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Capturing The Edge Without Getting Cut
by Jon Leland

Welcome to the new media world of The Web Edge. Compaq launched this column last month in honor of Small Business Week with Five Common Internet Marketing Mistakes to Avoid and What to Do About Them. This month we're taking a step back to give you an overview of what to expect from this column month after month as we monitor and hopefully illuminate the new kinds of business opportunities that are opening up on the World Wide Web.

The purpose of this column is to provide insights and useful information about the Web that can enable small/medium-sized businesses to gain a unique, competitive edge. After all, just like the old west, the Web is an exciting new frontier that's full of danger as well as opportunity. Our goal with The Web Edge is to help you avoid those pitfalls while you also get out in front of your competition with new forms of marketing and relationship building.

Each month we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions from small and medium-sized businesses who are experimenting with this impressive new medium and discovering original ways to create their own strategic advantage. From hardware configurations to software tools, from online marketing to virtual communities, we hope that you will learn to count on The Web Edge to support you in growing your business. And while we're telling you about our goals, another important objective is your participation. I'd love to hear from you.

We're going to start this month by identifying some of the key issues that we will address through the end of the year, but maybe you've got a better idea. If so, we'd love to hear it. Please e-mail me and I will consider your ideas for a future column. We'd also like to hear about the most useful business websites that you've uncovered.

Risks On The Edge
Of course, The Web Edge refers to the cutting edge. You may have also heard it called the bleeding edge. That's with good reason. Bottom line, those of us who are working on the web are pioneers who are creating a new communications medium; and that's both the good news and the bad news. It's good news because of the creative excitement of being involved in inventing something new. It's bad news because there are so many unknown factors that the going can get tough.

In fact, the Web frequently gets a bad reputation because many companies who have created websites don't feel that they've gotten their investment back. I'm sure that many of them have not, but there are many reasons for that. Perhaps they approached it in a way that limited their success. Perhaps they had unrealistic expectations to begin with.

Let's pause a moment. Step back with me and I think I will give you a better perspective. Imagine that you are working in television in 1953. The new technology is here now, but the medium is not mature enough for anyone to be making any money. Sid Caesar hasn't yet created the first hit TV show. It could be discouraging, couldn't it? Well, I'm confident that when we look back on 1997 from the 21st century, we will have a similar perspective. The technology is here, but the commercial successes are just now being invented. There's a big upside, but you may need to plan to spend some time on the learning curve, even a year or two, before you can establish a credible return on corporate investment.

Edging In Month-To-Month
In next month's column to be posted August 1. We'll help you consider these risks in an issue of The Web Edge called "How Do I Know If The Internet Is Right For My Business?" We'll look into balancing resources with entrepreneurial enthusiasm, explore which kinds of companies are being successful on the web right now, expectations for ROI, trends and statistics, and a whole lot more.

In September, we'll get down to basics about "What Is A website?" and "How Do I Build One?" I think that even those of you who already have a website might want to come back for this one because there's more than one way to do it. I'll include several different kinds of hardware recipes and their ingredients (configurations), the role of the HTML language and the use of HTML editing software, inter activity and transactions (the web's biggest differentiators), community, server and connectively options, and more.

October's Web Edge will take the recipe concept to another level. Rather than discussing technology, I'll discuss three types of sites, their styles of communication and the necessary site functionalities for each. Each recipe will be oriented to a real world web objective that can be achieved in today's market. If you think about it, just as documents produced by desktop publishing software vary from home-brewed flyers to four-color annual reports, websites also come in many colors or varieties. Whether your web publishing objectives include building visibility for your company, marketing services and building relationships and selling products directly, this column should help you sort out what works from what doesn't.

The Web Edge in November will extend the tips you'll find in the Five Common Internet Marketing Mistakes column referenced above by addressing in detail the question that I hear more than any other: "How Can I Bring More People to My Site?" We'll include tips about directory listings, meta tags, listservs and other forms of web casting (or push), newsgroups and online advertising. No self-respecting web publisher should miss it (even if I do say so myself).

And finally, we'll end 1997 with a fresh look at all of these new hybrid networks that may or may not be extending your corporation's communication channels. From Intranets to Extranets, we'll help you sort out all of these new network definitions so that you'll understand what each is good for. Then, we'll help you put the right users on the right kind of connection, including some techniques for electronic team building.

In Closing
There's no question in my mind that those of us who are willing to dance on the edge of the electronic sword (the one that I'm calling The Web Edge) will not only enjoy the thrills of surviving in the face of danger, but we will also thrive on the advantages of a view from a rooftop in the global village.

Given how fast the marketplace for all businesses is changing these days, we all need to keep a close watch on the Web's new interactive capabilities. In that way, we're less likely to get "cut" by an error of omission, which I'm sure is why Compaq has been so generous as to put me here for your benefit. I thank them for their vision, and I look forward enthusiastically to watching The Web Edge sharpen as it unfolds and becomes an increasingly more effective business tool. I also look forward to being part of its glory, and hopefully, to succeeding right along side of you.

Until next month, stay tuned.

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