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Thirty Million Penguins

(By Michael Devlyn)

One penguin alone on the ice stands out. Now find that one among thirty million other penguins. That is the dilemma facing the Internet marketer. To simply be on the Internet among thirty million others is hardly the kind of attention conducive to successful marketing. Can we improve the odds affordably? What works - what doesn't? - and for whom?

In addition to direct experience operating a Web mall, the author relies heavily on the results of surveys discussing demographics of Net browsers and marketers. Internet marketing generally means via the World Wide Web. A Web page or an entire Web catalogue, is a fairly straightforward proposition. Large and small graphics, click and fill shopping baskets, even secure credit card transactions are all tried and true technologies.

Internet marketing usually benefits small to medium sized companies the most. Reasoning: it is a new market place where companies can become known through advertising and services. Larger companies already have a presence in traditional market places. Marketing can take several forms, from simple advertising to immediate, product delivery. If your product is essentially data, e.g., computer software or survey information, delivery can be as automatic and immediate as a vending machine. Here, I will focus on online marketing of products requiring delivery.

What works? What sells? Some products are naturals for the Net, others require more creativity. What do you want from the Internet in the first place? Will that aim be worth the effort necessary to be successful? Make no mistake, effort is absolutely essential in lieu of money to successfully market on the Internet. Indeed, this is one area where money without effort may not be worth, well, the money.

Competing Penguins

ActivMedia (www.activmedia.com), gives some interesting web statistics. from marketers offering non-Internet-related products or services. Web development services are not likely to be included in ActivMedia's statistics:

Who is your market? Web demographics are not a mystery - the Georgia Institute of Technology maintains the largest survey of the demographics and buying behavior of Web users, accessible at (www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys). Here, from this survey, is a recent breakdown of Web users:
Gender: 82% Male/16% Female, Average age: 35, Average household income: $69,000, Marital status: 46% single/50% married, 24% with two or more dependents, Education: 61% college graduates, Geography: 86% North American/10% European.

What do Webbies do on the Web?

Browsing: 83%, Entertainment: 57%, Work/Business: 50%, Business research: 38%, Academic research: 34%, Shopping: 11%

Selling it

What do these figures suggest about marketing? Lots of well-heeled men on the Web who hate to shop? Let's put that to work for us. Like it or not, men have to shop. Make it easy for them. Offer attractive products. Offer the convenience of shopping from their desks. Offer convenient payment and quick delivery to save their egos or relationships. Save men the time and hassle of going to the mall and they will lavish money on you.

What about women on the Web? Although fewer in number, women are also well-heeled. But women need to feel more related, more connected to the experience of shopping. For women, shopping is necessarily a more social experience. This may mean an actual voice to speak with or referrals from friends or acquaintances.

As a man, I am not in my element discussing the shopping preferences of women and will end this paragraph with this limited advice: Make women comfortable in your WWW store. Gain their trust. Encourage their involvement. Explain products and policies clearly. Offer unusual merchandise, for example, gifts that they would never find elsewhere.

One shopper visiting our web page was a clerk, bored within the bowels of a government bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. Her boss was away and she amused herself by browsing the Web. Thinking about her boyfriend's upcoming birthday, she searched for "Harley-Davidson", as he is a Harley-Davidson aficionado. Caught in her search was a listing of H-D suspenders offered by a suspender shop Up Yours! in our mall. "Twelve dollars for the suspenders? Five dollars shipping? How soon can you ship to my door? Perfect!"

That vignette tells more about shopping habits than gender. Some Webbies browse and shop from their work terminals and browse on company time when they can get away with it. Let them do so easily, conveniently.

Who is marketing what today?

A couple of sites that answer this question are www.internet-mall.com and http://www.cs.colorado.edu/homes/mcbryan/public_html/bb/summary.html (No longer exists). These two sites are the first places to list your marketing Web page. Additionally, a new book lists "Your Guide to the Biggest Bargains and Best Places to Shop Online." It is Jaclyn Easton's Shopping on the Internet and Beyond. The most frequently quoted survey on the size of the Net, including numbers of Web browsers, is the Second TIC/MIDS Internet Demographic Survey at www.tic.com.

Ready to consider marketing?

Put yourself in your customer's shoes. Your first problem is inertia. Only 11% of Webbies shop on the Web. Let's start with that bit of dismal information and go from there. According to surveys, Webbies think first about browsing, secondly about entertainment, and last about shopping. Catch them browsing. Entertain them. Turn them into shoppers. How? Ah, that is the stuff of creativity and genius. When you see it done you say to yourself "How simple! I could have thought of that!" Well, now's your chance to think of it.

