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Business and Commerce

--by John Katsaros

The economic worldview is one in which all human interactions can be described in terms of economics—in the supply-and-demand terms of commerce. It was inevitable that the electronic subculture of the Internet would become the base of a dynamic economy, in which legitimate business is carried out every day. Not unexpectedly, such transactions have, in some circles, become as pedestrian as buying a pretzel from a street vendor. Like all markets, though, the Internet has a unique character that must be understood to be exploited.


Electronic markets are similar to all other markets in one key respect—the winners understand their audience. Doing business on the Internet requires an understanding of who is "out there" and what they need. In the parlance of the marketer, what are the demographics? Of course, with a population as large as the Internet, there is no single answer to this question. (The broadest community today is 25 to 50 year old males with technical degrees, although this is becoming less true each day.) Getting the raw information yourself can be cost-prohibitive. Fortunately, several universities and businesses are asking the right questions and may be able to help you better understand usage characteristics as they affect you.

Results From The First World Wide Web User Survey

Leading the list of Internet usage information is the Results from the First World Wide Web User Survey, prepared by the Graphics, Visualization, & Usability Center of the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. In January, 1994, James Pitkow and Mimi Recker received results from over 4,000 Internet users. Their questions included primary computer platform, hours spent in front of a computer, age, gender (94.9 percent male) and occupation. This study is a good first step toward improving knowledge of who is on the Internet. They plan to run this form of study twice each year. Future studies will include several valuable additions: 1) adaptive questions so that, as the user answers a questions, follow-up questions are selected that relate specifically to the user's environment; and 2) a results database, so custom queries may be produced from study data. You can view the results of the first study in HTML via: survey-paper.html.

Figure 20.1 shows the percentage of Internet users by age group.

Figure 20.1. Internet users by age group. From Results from the First World Wide Web User Survey.

Internet Info

Another interesting source of Internet usage information is available from Internet Info. They continuously look at who is on the Internet from a commercial standpoint. In addition to doing custom reports, Internet Info also provides free lists of companies registered on the Internet segmented by industry type and geography. Their free New to the Net service provides a monthly listing of some of the more interesting new commercial domains and their business owners. The report also tracks the monthly growth rate of commercial domains. You can reach Internet Info at You can view their free service information in HTML via The following is a sample report from Internet Info.

Cities with the Highest Concentration of InterNet Connected Companies

April 1994


                               Internet      Population     Companies

                               Connected     in             per

         City / State          Companies     1,000's        1,000

      1  Princeton NJ           39             12           3.25

      2  Palo Alto CA          155             55           2.82

      3  Menlo Park CA          77             28           2.75

      4  Falls Church VA        23              9           2.56

      5  Scotts Valley CA       20              8           2.50

      6  Vienna VA              33             14           2.36

      7  Boulder CO            194             83           2.34

      8  Herndon VA             34             16           2.13

      9  Mountain View CA      143             67           2.13

     10  Golden CO              25             13           1.92

     11  Santa Clara CA        175             93           1.88

     12  Los Altos CA           47             26           1.81

     13  Burlington MA          39             23           1.70

     14  Los Gatos CA           45             27           1.67

     15  Cambridge MA          159             95           1.67

     16  Cupertino CA           66             40           1.65

     17  Fairfax VA             29             19           1.53

     18  Englewood CO           40             29           1.38

     19  Sunnyvale CA          157            117           1.34

     20  McLean VA              28             24           1.17

     21  Los Altos Hills CA     28             26           1.08

     22  Littleton CO           34             33           1.03

     23  Sterling VA            19             20           0.95

     24  Beaverton OR           50             53           0.94

     25  Reston VA              44             48           0.92

This analysis is based on the 14,276 companies registered with Internet

as of April 1994.

Source: Internet Info, Falls Church, VA For more information send email


The Internet Business Center

The Internet Business Center (IBC) provides information sources that help people conduct business on the Internet. IBC's home page is a good starting point to find commerce activity as well as other sources of marketing information concerning the Internet. The Internet Business Center is sponsored as a marketing service by The Internet Group, an Internet consulting firm. You can view the Internet Business Center in HTML via: Figure 20.2 shows the IBC home page.

Figure 20.2. The IBC home page.

The Internet Business Advantage

As Internet commerce activity increases, more and more information will become available to help you increase your business. A recent publication, The Internet Business Advantage, is a monthly newsletter devoted exclusively to helping businesses increase their success on the Internet. In addition to covering new Internet commerce related activity, the Internet Business Advantage runs special features providing insights and tips to help businesses use the Internet. In a recent feature covering advertising over the Internet, the Internet Business Advantage provided tips and techniques to help businesses improve their exposure. You can reach the Internet Business Advantage at

What About Security?

One of the most popular misconceptions about putting a business on the Internet is that as soon as you do so, computer and communications phreaks around the world will immediately try and bring down your network and, by extension, your business. Although like most myths, this is far from accurate, it indicates an important truth: One (if not the primary) concern for the Internet business person must be security.

What does that mean? Does security on the Internet mean physical security of the host and communications hardware? Does it mean being able to track all attempts, unsuccessful and successful, to use resources on your business LAN or WAN? Does it mean a constant cycle of education for you as well as your peers, subordinates and superiors about how to "keep their end up" in the security obligations of your company? Yes—all that and more.

Question: How do you make my business network impenetrably secure?

Answer: You can't.

Short of powering down all your computers, sealing them all in a block of lead and shooting them into the sun, there's nothing you can do to make your network impervious to attack by someone really intent on doing so and well-enough armed to pull it off. Even if you're not on the Internet, many conditions—the radio-frequency interference from your displays; traffic broadcast on your network through unsecure spaces; old backups, floppies, tapes, and printouts in the dumpster; undercompensated but highly privileged users—can all be easily used to get sensitive information about you and your customers almost as easily as if you'd published it in the classifieds.

Does this mean you should hop in your car, drive to work, turn everything off, and start using index cards, green paper ledgers and Big Chief tablets? Not at all. Host- and network-based information can be the least secure information you have, but it can also be the most secure—certainly more secure that something sitting in a physical filing cabinet or on a standalone workstation. The difference is in where you place your installation on the continuum between a completely open and public system, and one in which no one—not even legitimate users—can get at sensitive information.

