycos address is http://www.lycos.com.
the most superlatives for (http://www.yahoo.com). "From
the very beginning, what has set Yahoo apart from other search engines
is its hierarchical approach to organizing the information on the
Internet and the World Wide Web," they write. While its database
of sites is far smaller than that of the other search engines and
it doesn’t index the full text of the Web pages, its classification
system is "second to none," they write.
But perhaps the most endearing aspect of Yahoo! is that is compiled
by reviews and recommendations from Web users "instead of relying
on automated search robots or spider programs."
The second edition quotes the research of NEC Research Institute’s
C. Lee Giles and Steve Lawrence
in Science Magazine (U.S. 1, May 27, 1998). Giles and Lawrence showed
that Lycos indexes only 3 percent of the pages of the World Wide Web.
In ascending order, the record of the search engines is Infoseek (10
percent), Excite (14 percent), Northern Light (20 percent), AltaVista
(28 percent), and HotBot (34 percent).
Says Emily Glossbrenner: "That’s a good argument for using a couple
of different search engines."
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