Specific strategies for capturing, entertaining and selling browsers require more imagination than money. What are you selling? What is intrinsically entertaining about your product? What game, musical connection, pun, or characters easily tie-in with your product or service? What kind of hypertext links can you make?

Specific strategies:

An interesting, curious or catchy name for your location helps. For the name of our mall, we choose "GUI 'N Da Hood" as both catchy and descriptive. As a Website, we represent our neighbor "HOOD" employing a Graphic User Interface. Our stores similarly strive for catchy yet descriptive names that get noticed in search lists.

One entertaining commercial site is The Speak to Me Catalogue (www.clickshop.com:80/speak) featuring talking toothbrushes, key-chains, calculators, etc. Each product may be sound tested online before you buy, including the Yummy Yummy Talking Fork and Spoon for younger children and the various "marriage saver" phrases for older children. Great entertainment - the perfect marriage of entertainment and commerce.

"If you can't sell it, keep sitting on it - before you give it away" are the only words I recall of a raunchy blues song reflecting conventional pre-Internet wisdom. Nothing, however, turns browsers into buyers faster than free samples, and more than a few companies have made their fortunes online by giving away free samples. I am using a freely-downloaded Netscape browser and may soon pay $5,000 for a not-so-free Netscape Commerce Server. Innumerable hard disks contain the freely-downloaded virus scanner from the premier anti-virus company on the Net, McAfee, which got that way by giving away its software and charging for site licenses.

Do you have any idea how much companies are paying for those ads we view when we freely use Yahoo, GNN, and other search engines to find what we are looking for? Seems like the latest Internet wisdom is nothing more than some of the oldest:It is better to give than to receive.

What have you to give? You're probably an expert at something. Give expert advice. Use your Web page to ballyhoo your expertise and give away your knowledge in whatever format works for you. An author recently inquired about marketing her book about empowering women who have cancer to take control of their therapy - basically an autobiography of becoming expert in that subject. What has she to give away? Paragraphs and even chapters from her book.

Connecting

Many Webbies are lonely, self-centered and socially awkward. Others are simply too busy to locate related interests. Others haven't the foggiest idea where to look. What are they seeking online? Connections. The kind of connections lacking in their non-cyber lives. We know this from the explosive growth of the chat rooms on AOL and other online services as well as IRCs.

How do we make this work for us? Connections. Your business may be providing connections. Want to meet fellow skaters in Walnut Creek? Death Valley? Perhaps sister quilters in Orem, Utah? Connections. What about a subject-specific calendar? For example, list each bluegrass performance in the Western US by artist, date, city and theatre. One woman lists every dog-related page and event she can find on the Net (www.zmall.com/pet_talk/dog-faqs), initially as a labor of love. Now, I believe, she is actually garnering an income from it. Provide and profit.

Hand-holding. Be prepared to do much more customer hand-holding than you ever dreamed online shopping may be mysterious and scary to a large number of people. On the other hand, some form of hand-holding may be just your product your ticket to fame and fortune. Dread shopping online? Call Wanda for free phobia counseling! And then shop at the sites that pay Wanda for referrals.

What to sell? Your best bet is well-known brands, entities, and models. We bought a Sony 15" monitor from an Internet marketer in Massachusetts for $30 less than was offered by the local CompUSA. No question it was the same thing. In our Skates Away shop, we sell brand name skates for less than discount stores. An Internet marketer is often in a position to offer the best price. He or she may have problems with inventory and delivery but rarely with price. We are informed that the cheapest seller of Macintosh hardware is a high school student in Florida who employs his classmates to ship products he sells on the Web from his garage.

There are two ways to market a chocolate cake, I recall from my advertising class of 1963. One is to market a recipe favored by nine out of ten palates. The other is to market a recipe favored by one out of ten palates. The former is the choice of mega-marketers with shelf space galore. The latter is often a void to be filled by niche marketers who sometimes grow into megamarketers themselves. The Web is ideal for seat-of-the-pants niche marketers. Why? Low startup. Low overhead. Low inventory. Very direct and inexpensive marketing.