Very few, if any, users will find either pole of that spectrum acceptable. Persons who would try unauthorized penetrations of your security will find it rewarding only up to a certain point. The art of security risk management is in locating the point on the spectrum that is appropriate for you, your customers, and your company.

There are too many approaches to site security to summarize them here, but a few would make an interesting starting point on your journey toward a "secure-enough-for-now" site.

Much like the firewall in your car, site firewalls exist to partition you from the chaos outside. In your car, the firewall is just that—a wall to separate the passenger compartment from the engine compartment in the event of a fire. A site-security firewall exists to partition the relatively unsecure territory outside from the (hopefully) relatively secure territory within your site. It's useful to know about three major types of site firewalls: router-based, host-based, and application-based firewalls. Nowadays, hosts can be found performing router-type firewalling and so on, so these should be considered broad categories.

Router-based firewalls take advantage of the fact that all data communications coming to and from your site goes through a few routers. It makes sense, therefore, to take advantage of this fact to filter the traffic going into and out of your site, and instruct the router to prohibit traffic from certain networks or to certain types of applications. The advantage of this approach is that it frequently doesn't require any additional purchases—just the additional manpower and administrative commitment necessary to decide what kinds of filters should be in place, and how to implement them. Not all routers are able to do such filtering, though, and a prohibitively large investment in routers incompatible with this approach might be a good reason for going with another approach. Other reasons for not using router-based firewalls include the increased expertise required to maintain security, as well as usability when using a dynamic set of filters in your router configurations. For a network of any substantial size, the processing and memory load represented by doing such work on your main routers may also be prohibitively large. Certainly, a measure of quantitative testing is called for when deciding if router-based firewalls are appropriate for you.

Another, often simpler, approach is a host-based firewall. This approach is popular with many companies because it involves directly connecting only one host to the Internet, loading it up with additional security safeguards, and requiring all internal and external users to log in to the firewall host before gaining access to the other side. The benefits of this include the fact that it's as close to a no-brainer as security ever gets, as well as the fact that it greatly reduces the number of points of possible entry to your system, permitting you to spend more resources on securing other access points such as dialups, interorganizational WAN links, and remote LANs. The impact of the downside falls mainly on your corporate culture. Making the Internet difficult or even inconvenient to use will discourage a large percentage of your organization from making it part of their daily routine. If you're intent on making the Internet part of your corporate culture, this discouragement may translate into a larger and less effective training budget to compensate for the learning that would take place in everyday Net-surfing.

The third type of firewall, application-specific firewalls generally "live" on each individual host they protect, directing their influence toward a specific set of problems associated with individual applications. The advantage of an application-specific firewall is that it affords single hosts much more security than exists in the surrounding LAN. It also permits over-extended support organizations to bring up security in an incremental fashion, starting with the most critical hosts, and working their way down a chain of relative importance. A disadvantage of application-specific firewalls is that although they might require a small-to-moderate amount of effort to install on any given host, that effort and resources can easily become quite large when multiplied by every host in the organization. Many sites prefer to use application-specific firewalls as a secondary measure to shore up the influence of sitewide firewalls that add protection to the entire site.

Numerous applications in common use have their own individual security concerns. The UNIX "r" utilities—rlogin, rsh and rcp, for instance—can represent a wholesale security compromise if an innocent user happens to put the wrong information in a .rhosts file in their home directory. HTTPD, or a World Wide Web server, can permit users to publish form- or script-based services on the WWW without realizing how they can be exploited by remote users to gain varying levels of access to your systems. SMTP-based mail systems, perhaps the most common Internet application, can be misconfigured and subsequently misused as well to diminish your efforts to secure your business network.

It's easy, after learning such things, to conclude that security concerns make the Internet much more trouble that it's worth. With a little forethought and an ongoing commitment, though, you should be able to find a happy medium with regard to security.

With a well-maintained site security system, using network resources outside your corporate network should be no more difficult that using resources within it. Legitimate outside users shouldn't have to jump through hoops to get out what they need. You should be able to provide your customers with piece of mind that confidential information about them has not been compromised. The only way to do this is to monitor all your networks and host systems with constant vigilance, and have trustworthy tools and personnel keeping records about all entrances into your hosts and networks, and from where the entrances originate; have a common understanding in your organization that security is everyone's job; and finally, think through every likely and many unlikely security contingencies that you could be faced with at the most inconvenient times, and prepare for them so that your response and that of your organization will be second-nature.

In short, the security of the Internet and Internet-attached systems is a constant arms race between legitimate users or providers, and persons who (just as often well-intentioned as not) see it as their sacred duty to expose all security weaknesses on the Net in an endless game of oneupmanship between themselves and the rest of the world. As the business community begins to offer more mission-critical services over the Net, such comparatively innocuous irritants may be replaced by the more serious threat of industrial espionage and trade warfare.

The good news is that unless you do something terribly naive, like making public claims that your network is bulletproof or challenging computer or communications phreaks to break into your network (although comparable challenges made to your own employees are often an excellent way to test your security), each successive measure of security you place on your network puts you that much further away from disaster.

Although it may sound Machiavellian, the fact that there are always businesses on the Net who aren't responsible about their own security will always work in your favor if you, by contrast, expend the effort to make security a central component of your service mission. If a car thief, after all, encounters two similar cars in a darkened, isolated parking lot, but only one is alarmed, guess which one won't be there in five minutes?

Business Already on the Internet

Probably the best way to see how your business may be able to use the Internet is to see how others are using it. Here are some examples.

Internet Shopping Network

"Welcome to the toy store of the global village. It used to be G.I. Joes. Train sets. Hot Wheels. Now you prefer to play with the hottest hardware and software around." With this introduction, the Internet Shopping Network's (ISN) brochure pronounces that it is ready to do business. Founded in June, 1993, the Internet Shopping Network is an online microcomputer software and hardware superstore available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, to anyone with access to the Internet.

