Apr. 23--AT INTERNET SHOW, BUSINESS ISN'T JUST A NOVELTY: I just got back from the Internet World show in San Jose, Calif., and I'm still trying to make sense of all the new products, alliances, trends and developments that I saw and heard about.
Here are some of the things that struck me as significant for companies doing business on the Net:
Unlike the '94 show, where Internet commerce was a novelty and the big draw was a hands-on preview of Internet in A Box, the star of this year's show was the World Wide Web, and the business of the show was business.
Clearly, conference host Mecklermedia has its finger on the pulse of the commercial Internet; the show's business-on-the-Net approach was a big hit with a crowd that one attendee summed up as ``more suits, fewer geeks.''
The other big trend was convergence - that is, major players from the worlds of commercial online services, technology and telecommunications all jostling to grab a piece of the exploding Internet market.
Microsoft demo'd its much-awaited Microsoft Network, CompuServe rolled out its new Web browser and Internet pricing plans, IBM showcased its cybermall services, and Pacific Bell peddled ISDN-based (Integrated Services Digital Network) Internet connections.
And Netscape, which didn't have a booth (though Netscape employees were spotted floating around the conference), was busy remaking itself as an online magazine, beefing up the content of its popular home page and peddling ads for $40,000 per three-month spot.
If commercial online services are dead, nobody bothered to tell the folks at CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online. All three moved aggressively to show the Internet community that they're alive and kicking, a force to be reckoned with.
CompuServe seized the spotlight with the debut of its NetLauncher Web browser (actually, a version of Spry's Air Mosaic that works with the CompuServe Information Manager navigational software) and two aggressive Internet pricing plans. One offers three hours of Internet access for $9.95 a month plus $2.50 for each additional hour of usage; the other offers 20 hours of access for $24.95 with additional usage billed at $1.95 an hour.
Prodigy, the first of the Big Three commercial services to roll out Web access, showcased the new and improved version of its Web browser. The service also trumpeted its first-place showing in Internet World's Online Service Shootout.
Rival America Online lost points for lacking a Web browser; CompuServe got thrashed for charging subscribers to send and receive Internet mail.
Looming like a dark cloud over The Big Three was the Microsoft Network, expected to debut in August. Attendees crowded around as a Microsoft demonstrator seamlessly dragged and dropped files and images from the Internet to his hard drive and back again over a 28.8 kbps connection that seemed much faster. ``All you need to know is how to double-click on it,'' he said. ``You don't need to know anything else.''
Because MSN looks and feels just like any other Windows '95 application, it became difficult to tell during the demo whether the data were being retrieved from MSN, the Internet or the computer's hard drive - which is presumably what Microsoft is counting on as well.
VRML - Virtual Reality Modeling Language - is on the way. Silicon Graphics, best known to the public for its role in creating special effects for the movie Jurassic Park, rolled out WebSpace, the first commercially available three-dimensional viewer for the World Wide Web.
Partner Template Graphics Software will make WebSpace available for all major Unix platforms, Microsoft Windows, Windows NT and Power Macintosh systems. WebSpace supports VRML, a format that is fast becoming a standard for 3-D graphics on the Web.
The WebSpace viewer is not itself a browser but works with popular Web browsers, like those from Netscape and Spyglass. The WebSpace viewer lets Internet users fly through virtual worlds, exploring cities, libraries, museums, tourist resorts and imaginary places; inspect 3-D models of products in online catalogs; and visualize information such as stock market trends in 3-D. It will be distributed free, just like Netscape was.
Heading off a standards war that could have stalled the growth of Internet commerce, Netscape Communications, America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy and IBM announced their investment in Terisa Systems, a Menlo Park, Calif., company that licenses and markets technologies that enable secure transactions on the Internet.
Terisa will develop a unified approach designed to integrate both Enterprise Integration Technologies' Secure HTTP protocol and Netscape's Secure Sockets Layer; a tool kit will be released in June.
Netscape has been criticized for promoting its own proprietary encryption scheme capable of working only with the company's popular Netscape Navigator browser. Secure HTTP, by contrast, enjoys the backing of the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium.
Secure browsers also debuted at the show. Spry's new Internet In A Box 2.0, which supports the Secure HTTP security standard, includes a Web browser that lets Internet users securely purchase products with their credit cards.
Many of this year's sessions focused on the all-important topic of building and marketing a Web site.
Jill Ellsworth, author of The Internet Business Book and Marketing on the Internet (both from Wiley) and a senior partner at Oak Ridge Research, offered valuable tips:
Stick your web site address on your business cards, letterhead, fliers, brochures, TV ads and magazine ads.
Update your site's content on a regular basis (Sprint generated hundreds of thousands of ``hits,'' or accesses, by posting the latest World Cup soccer scores).
Promote your site on Yahoo and other Internet directories and get it listed on Hot Lists and Internet search engines.
Add a real-time chat area to promote visitor interaction. Give visitors something to do. (For example, the Federal Express site lets visitors track packages.)
In real estate, it's ``location, location, location,'' Ellsworth said. On the Web, it's ``content, content, content.''
Copyright problems and impending government regulation continue to cast a shadow over Internet commerce.
Neal J. Friedman, a lawyer with the Washington firm Pepper & Corazzini, represents companies doing business in cyberspace. He warned that copyright infringement on the Net, for example, is widespread and hard to combat. ``With a few keystrokes,'' Friedman said, ``valuable copyrighted material can be destroyed.''
Government regulation is also on the horizon. The Federal Trade Commission is considering a rule that would extend controls on telemarketers to online advertising. This would be a problem for Internet businesses because the bill would prohibit telemarketing late at night and early in the morning. Web sites are up and running 24 hours a day in all time zones.
Rosalind Resnick is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. To contact her, send e-mail to rosalindharrison.win.net or write to her in care of Business Monday, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. END!A3?MI-ONLINE-COL
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