At our Web Mall, one of our Gui Gourmet products is huckleberry jam. Remembering the pies her Oregon grandmother made, a young Web browser took her memories to the Web crawler where she found that Gui's Gourmet offered huckleberry jam. Huckleberry jam actually brings us back to our penguins. As much as we like the stuff, we never thought we would sell much huckleberry jam. Why include it in our product menu? It is another way of luring customers to our mall - along with African-American quilts, Rollerblades, suspenders, dog figures, folk crafts, etc. Each item catches a different eye for a different reason. The result is a lot of traffic into our mall.

Ever go to the supermarket for one or two items and walk out loaded with shopping bags full of other things? Ours is the same idea. "Hey, I haven't tasted huckleberry jam since I was a kid!" "But, wow, look at those skate wheels!" Oh, the connection with penguins? This is another of the ways our penguin gets noticed among the thirty million.

Thirty million penguins is no less a problem for million-dollar marketers than it is for you. While many deep pocket marketers spend fortunes advertising at the top of search engines, the search results themselves make no distinction between Betty's Boutique and Mega Shopping Network (or whatever). Each is selling the identical widget, Betty usually selling for less. So far, search engines are fairly egalitarian, as are the home pages they find. That is, your store can look at least as good as Mega Shopping Network's.

Linking Penguins

What you cannot do as well as Mega Shopping Network is pay for hypertext links. Here, you must get creative before the big fish swallow you. You must become part of a bigger fish by mutually linking with many other little fish. What other little fish? Related traffic sites.

Our gourmet page sells coffee, Pacific Northwest wild berry products, and garlic products from Gilroy. We solicited mutual links with two complementary but not competitive vendors the Imperial Salmon House in British Columbia and a maple syrup vendor in Quebec. Our skate shop has mutual links with a bicycle shop in Florida. We sought out and solicited these links because we were impressed with the quality image of each. We are proud to be associated with each and hope the compliment is returned. We know we are getting traffic from each of these links.

The three rules of becoming a successful web site are: Content, Content, and Content. Find and establish links to FAQ and list providers. Many people have taken it upon themselves to keep lists of Frequently Asked Questions and resources on a particular topic. Our skate page is listed on the inline skating FAQ; our dog figurines page is listed on the canines FAQ, and our quilt page is on the quilting FAQ. And then return the favor for your browsers. Offer them access to that same page that listed you, even if they include listings of your competitors.

Links have become a business in itself. One company promises to pay us $20 a month for each link we install to each of their clients' Web page. They charge the client $25, I believe. Their clients? Intrinsically boring sites such as banks, insurance companies and the like who need to pay for traffic.

Usenet advertising is generally frowned upon, prohibited and/or downright dangerous to your server as well as your business. Advertise once on Usenet and you are likely to get "told." Advertise twice and you will be flamed. Advertise thrice and risk having your server swamped with hate mail and your Internet account disconnected. Still, you can advertise on usegroups if you remember the adage: it is better to give than to receive. What have you to give? Information. As a shopkeeper, you are an expert. Yes, of course you are! Give expert advice - often in response to a posted question - together with your accreditation - your store location! Don't forget the simple addition of your signature to your email messages. I include an ad for GUI 'N Da Hood in the "signature" of every email I send.

If you have the bucks, incidentally, a presence on a large service provider such as Prodigy or Compuserve may be warranted. Last I checked, their fees for this started at $10,000 with a fat percentage of sales. Finally, I refer you to a couple of comprehensive publications on the issue: How to Advertise on the Internet by Michael Strangelove, and Guerilla Marketing Online by Jay Conrad Levinson and Charles Rubin. Remember: Provide and prosper!


Michael Devlyn is an Internet Marketing Consultant, and the owner of
GUI 'N Da Hood (www.dnai.com/~gui), the Net's eclectic mall with room for big imaginations and small budgets.



Who's Succeeding on the Internet and How?

(By Michael Devlyn)
(Reproduced with permission of ActivMedia, Inc. www.activmedia.com)

The number of online marketers grew exponentially in the last year. The Open Market Commercial Sites Index (www.directory.net) (no longer around) listed 588 commercial Web sites at the end of September, 1994. A year later, the index listed over 9,000. Sales generated on the World Wide Web between September 1994 and August 1995 grew exponentially, totalling $118 million.

Online marketers come from companies of all sizes, with products and services of many types. Most of them are new to the World Wide Web; two out of three have had sites less than six months. Twenty-two percent of online marketers report their sites are financially rewarding; 40 percent expect their sites to be rewarding within one to two years. Fifteen percent stated they never expect their sites to be financially rewarding, but find them useful for information or public relations purposes. Fourteen percent are either totally disappointed with the results of their online site or do not expect a financial return for 3-5 years.