Clearly, ISN has "set its sites" on the gold-collar worker of today—the Internet user. That is not such a bad idea. Think of the demographics that you already know about today's Internet users. Without knowing their ages, race, religion, or where they live, you do know that they own and use computers. They at least have a modem or another, faster, way to connect to the Net. Many represent the elite of the computer industry. They drive the fastest computers, influence lots of other computer decision makers and often design the next generation of products. ISN is targeting this group as the primary customers for its computer cyberstore.

The Internet Shopping Network is set up as a member-oriented organization; membership is free with an approved Visa or MasterCard. ISN offers more than 15,000 software and hardware products. In addition, the Internet Shopping Network has begun offering access to the past twelve months of InfoWorld articles. Their rationale behind InfoWorld access is to enable shoppers to browse past issues to aid selection of the products most likely to fit their needs. If you want to buy a disk drive, for example, you first go to Infoworld and get their reviews to find which products work the best and why. Then you browse Internet Shopping Network's catalog and make your purchase.

The "toy store of the global village" provides an interesting glimpse of electronic commerce over the Internet. The Internet Shopping Network can claim two distinct advantages for cyberstore retailing. First, it is possible to get lots of "browsers" with an extremely low cost per browser. ISN doesn't have to worry about location, shoplifting, heating, or parking. From their Web server, they are able to support thousands of people from all over the world browsing through their store each week. That is a retailer's dream. When it is time to order product, the customer selects the item and initiates the transaction. The cost per sale transaction is incredibly low—much lower than the $5 order cost often cited by 800 telemarketer sellers.

By using a membership orientation, the Internet Shopping Network avoids the security problem that comes when someone places their credit card number onto a public network. The card number never appears on the network. The one-time membership registration is handled through their 800 number or via FAX. This way, the Internet Shopping Network is able to offer credit card security on par with other mail-order houses and telemarketing sales groups. Figures 20.3 and 20.4 show the ISN home page and the ISN second page, respectively.

Figure 20.3. The ISN home page.

Figure 20.4. The ISN second page.

The Internet Shopping Network wants to become everyone's computer superstore. People in areas far from the nearest superstore are able to have the same broad product selection and low prices offered by superstores. Plus, the Internet Shopping Network offers a home for hard-to-find items not normally available on the shelves of major retailers.


Billing itself as "the world's most accessible art gallery," Kaleidoscope Media displays works of aspiring artists to Internet users worldwide. Kaleidoscope's gallery, cleverly named Kaleidospace, is open 24 hours a day and is available worldwide for browsing the latest works from member artists. Artists can display their works for $50 per month (plus sales commissions).

Kaleidospace is divided into ten rooms:

  1. Art Studio. An art gallery for people selling graphic and fine art. Small, independent art galleries can have their own showcase.

  2. Center Stage. For performers (comedians, performance artists, and so on) to promote themselves while on tour (using performance film clips). Performers use this section to showcase themselves for future bookings, selling performance videos or letting people know where they are scheduled. Independent clubs also may use this section to showcase their upcoming performances.

  3. Cyberfaire. This room is for artisans and crafts people making "made-to-order products." These artisans can showcase samples of their work (from custom-made dragon sculptures to joke writing) and to get from perspective clients information necessary to create custom-made art.

  4. Interactive Arena. This is for showcasing interactive titles (games and CD-ROMs).

  5. Music Kiosk. Independent musicians can showcase their CDs and tapes. Independent, small record labels also have their own pages in the Music Kiosk.

  6. Newsstand. This is for announcements and news relevant to the entertainment industry.

  7. Reading Room. Authors and small publishing companies can participate in this room. They can showcase their material for publication or their finished work for end users.

  8. Screening Room. Independent film makers (as well as animation and music video producers) can showcase their videos.

  9. Spotlight. Spotlight houses high-profile artists to showcase a series of their work. Science-fiction writer David Brin has a novel that he started, which will be finished by Kaleidospace's audience; illustrator P. Craig Russell has the first three panels of a comic that he began, which will also be finished by the audience.

  10. Tool Shop. For tools where the artists are the customers. CD-ROM kits, multimedia tool kits, independent software developers with tools, and sound archives are showcased in this room.

Figure 20.5 shows the Kaleidospace home page.

Figure 20.5. The Kaleidospace home page.

Kaleidospace supports artists in ways that traditional art galleries cannot. Since they are dealing in Cyberspace, promoting, screening, distribution and placement capability take on new meaning. For instance, when you go shopping for a new CD to add to your collection, Kaleidospace lets you download a 30-second sample selection, browse through reviewers' comments, and look through the artists' online biographies. The service seems to be off to a good start. Within the first few weeks of its introduction, Kaleidospace had over 40,000 log-ins from around the world.

Hewlett Packard

Using the Internet to improve customer service seems to be the most widespread among computer companies. It is only natural that these organizations turn to the Internet since that is where their customers are. There already is a long list of companies,their World Wide Web servers loaded with customer support information.

In April, 1994, Hewlett Packard went online with Access HP for the express purpose of delivering customer information using the Internet. Hewlett Packard's philosophy is to deliver information to customers where and how their customers want it—at the right time and at the right place. With so many of their customers already on the Internet, Access HP, is a natural extension of their service/support mechanism.

Hewlett Packard found the Internet very appealing. It has a low entry cost; HP already had access to the Internet, Mosaic is free to the users, and the technical community truly has an interest in doing this. So far, its early work has been rewarded with customer enthusiasm.

Figure 20.6 shows the HP home page.

Figure 20.6. The HP home page.

Hewlett Packard has many lines of business—computers, peripherals, medical products, test and measurement equipment—each with its own special needs. Access HP has been constructed so that each business division, as well as HP Corporate, can identify and fill customer needs through the Internet. Whether it is business-to-business communication, support for product catalogs, locating training courses, updating customer software, or providing technical support, Access HP can be used. Hewlett Packard is planning to make this service a mainstream part of their overall marketing, sales, and customer-support capability.

