Web Informant Newsletter #5, November 4, 1995

It is hard to keep perspective on what is happening when so much is going on. Last week alone, by our count, over 30 new Web-related products were announced. Frontline on PBS did a remarkably good segment on cyber-selling, and Meckler pulled off a successful Internet World show in Boston. New innovations with Java, Novell finally coming to the Web server party, YAAOS (yet another AT&T online service) called WorldNet, and other goodies made for an exciting week.

Of these newcomers, we think the NetWare Web Server is the most interesting. No, we haven't actually used the product yet. (And yes, Novell is one of our site's sponsors.) But the notion of coupling NetWare Directory Services to our Web site is a powerful and compelling one. It is exactly the right metaphor for how to manage content and at the same time extend an existing administrative interface. And the notion of offloading script processing to a separate machine also makes sense. Granted, many people are still using 3.x NetWare which has a completely different admin interface. The product ships at year-end, and when we get it up and running, you'll hear from us.

Using a NetWare server as one's web site also makes sense if you believe in the concept of the Intranet, the internal corporate network which makes use of Internet tools and techniques and may or may not be accessible from the global Internet. It also makes sense from a content management perspective, particularly if you already have your content stored in a NetWare file system already.

The Intranet and Groupware

We've written about the rise of the corporate Intranet for Attachmate, one of our clients. We feel this is an important trend -- we've seen many corporate Web and other efforts using gopher and ftp sites begin as internal pilot projects, only to quickly grow into full-fledged production applications. The Intranet white paper is available on our site. If you want us to email you a copy (about 30k bytes in Word format), let us know.

Associated with the Intranet trend is the increasing discussion of the relative merits of the web vs. groupware, and in particular, IBM/Lotus' Notes. We were recently asked by David Kelsey, who runs a discussion forum on one of IBM's web sites, to expound on this topic. Part of the problem is that the two product categories do different things, come from different heritages, and are really used in different ways. We give advice to both vendors and users of both kinds of products, along with words of wisdom from Tom Nolle and R. Lynn Nye, Jr. at their site. Again, if you want our paper, let us know.

Back to Basics

All well and good, but let's get back to basics for a moment. We were reminded of how far most web sites have to go by our friend Bruce Fram. We first met Bruce many years ago when he was working at Network ("Sniffer") General and now he is president of Relations Software Corp., a start-up vendor of applications managment software. He gave us the idea to judge a web site by the quality of their basic corporate information, which we have developed into three basic metrics:

Bruce writes "I think we need some standards in corporate web site layout (i.e. here is where to find mailing address, email address, press releases, etc) -- somewhat like the user interface standards for Windows -- you know where to look for basic stuff such as file open, close, etc." We set off to browse around for this data, and we have to say that many sites come up wanting.

Some good news: American Power Conversion's site at had last week's earnings posted the same day the papers had them, plus its address and basic business (backup power supplies) is right there on the home page. Peoplesoft's site has lots of financial information, including this page for shareholders.

Some bad news: Finding contact information isn't easy on many sites -- I guess they think that people that are on the web are freed from the physical realm of postal mail and other things. Large companies, such as Autodesk and small companies, such as Paradesa Media are both at fault here: neither had a physical address on their home pages, despite having attractively designed sites otherwise.

All this surfing around did get us to some other sites that are good for financial tracking: You can obtain the current quarterly earnings reports on USA Today's (the newspaper) site. If you ever need to find where a publically-traded company is listed or its ticker symbol, a good place to look is the Security APL Quote Server. Finally, an email-only service that provides market closing prices on various stocks can be found by sending mail to prices@Bozeman.COM with only the word "info" in the subject line.

We were going to give awards for both good and bad basic information, but the more we investigated, the more depressed we got. So instead, we'd like to get nominations from you: using the criteria mentioned above, which web sites would you say are the best and worst examples? Let's just consider hi-tech companies. We'll publish the results (anonymously, unless you say otherwise) later this year.

Speaking of basics, another good source of information is an article in Web Review, one of the publications we contribute to regularly. (Our latest piece takes a look at online airline ticketing. If you have ever wondered why using a travel agent is worthwhile, try doing it yourself. We did, and the experience is still far from where we'd like it to be. But we digress into shameless self-promotion again.)

In the latest issue is "Design by Metaphor," an article by Lou Rosenfeld (lou@argus-inc.com) who is President of Argus Associates, Inc. The article describes how to pick the right metaphor, or collection of ideas that marrying your site and navigating around it with something in the real world. For an exsiting chain of bookstores, Rosenfeld used the metaphor of bringing up a new branch only web-based rather than any physical store. He used the notion of a real store though in his layout of the web pages and services: an information desk, an order desk, reference stacks, etc. Very clever and something worth taking a look at.

What's new: QueryBot and Awards

One of our earliest ideas for Web Informant was to make as much of the content available via two design points: web access (from whatever platform, either graphical systems or terminals) and email-only access. Well, our first small effort in this latter area is now up and running. We call it the Web Informant QueryBot. Simply send an empty message to query@strom.com and you'll get instructions returned via email. But if you can't wait, basically the QueryBot allows you to do the same thing via email as using this form to search our contact database.

Try typing in your name, or your company's name, or your competitor's name, in the subject field and firing off the message now. Let us know what you think. You get up to three matches of a single word in the subject field of the query message returned to you.

Our Big.Duck award (good news) this time around goes to ClearInk. We liked the way they implemented browser-specific code on their site. While this may not be appropriate for everyone, it gives you a good idea of where to take this for those few of us that are still concerned with presenting information to both graphical and terminal browser users alike.

Our Lost.in.Web.Space award (bad news) award this time goes to Ketchum PR's web site. Maybe it was the PR puffery and doublespeak that we object to. Or the many levels of nested links. Or how hard it was to navigate around the site. Or maybe all of the above. For someone that has paid lots of dough for a site (including buying time on United's airplane channel last month showing off the site), we came away largely unfulfilled.

Finally, some housekeeping: if you are reading this email message from us directly, you are on our mailing list. If not, (including viewing the file from our web site) you aren't. Let us know if you want to be removed, add yourself or a friend, or whatever.

David Strom, david@strom.com
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