Successful marketers sell all types of products, including business, consumer, travel and books, as well as the computer/Internet-related products commonly associated with online success. Products and services in some categories seem more likely to succeed, but knowledgeable and intensive marketers seem to find financial reward regardless.

Successful marketers come from companies of all sizes, although the smallest companies, (1-2 employees) are less likely to achieve their financial goals. In general, successful online marketers put more resources into their sites and serve their customers better on nearly every front. They also tend to understand the Internet and its technologies well.

Being totally reliant on the Internet does not appear to be advantageous and online marketing is not without its pitfalls. Large corporations report that gaining and keeping the support of upper management is crucial to the success of online marketing. Some note that lack of information during planning has left them with inappropriate budgets and/or expectations. Both large and small marketers are prone to launching online efforts without having the technological expertise or online experience necessary to succeed. Some small marketers, on the other hand, seem to be too technologically savvy, and may be out of touch with customers.

Successful online marketers are forging ahead on all online fronts. Some plan to reduce the use of traditional advertising in lieu of online marketing. Many plan to increase online product distribution and decrease physical shipping. Regional marketers have found that the Internet can extend their reach dramatically, nationwide or even worldwide and intend to continue that expansion.

Even companies that decide to wait before beginning to market online should start to increase their internal use of online technologies - and plan for the inevitable day when many of their sales and customer service processes will go online. Companies that do not know what their competitors are doing online are in danger of becoming extinct.



Will IBM ever Win?

(By Craig W. Borysowich)

It's no secret that International Business Machines has never had any faith in the personal computer. Even when IBM released its PC in 1981, the company felt that these machines would never overshadow the mainstream mainframe operations that IBM had always dominated. This would be only their first mistake.

The most basic PC in '81 cost about $5000, which certainly didn't make Commodore and Apple nervous of losing any market share. Even though the PC was touted as being the revolution business was waiting for, IBM itself didn't buy in. It was created with old Intel technology (the 8088/8086 processor), and a cryptic operating system produced by a small startup concern known as Microsoft.

Abandoning the specifications of ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) to the public domain, IBM released the AT computer among many sprouting competitors. The AT, based on an Intel 80286 processor, was a service nightmare for IBM, as thousands of crashed CMS brand Hard Drives were dumped in the bay offshore from IBM's Boca Raton research center by disgruntled customers.

IBM's misfortune continued with the release of the PCjr, a novel concept in computing technology whereby one designs a hamstrung machine that expands like an AS/400. IBM soon learned their midrange concepts did not apply to the PC world. A full-blown PCjr system required the size of the box to almost triple! You could add side cars, top cars, even an undercar module. Of course, some could only be used if other modules were present, and they even had to be stacked in a certain order which never seemed to get mentioned in the instructions or the advertising.

The concept of a cordless infrared keyboard was exciting - if you typed at the proper angle to line up with the receiver. This got harder as you moved further away from the machine. IBM's Multi-Color Graphics Array standard was supported by a few software products, eventually finding its way into the Windows OS, but it was never recognized as an achievement.

IBM tried to redeem its market share from the "Clones" by releasing a new architecture known as MicroChannel. Again IBM applied its mainframe background to design a more advanced architecture which became its PS/2 product line. Unfortunately, the MicroChannel Architecture (MCA) was proprietary and closed to the rest of industry. The Cloners could not duplicate it without paying licensing fees to Big Blue. Even third party add-on manufacturers had to pay to produce upgrade cards for the MCA. Ultimately, very little software (not even OS/2) was created to take advantage of the benefits of MCA with its load balancing and superior bandwidth; even today it continues to be untapped.

Another IBM blunder was choosing ESDI hard disk technology. With IDE drives being the industry standard for PC machines, who wanted a revamped MFM/RLL based hard disk? If IBM wanted an expensive non-standard drive, they should have gone with SCSI, which was known to Macintosh users at this time. The cloners were smarter still, by latching on to a new public standard, EISA, but that record didn't get much play either, though they proved time and again that EISA could beat MCA hands down performing day-to-day tasks.

IBM gave the breath of life to the monolith we call Microsoft today. Even when IBM had a chance to build a partnership which would have given them a share of the PC OS market (with OS/2), IBM blew that opportunity big time. IBM did, however, keep the rights to OS/2 and has managed to create more marketing literature, advertisements, brochures, and presentations, than any other product marketed in history, only to achieve a nominal amount of sales. OS/2 is still failing to get significant market share, despite the delayed shipment of Windows 95.