Grant's Florist

Need a dozen roses? Instead of looking in the phone book for a florist, Grant's Florist is available on the Net 24 hours per day to serve you. You can go over to their home page, view images of their arrangements, make your selection (they list their arrangements by price categories) and place your order. Of course, your personal message is placed on the greeting card. All without having to leave the comfort of your desktop.

The feature I like best from Grant's Florist is their reminder service that comes through e-mail. Since I check e-mail every day, I expect this service will come in handy for those hard-to-remember occasions. This can lead to a whole host of Internet-enhanced personal services. In addition to reminding you of birthdays and anniversaries, businesses can alert you that your car needs scheduled service, that it is time for your annual teeth cleaning, and so on. Perhaps we will be getting college reunions set up through Internet mail—assuming your Internet address does not change for fifty years!

Figure 20.7 shows the Grant's Florist home page.

Figure 20.7. The Grant's Florist home page.


CommerceNet's ambitious efforts take aim at creating the first large-scale market trial of electronic commerce on the Internet. CommerceNet is a nonprofit consortium of Northern California, technology-oriented companies whose goal is to create an electronic marketplace where companies transact business spontaneously over the Internet. In April, 1994, CommerceNet launched its World Wide Web server to provide users access to electronic commerce-related information, applications and organizations. The CommerceNet server hosts information in six primary categories: 1) information about the CommerceNet organization; 2) directories of participants, value-added third-party services, and Internet resources; 3) member registration and communications; and 4) tutorials and examples.

CommerceNet's directors feel it will be successful when its member companies are more successful because they are on the Internet. For the present, CommerceNet is organizing member initiatives to look into expanding Internet functionality to simplify commerce activity. They have chosen security, directories, catalogs, payment methods, and simplified access as chief among Internet electronic commerce concerns. CommerceNet has formed several committees of its company members to develop methods around these topics: 1) Connectivity Working Group, 2) Network Services Working Group, 3) Payment Group, 4) Directory Group, 5) Electronic Catalog Group, 6) Internet EDI Group, and 7) Design and Manufacturing Integration.

CommerceNet was created and is operated by a consortium of major Silicon Valley users, providers, and developers. It seeks to revolutionize the Valley's core electronics, software, and information service industries by making interactions between customers, suppliers, and development partners as efficient as interactions among internal departments. CommerceNet will ultimately help to revolutionize the way most Bay Area companies transact business, regardless of their size of business focus.

Membership in CommerceNet is open to all businesses. Its original participant list reads like a who's who in Silicon Valley: Amdahl Corporation, Anthem Electronics, Inc., Apple Computer, Inc., AVEX Electronics Inc., Bank of America, Citibank N.A., Dataquest, Digital Equipment Corporation, Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, Electronic Marketplace Systems, Inc. (An International Data Group Company), Hewlett-Packard, Integrated Systems Solutions Corporation (a subsidiary of IBM), Intel Corporation, Internet Shopping Network, InterNex Information Services, Inc., Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, Inc., Nanothinc, National Semiconductor, Network Computing Devices, Inc. (NCD), Pacific Bell, PartNet, Inc., RSA Data Security, Inc., Solectron Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Inc., Synopsys Inc., Tandem Computers Incorporated, Trusted Information Systems, Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Xerox. This membership list is a cross between computer companies, software companies, communications companies, semiconductor manufacturers and services organizations. CommerceNet also has government affiliations including regional, state and federal agencies. CommerceNet was awarded a $6 million matching grant over three years by the United States government's Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP).

Figure 20.8 shows the CommerceNet home page.

Figure 20.8. The CommerceNet home page.

CommerceNet believes it can best benefit business by dramatically improving the productivity and competitiveness of its participants. Through an online global marketplace it can help its company members 1) shorten procurement cycles through online catalogs, ordering, and payment, 2) cut costs through competitive bidding, and 3) shrink development cycles and accelerate time-to-market through collaborative engineering and product implementation. CommerceNet's directors feel it offers an opportunity to build Northern California's information infrastructure, to influence the development of Internet technology and standards for electronic commerce, and to participate in joint marketing efforts.

The CommerceNet consortium wants to remove some of the barriers to electronic commerce over the Internet. They are already displaying a secure version of Mosaic, which uses public key cryptography for either securing information or digitally signing documents. CommerceNet is talking about providing a starter package to simplify the process involved with creating a World Wide Web server for a business. Under the title of Electronic Industry Pilot, CommerceNet members involved with electronics manufacturing are experimenting with creating an electronic web that will improve electronics manufacturing processes.

Real Work in Virtual Space

--by Jon Callas and Margaret Russell-Gonzalez

The Internet is important more because there are other people there than because there is a lot of data on the Net. The data could just as easily be sent to you on CD-ROM. What makes the Internet the Internet is that it is alive, it is immediate, and communities form and thrive in it. These communities are both valuable and important, and require a different look at how we use and build technology for the Internet.

There are a number of programs and systems to do work on the Internet. Among these are a class of programs that are communications programs. For example, mail, news, and IRC are all communications programs, built for no other purpose than letting people talk to each other. There is an overlapping class of communications programs that enable the people who use them, sometimes incidentally, sometimes by design, to form their own communities. If you're doing business on the Internet, you probably call these communities teams.

Meeting Space[tm], made by World Benders, Inc., is designed for people in different places to communicate and collaborate at the same time—to form teams. Business gurus from Tom DeMarco to Frank Sonnenberg tell us that teams function best when all team members work within a small area; when the distance between people grows beyond thirty yards, team communications break down and so does the team.

Often we don't have the luxury of getting everyone we need to work with within thirty yards of us. Networks like the Internet not only that us to work with people who are distant but, by their very existence and utility, also transform the ability into the imperative to work with people who are distant. The human need to be close to people is still there, though. Physical and psychological distances can be bridged by creating a virtual space—a place to work that provides communications, which create the comforting and necessary illusion of proximity. Meeting Space exploits the advantages of networks like the Internet to the fullest; it is software that is not only technology, but also sociology.

