A Tale of Two webs: Microsoft and IBM electronic commerce servers

Trying to buy a hard disk on NetBuyer
More tips for the PR Clueless


It was the best of webs, it was the worst of webs, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of Microsoft's hope, it was the winter of IBM's despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

Yes, it makes for a great read, not to mention an opening gambit. You might want to check out the original at Bibliomania, or better yet, visit to your local library.

This is a tale of two products and their corresponding web pages. The products are CommercePoint and Microsoft Merchant, products that provide great expectations for electronic commerce servers. (Sorry, I have Dickens on the brain today.) Let's say I want to try out both products and decide which one to use.

First off, is IBM's site. Here you'll see a series of screens that have all sorts of marketing verbiage about electronic commerce and some mom-and-apple-pie sorts of things such as open standards, business-to-business solutions, blah blah. Nowhere, as I could determine, are answers to a few key questions: does it run on NT? How much does it cost? What payment schemes does it support? Why do I need this module or that? Sorry IBM, you just lost my interest real fast.

Now, let's move on over to Microsoft. The first thing you see is "wanna download a free copy?" The assumption is of course, that this runs on NT, but there are pages that tell you that in short order, along with a bunch of other supporting information and Verifone's payment scheme featured prominently.

Here comes the quiz: who is going to get my business first? Is it the company that gives me religion or gives me product? You know the answer.

I don't mean to imply that IBM is always clueless about the web: indeed, take a look at another page to see something that was designed correctly. Alphaworks is IBM's attempt to act like a silly valley start up, and indeed, is now run out of San Jose. The site has a great deal of new software for your downloading pleasure. Alphaworks went live in August with five applications, and there are over a dozen now, including some very nifty things such as PanoramIX, a low-budget virtual reality construction kit and viewer.

I visited with the team when they were still here in New York and it was the most atypical IBM visit I have ever experienced. Real labs with people tearing apart machines. No scripted "slideware" presentations -- just demos of the working (sometimes, but hey, that's what this is all about) code. Developers free to speak their minds and show off what was cool and what they were doing. I wish these guys luck -- if they can cut through the red tape of the overall IBM machine, they might actually succeed. After all, IBM has lots of technology, they just need to reduce the numbers of lawyers involved for each product launch.

Speaking of electronic commerce and IBM, I happen to need some new SCSI hard drives and have had good experience with some IBM drives that I bought a while ago. So I took a look at NetBuyer, a new web site from Computer Shopper.

The site supposedly compares products and prices from a wide variety of sources. Instead, I came up with nada. You would think trying to purchase a 2 gig drive wouldn't be such a rarity, but no matter how I structured the query, I couldn't find anything on the site for these drives. So I went back to Plan B: opened up MacWeek, found an ad, and called the vendor over the phone. Why MacWeek? Mac vendors have the best prices in general on SCSI drives I have found, and they work just as well on PCs.

While we are looking at sites, I should show you another example of how Microsoft groks the web: Look at the virtual Office 97 newsroom. This part of Microsoft's site is somewhat chilling -- they have collected all the information that a working press stiff needs to do research on Office 97, including links to trade press articles, a virtual press kit, and other stuff. Of course, the bad reviews aren't exactly highlighted.

Tips for the PR Clueless

This being the week before Internet World (held here in New York at the Javits'), I thought I'd pass along (ok, vent is probably a better term) some of the sillier things that have happened with various public relations people: (All names have been deleted to protect the guilty.)
  1. PR person sends email, asking me to meet her client at the show. I noticed the client is based in New York City, and replied by saying "Wouldn't it be better to meet at another time when we wouldn't be under the pressure of the show, since we are both about 20 miles apart?" No reply, contact broken.
  2. PR person asks if they can submit a product for my "showcase," confusing me with another analyst named David who runs his own trade show.
  3. Several PR folk send email query for booth fly-by appointment, then send fax or follow up with phone call asking if email was received. Once is enough.
  4. PR person asks for directions to my office for an upcoming visit. So happens, I have them on my web site. When I mentioned this, she said, "Well, I am at home now and only have access to my AOL account, so could you fax them to me?"
I'll be at the show on Wednesday. If you are in town and would like to get together, I am having an informal open house at my office on Friday. Drop me an email if you'd like to come out - I am about a 45 minute train ride from Penn Station.

Self promotions (books) dep't

[full disclosure: If you click on the supplied link, you'll be taken directly to Amazon.com's catalog. I receive a commission if you decide to buy, and will donate the proceeds of this to charity as part of an experiment in targeted marketing.]

Speaking of clueless PR, this book has come to mind: Publicity on the Internet, Steve O'Keefe, Wiley, $24.95. As I began reading this book, I thought: oh no, not another book on marketing on the Internet. However, the more I read, the more I liked what O'Keefe has put together. If you can use Eudora, you can design some pretty effective marketing campaigns. O'Keefe has some solid practical suggestions here, including how to search the web for places that have inbound links to your site, how to register with the various search engines, and how to use email to avoid spamming.

Order now from Amazon.com.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1996 by David Strom, Inc.