An Overview of Meeting Space

Unlike most business tools, Meeting Space found its origins in a class of toy. These toys—called muds, MOOs, and MUCKs—were created by college students so that they could socialize and play games with other college students all around the world. Meeting Space grew from that playground. We have taken technology from its playground and developed it into a real tool for collaborative work. It was a natural growth, because much the same things that make collaborative play effective can also be turned into an effective tool for collaborative work.

Some of the necessary development work was easy and obvious. "Wizards" become "administrators." "Players" become "people." "Dungeons" become "office suites." We took the ugly but utilitarian text-only user interface and added menus, icons, and pictures. We also solved the common embarrassment of whispering quietly into the wrong person's ear.

Our most arduous task was the one least visible. The muds used by college students run on UNIX systems. They are relatively expensive machines that are cranky to run and keep running. The real problem we solved is how to take a distributed social environment and make it so that it is easy to use, easy to manage, and requires little upkeep. Meeting Space runs on personal computers, not workstations, over mixed network protocols and mixed platforms.

Meeting Space consists of a server program running on one computer and a number of clients. The server need not be on a computer devoted to running it, but many people do so anyway, because it runs well on an older machine that was formerly gathering dust. A Meeting Space that supports a small work group can run with 1MB of disk space and 1MB of memory. The server can also act as a document library for the group. As of this writing, the server must be an Apple Macintosh II (or later) running System 7—but we are also working on a version of the server that runs as a Novell NLM, and Microsoft Windows NT. The server works on any AppleTalk, Novell, or TCP/IP network, and can support clients using all three networks simultaneously. The network protocols are robust and terse; if, for example, you are connected to the Internet via a PPP or SLIP line running on a 14.4KBd modem, you can support up to 40 people on your network connection before you risk saturating the line.

The client program can run on a Macintosh or an IBM compatible running Microsoft Windows. We have a client program under development for the Newton PDA, and we have plans to build a client and server that run on UNIX systems but have yet to begin development. Clients connect to meeting sessions on a server and can, in fact, connect to more than one meeting or server at a time through different sessions on different windows. Connections can be saved and reused, making the transition into virtual space easy. Once connected, the software is robust and handles network glitches so that what was, for example, an accidental disconnect is seen by the user as a mere pause.

At its core, Meeting Space is a small operating system. This is a key feature of the program, and our best trick. As an operating system rather than an application, Meeting Space has the framework to do more than one thing at a time, and provides means for managing and controlling resources such as memory, disk space, and network connections. An operation that takes a long time (say, more than a second), is interleaved with other things that users of Meeting Space are doing. Thus, you can transfer a file at the same time that you are watching and discussing a slide presentation.

Meeting Space is also an object-oriented database. All the items that you work with in Meeting Space are objects—from the offices you work in, to the documents you work with, to your own virtual self. Objects can inherit from other objects. This inheritance simplifies working with them. We make administration easy by creating collections of objects where this is appropriate. For example, when you create a "person" object in Meeting Space, you also create a space for that person to work in, a room for them to use as their office, and their own shelf for documents. We simplify expanding the space by creating doors when we create rooms. Thus, you have only to walk to where you want a new wing and select the menu item to create a room. Meeting Space itself will make the room object, complete with doors into it and out of it. This may sound laughably obvious, but it is a feature unique to Meeting Space.

We have created a number of tools for doing real work among our types of objects. Agendas are objects that describe the structure of a meeting. Documents are actual Macintosh or PC files. Minutes are special types of documents that record conversation and actions. Shelves are directories that hold documents. Presentations are slide shows that you can show to other people. We are also working on other useful tools, such as a graphics whiteboard, a shared-text editor, and a video camera interface.

In our development, we have had a longstanding technical debate about client programs. On the one hand, a plain text interface has simplicity. Any person connected to the Internet can telnet to a system and work with other people. On the other hand, the real world has progressed to using computers like Macintoshes and Windows systems, and these are ubiquitous. Our earliest prototypes had the design assumption that text alone was important, but our preferred client program is one built with the server program, and designed to offload some of the work from the server. That text assumption has carried even into the finished product. You can work on a Meeting Space simply by telnetting to it, but there is great advantage to using our client program on a Macintosh or Windows computer. The following illustration of a Meeting Space meeting displays the advantages of a graphical as well as a textual program (see Figure 20.9).

Figure 20.9. A typical setup for Meeting Place.

There are many features to the client program. People and other "interesting" objects show up in an icon window. When you double-click on one of these icons you see business-card information about people, or open a presentation window displaying the first slide, or walk through a door into an adjoining room, and so on. Browsers let you customize and manipulate objects.

Using Meeting Space

Meeting Space creates closeness by presenting the virtual world to people in ways that are similar to real-life interactions. Not only can you merely type text that is spoken, as in our example and on BBS chat systems, but you can gesture, act, and provide subtle cues to your coworkers. Meeting Space inherits this variety of communication modes from its mud forebears. Teams are built by shared communications, a shared task, and the shared reality of performing that task. Communications that are rich in frequency, content, context, work, and play are the stuff of teams and the purpose of Meeting Space.

As mentioned before, Meeting Space has its beginnings in the muds that college students use to socialize and talk with their fellows in different parts of the world. They are wildly popular because they afford a virtual closeness that bridges physical distance. Two simple commands give two types of interaction to provide communication rich in content and context. The most basic is the say command. If I type

say Hello everyone.

all of the people in the virtual room will see the text:

Jon says, "Hello, everyone."

In Meeting Space, we enhance this by changing the offered verb depending on the context of the speech. For example, if I type

say Does everyone agree that we need to get this done by the end of the month?

Meeting Space cues from the question mark and displays

Jon asks, "Does everyone agree that we need to get this done by the end of the month?"

Similarly, an exclamation point has the speaker exclaim rather than say. This is subtle, but it helps create a comfortable space because it adds a conversational tone of voice that is normally heard, but in Meeting Space must be read. This additional, informational closeness helps people work together more effectively because they can virtually hear each other.

The other most common command is act. Acting provides nonverbal communications such as smiles, frowns, nods. In face-to-face communications, many actions are involuntary or subconscious, and are often subconsciously perceived and often misinterpreted. In virtual communications, you have control over what you choose to reveal with your actions. The presence of these nonverbal cues makes virtual communications feel more normal and closer to real. The act command simply appends text to the speaker's name. Thus:

act leans back in her chair and thinks for a moment.

results in the display

Margaret leans back in her chair and thinks for a moment.

The icons also add to the coziness of the environment. They give people a representation of themselves that they can tailor depending on mood or situation. If I am moderating a meeting that promises to be tense, I might put on an icon of a bear or a Clint Eastwood cowboy, to give people fair warning of my mood.

It is common in many muds that say may be abbreviated to a double-quote ("), and act to a colon (:). Meeting Space supports these abbreviations and also the single-quote and semicolon, respectively.

In addition to the public forms of communication, there are private forms, too. Only the person you are speaking with sees them. This person need not even be in the same room as you, but can be somewhere else in the space. Meeting Space provides a distinct window to enter these messages. This separate window avoids the embarrassment of whispering to the wrong person. Private asides, as we call them, can either be speech or actions, giving you the ability to negotiate or grimace behind the scenes.


Virtual meetings enable people to interact in real-time, in ways that feel natural and are culturally conditioned; that create a useful and editable record of the meeting that can subsequently be used to track projects; that act as a base for memos and other business correspondence; that enable participants to present themselves in a professional manner, as well as edit themselves before speaking or acting. The real people can be in their offices, simultaneously using another window for another task, on the phone, talking to a real person; or on a modem from home or a hotel room eating breakfast; or anyplace that offers computer access potential.

People attend virtual meetings by logging on to their virtual self, inhabiting and bestowing their personality on a data structure that has agency in the virtual world and can move from room to room, look around, talk to and hear others, gesture, carry other objects (for example, an attaché or stack of papers to hand out) fully participating in the business at virtual hand. The rapid changes in business styles, needs, and personnel, coupled with the need to do business worldwide, increases the pressure on business to adapt new methods of working, communicating, and team-building. Tools and technologies that provide a clear, understandable, and often measurable improvement in the ease of doing business are the first to be tried.

World Benders, Meeting Space, and Instant Minutes are trademarks of World Benders, Inc.

Jon Callas is the Director of Technology for World Benders, and the principal architect of Meeting Space. He has been an Internet denizen since 1978 or 1979 (he can no longer remember which), and frequently acts as a native guide there.

Margaret Russell-Gonzalez designs human-computer interfaces and tests the usability of software for World Benders. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years and refuses to author anything. She considers the Internet a tool that darn well ought to be easy and meaningful to use.

For more information about Meeting Space, contact World Benders, Inc. by electronic mail at, by telephone at (603) 881-5432, or by physical mail at

World Benders, Inc.
1 Chestnut Street, suite #333
Nashua, NH 03060, USA

A Guide for Getting Your Business onto the Net

Now that we have looked at how other businesses already use the Internet, it is up to you to decide to make the most of it for your business. The really good news is that you can put the Internet to work for you immediately. You do not have to wait. Most companies use the Internet in either of two ways—electronic mail and the World Wide Web. Here is how you may want to do the same.

Electronic Mail

Electronic mail broadly appeals to businesses because it has become ubiquitous—nearly everyone, everywhere seems to be using it. What is more, many e-mail users check their mail multiple times a day—it is the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing before they leave. Today, most large companies have their internal e-mail systems connected to the Internet (or plan to do so within a few months). Just like with a telephone, internal and external "calls" arrive; in the case of e-mail, new messages get deposited right at your clients' desktops.

Perhaps the largest benefit of electronic mail is that it's asynchronous. Using e-mail, you can talk to anyone else an the same e-mail-connected network, 24-hours a day. The fact that e-mail permits your recipient to process your communication at a time of their choosing, not yours, means that you are more likely to get a well-considered reply than if you impose yourself and your particular issue on someone else with a phone call. Because of this dynamic, use of e-mail not only improves the time you spend communicating with others, but it permits you to deal with more of your interpersonal communication at once—improving, by extension, the quality of the time you spend focusing on projects other than your communication; you can queue up more of your correspondence to deal with at one time.

To use e-mail, the first thing to do is to get yourself an electronic mailbox on one of many systems connected to the Internet's Simple Mail Transport Protocol-connected network. There are a lot of ways to go about doing this. You may decide to use an online service provider like CompuServe or America Online because you already use their service. Instead, you may wish to use an Internet service provider. If your company has a lot of e-mail users, then you may decide to install an Internet gateway to your existing mail system so that mail messages flow through the same internal network. If you are a small company, you may even decide to not have your own internal mail system and, instead, put everyone onto the Internet. Not only does this give you Internet mail capability, it can eliminate the cost of having to run your own electronic mail server and the associated computer hardware.

One factor you may want to consider is the type of information you want to exchange (and with which users). For instance, you may already use a proprietary commercial e-mail system such as Microsoft Mail or cc:Mail, and want to exchange binary-format documents with users on your local e-mail system but only plain text with outside users. In this case, you might want to consider attaching your existing system to the Internet through its proprietary SMTP gateway, many of which will exchange only plain-text messages with the Internet. If you think you might want to distribute software, graphics, video, or audio information over electronic mail, then you might be better off building a new e-mail backbone in your company based on one of the many free or cheap combinations of e-mail transport agents and MIME-compatible mail user agents. This would permit you to send a variety of information, using standardized encoding methods with disparate software on equally dissimilar platforms.

No matter how you decide to do it, once you get your Internet mail address you are ready to go. Naturally, you can start sending and receiving mail across the Internet. This can serve as a great way to correspond with your client base. You may also want to join newsgroups and mailing lists with topics that relate to your business.

Even as just an electronic mail user, you can begin to use the Internet to stimulate interest in your company. With mail lists and newsgroups, you have the opportunity to post messages that can let people know what your business is and what areas of interest you may have. As you have probably heard, it is considered imprudent to blatantly advertise across all lists. Depending on the group, however, informative messages may be useful and are generally considered acceptable. The best way to create awareness for your company is to provide information that is useful to the group.

If you have a lot of clients already on the Internet, you may want to set up your own mail list, newsgroup, or bulletin board. This may be a terrific way for you to correspond with a lot of clients simultaneously. It may also be useful for letting your customers communicate with one another to share ideas. Any company can set up its own list easily and quickly. Basically, all you would need to do is set up a mail address to serve as the subscribe/unsubscribe location and another that is the actual mail list address. You may decide to have a moderator on the list to read each message, post the message to the list if it is appropriate, and perhaps even respond to the message. Or, you may decide that it is best not to have a moderator for the mail list and post all messages sent in. It is as simple as that! Newsgroups and bulletin boards are also simple to initiate and manage, which is probably why there are thousands of them.

Whenever you send an informative message about your company, you may want to make it easy for people to request additional information by providing an information return address with your message. Your message might read, "We are ABC manufacturing; for more information, reply to" In the body of the message, you can tell interested users to include keywords like PRICELIST or DATASHEET so that they can specify what type of information they would like to get. This function, known as a mailbot, is easy to set up so that the responses are automatically generated from your mail server (or your Internet server provider). A few widely-used server packages, most of which run on UNIX, can provide a cornucopia of features to mailbot administrators, such as user-initiated subscriptions, file server and database functionality, archival storage of mailing list traffic, compression of traffic into infrequent digests, and so forth.

You can also get a surprising amount of functionality from your humble e-mailbox that extends far beyond sending and retrieving conventional electronic mail. Nearly every Internet-connected mailbox can use existing mailbot gateways to browse Gopherspace (including Gopher indexes), Usenet news, Archie, anonymous FTP, Gopher, and the World Wide Web.

Putting Up A Web Server

There is much more to getting onto the Internet than just being an e-mail participant. I think the most important thing you can do to improve your business is to put up a World Wide Web server. This is easy and inexpensive to do.

There are two primary directions in which you can go in order to put up your own World Wide Web server. You can "roll your own," or you can get a little help from the Internet community. To roll your own World Wide Web server, you will need to know a few things you may not already know now—like how to write documents in HTML (HyperText Markup Language, used in the WWW for conveying hypertext documents using plain text) and how to configure and manage the system you've chosen to run your HyperText Transfer Protocol server. HTTP is the communications protocol usually used for conveying HTML documents and their attachments throughout the Internet.

Although most active HTTP servers are running on UNIX systems, HTTP servers are also available to run under VMS, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh System, VM, and Microsoft Windows NT. Although there may be validity to the conclusion that your HTTP server should run under UNIX, existing resources or features of a given server might indicate that one of the other servers might be more appropriate, at least in the short term. It's important to note, though, that NCSA's UNIX-based server is becoming the standard workhorse server of the WWW.

Chapter 10 has plenty of specific information to get you started as an HTML author and World Wide Web information provider. Neither of these tasks involves black magic or any particularly obscure skills—just a fair knowledge of the system on which you plan to run your server, and a clear idea of how you want to present your information. (If you are more inclined to "back-seat drive" your WWW server, you can get up and going with only moderate expense and the handful of steps in the next section.)

Here are four simple steps involved with getting your business onto the World Wide Web:

  1. Decide what you want to publish on the Web.

  2. Create your World Wide Web pages.

  3. Put your pages onto the appropriate server.

  4. Spread the word.

Deciding what to put onto your World Wide Web server is up to you. I hope the previous examples provided some good ideas as to the level of opportunities that exist. Use your imagination. Keep in mind that, for many of your clients, your WWW pages will define your business. Your Web server becomes the lens through which your business prospects view your company. As mentioned earlier, it is always a good idea to include information that may be useful to your clients and prospects. If you are trying to get new prospects to visit your home page, you may find it especially important to provide useful reference material. For instance, a business involved with computer networking may decide that a glossary of technojargon is a useful service to include within their World Wide Web pages. A law firm specializing in software licenses, on the other hand, may post some useful license agreement templates.

Once you have developed some ideas as to what you may put onto the Internet, the next step is to design and develop the actual HTML pages. There's a couple of options here: you can generate the HTML yourself, or you can get someone to "ghost write" it for you. It's probable that generating HTML is a great deal easier than you suspect, especially if you use one of the freely available HTML editors on the Net (for example, BBEdit extensions for the Mac, the NeXTStep HTML Editor, Emacs HTML mode, HTML Assistant for MS Windows, or The Hypercard Simple HTML Editor (SHE)). If dedicated HTML editors aren't your style, you can use your existing editor and run one of the available converters to do accomplish varying amounts of the work involved in generating HTML from formats such as MS Word 6.0/Word 6.0 RTF, Word for Windows 2.0, Word Perfect 5.1 and 6.0 for DOS, FrameMaker, troff, LaTeX, BibTeX, DECWrite, Interleaf, QuarkXPress, Scribe, and PowerPoint. Many of these filters, converters, and templates can be found at the following URL:

Information about the editors mentioned above can be found at the following URL:

If you find that your aren't inclined to generate your own HTML, it's probably time that you found yourself an Internet consultant to do this for you. You are in luck—hundreds of them are available to do this for businesses of all sizes. (If you are looking for the name of one, you can find listings of Internet consultants at MIT's commerce page—MIT and Galaxy

When you are looking for a consultant to assist you, one basic decision you have to make is whether to use someone local (that can visit your business) or use someone in another city. You can do either. (I use Net+Effect, a local Internet consulting company at You may find that having a local consultant can help improve your understanding of how to use the Internet as a business tool. A local consultant, by being able to visit your business, may develop a better understanding of how your business operates and be able to suggest ideas for using the Internet.

Checking the references of possible consultants should be easy enough. You will probably want to see pages the consultant has constructed for other companies. You may even want to call some of these other businesses and get their input. Since this is a pretty important decision, you will want to try your best to make the right decision. The prices for these services typically run between $100 to $200 per "average" page. Advanced functionality (such as downloading sample software to prospects) may take longer to implement and will cost more.

An Internet consultant can help you design your pages to best fit your needs. You will also be concerned with how these pages work over the medium. As with any other form of communication, the medium affects the message. When you are designing the pages, you will want to put yourself in your clients' positions and think how they will go about dealing with your business through the Internet. Look for ways to get to the information they will want quickly. Also, if you are expecting a lot of visits from people with low-speed Internet connections, you may want to hold back on the graphics. Many companies are giving browsers a choice at the home page of getting graphics-light or graphics-heavy pages, depending on their connection speeds.

Often, you will want your clients to contact you through your Web server. That brings up another set of choices—How do you structure responses and inquiries? First of all, you can have people contact you via electronic mail. You can do this simply by putting your e-mail address on your home page. Or, you may have a special response page added to assist with generating the appropriate electronic mail response. For another type of response, you may want to provide a form that people will print and FAX back to you (in the case of credit card orders, this may make your customers feel better about security).

Electronic forms on the Web are becoming very popular for organizing responses across the Internet. Using a form, your Web browsers can fill in the appropriate blanks. Data are collected on your Web server. You can either access these data through a database application on your server. You may prefer to have these data parsed and converted to an electronic mail message and automatically sent to your e-mail box (this can be done in the background, so your Web browsers do not deal with this—all they do is fill out an electronic form).

At this point, you have decided what information to put onto your pages, and you have your strategy on how to get your pages built. Now, you must plan on where your Web server will be located. Again, you have some choices. You may want to use space on another's server (for instance, your HTML consultant may also provide a place for clients' Web pages), you may want to use a service provider, or you may want to put up your own Web server. Let's look at these last two cases in a bit more detail.

Many companies offer Internet services for supporting your World Wide Web pages. Again, you will find these services inexpensive. You can find these listed at MIT's commerce server, Galaxy and Apollo ( While the prices vary across different service providers, you can find entry-level prices that are in the $20-per-month range for Web services that use 10MB of disk space and unlimited transfer.

If you prefer doing this yourself (or, if you started off using a service provider but have grown to use a lot of memory and require lots of data transfer), you can buy your own UNIX server and put up the appropriate Internet software. A moderately priced system will cost between $10,000 to $12,000, including the appropriate application software. When you do this, you will also need your own direct Internet connection. Again, this is not at all difficult to set up. If 56Kbps is sufficient, you will be able to acquire this service for rates that are similar to the ones in Table 20.1.

Router Cost


Telco Setup


Monthly Internet service provider fee


Monthly lease line fee (to telephone central office)

$100 plus mileage

In this example, the total cost for putting up your own Web server is $15,000 for equipment, software, and installation, and $350 per month for service.

When you have reached this point, you are almost ready to go—you have got your business up and running on the Internet. All that you have left to do is to let people know where they can reach you. Now it is time for some electric public relations. Once again, your Internet consultant should come in handy here. You will want to find places to post notices that your business is ready to go. Ideally, you will want to have references to your home page included on other Web servers, so that people can more easily learn about you and navigate over to your server. (As previously mentioned, putting up useful reference information is a terrific way to generate interest in your Web server.) There are general-purpose locations (like "What's new") and business-specific locations such as industry reference lists. You may even want to put the word out on appropriate mail lists and bulletin boards, informing people that your server is up and ready for business. Plus, the ever-growing community of magazines and publications about the Internet can serve as helpful PR.

Putting This All Together

The Internet is a powerful tool for doing business in the '90s. Almost any business can take advantage of it.

Imagine, for instance, an executive search firm. Like many businesses, this imaginary executive search firm has two principal constituencies—its clients, and the professionals that it targets for recruiting purposes. Because it is in the executive search business, it does not have a lot of computer expertise beyond setting up personal computer systems and using basic applications. So, it decides to hire a local Internet consultant to form its Web pages, and it will use an Internet service provider to put up its Web server.

On the client side, this business is always looking to attract new business opportunities. It will find that putting up its own Web server is a good way to improve exposure. Even if it picks up only one new client per year, this executive recruiter has more than benefited from the costs involved in putting up a Web server. Because this is such a people-sensitive business, the executive recruiter may decide to have Web pages (complete with pictures) describing the principal partners within the business. Posting success stories and references from satisfied clients may also be a good idea.

After the company has started a new search, it may use the Internet to pass along candidate descriptions to its clients. (In this case, it may first want to review this process with its client to make sure the client is satisfied that the confidentiality of the Internet mail exchange is within corporate policy guidelines.) It may also want to use the Internet to exchange status reports with their clients (who may find this a very useful service, since the status reports will be delivered right to their desktop computer and can be easily incorporated with other status information). This may also be more secure than doing status reports via fax machines, where it runs the risk of the report being seen by anyone near the fax drop basket!)

On the recruiting side of the business, the Internet is a wonderful resource. The mail lists and newsgroups offer opportunities to meet new contacts and even solicit potential hires. Electronic mail provides a good way to exchange information with candidates, including resumés. On a broader level, a Web server may also have a category for posting job listings, thus enabling interested parties to browse.

As a service to potential recruits, this executive recruiting company may decide to put up its own mail lis,t where people can share ideas and war stories relating to seeking new jobs. The agency may hire a monitor to run this mail list and make suggestions on how to improve job searching strategies. While this mail list may not directly relate to growing the immediate business opportunity, it can serve as an important goodwill tool—especially when you consider that people seeking jobs often end up in important positions within new employers and may eventually become a client of the executive recruiter.

You Can Put Electronic Commerce to Work for You Immediately!

Marketing people use the expression "early adopters" for individuals and organizations who are the first to use new products and services. In just a short time, electronic commerce early adoption has gotten off to a great start. You might never think that HP, Grant's Florist, and a new recording artist could have something in common, but they all are relying on the Internet to increase their business opportunities. Electronic commerce over the Internet is happening.


Home Page Location

Market Segment





Apple's World Wide Web server

Internet Shopping Network

Computer Retail Mall

Grant's Florist & Greenhouse

Your Network Florist

Bay Area Restaurant Guide

Restaurant Guide

Financial Web

Financial Services on the Web

Commercial Services List

Commerce List Maintained By MIT

Biznet Technologies

Business Network

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