IBM may drop the OS/2 operating system if major improvements in market share are not seen soon. IBM is now working to produce the Taligent OS jointly with Apple Computer to run on the PowerPC Platform. Results are not expected until late 1996. IBM released the PowerPC workstations in summer of '94 (as part of the Risc6000 family). In November of '94, it was said IBM would hold back the release of their PC-level PowerPCs until the availability of the Power PC version of OS/2, scheduled for early '95.

I have not mentioned much about the PS/1 series of computers; I'll summarize here they were made from '87 to '93, were expensive, and poorly equipped. In most cases, a clone could be bought for half the price, providing twice the machine compared to the PS/1.

IBM made a big press splash in the fall of '94 with their new Aptiva models, which were actually multimedia versions of their PS/1 machines. The Aptiva won many awards, which IBM was not used to receiving for their desktop machines. However, retailers were told in mid-November that what Aptivas they had in stock was all that was left, and more would not be available early '95. Loving parents who wanted to have something under the Christmas tree spent the next month and a half flocking to Compaq, which gained the number one position for market share over IBM in late '94.

IBM really had egg on their faces when in early '95, they released their higher-end PC-level PowerPC machines with no OS/2. The PowerPC version of OS/2 is now expected sometime in early '96. Meanwhile, Apple ran away with the PowerPC market by moving nearly 400,000 units in 4Q of '94. That is quite an accomplishment for any PC manufacturer.

Of all the segments of the PC market, IBM has done best in the notebook computer market. After many failed attempts at luggables, the ThinkPad was truly ingenious. I can't understand why it took them 15 years (the number of years it sat in a lab) to release the TrackPoint to the public. The TrackPoint is one of the better mouse alternatives on the market today.

Supply has always been a problem for IBM's PC products, and their notebooks were no exception. The 10.4 inch active matrix screens that IBM was so proud of, only had a 25% yield - a far cry from IBM's usual six sigma target in their own manufacturing plants. The low yield prevented IBM from delivering enough ThinkPads to meet demand and get as much market share as the ThinkPad deserved at the time.

IBM forced the manufacturer of the screens to shut down production and re-engineer the process to double the yield. For four months, IBM had only a trickle of screens until the process was complete. Many of the potential buyers went to Toshiba and Compaq for their notebooks after waiting up to 8 months for an IBM - even large corporate accounts were being turned away by IBM sales reps.

Early in '95 an earthquake leveled most of Kobe, Japan. You guessed it - that's where the screen manufacturing plant was located. While the plant only suffered minor damage and was offline for less than two days, shipments out of Kobe were unreliable for more than a month. This caused a minor constraint on product availability.

What about the PowerPC Notebooks? IBM has wanted to release PowerPC-based Notebooks since mid '94, but they were delayed due to internal politics. It seems the people responsible for notebooks were part of the Mobile division but the people designated to preside over the PowerPC chip within IBM were a group called PowerPartners. While the Mobile group wanted to start designing a ThinkPad based on the PowerPC, the PowerPartners decided they should be in charge of the project. This internal conflict has never quite been resolved.

IBM has had a history of not using both feet to jump into the PC industry. They have surrendered the lead to other companies for the past 15 years. Even with Lou Gerstner trying to give IBM a cool image - with the dress-down policy, the multicultural MTV advertisements, 50,000 subscriptions for IBM managers to Wired magazine, and lately the purchase of Lotus Development Corp. IBM has still not made the headway they have been looking for.

Hopefully the influence of Big Blue will not crush the productive nature of Lotus, allowing it to continue as a somewhat autonomous entity. Does the takeover mean that IBM is becoming more serious about the PC side of their business? Maybe. IBM's corporate structure is still rooted in main frame concepts too bulky and cumbersome to produce timely decisions.

IBM is a major user of the Notes platform and may be looking for a way to get cheap licenses, pick up a successful leading software product (which they have never had), and is trying more to secure a stake in the software world than hardware. Meanwhile, Lotus was desperate for an infusion of capital. Thus, there is potential for seriousness, but IBM's track record is not encouraging.



Online without the Internet

(By Mark Shapiro and Robert Holland)

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Computing section of the July 23, 1995 edition of the San Jose Mercury News www.sjmercury.com).
(This article, created in newspaper style; was based on a composite of BABBA/WCO articles authored from 1992 to 1994. The timing of the newspaper publication was ironic - as it was also about the time the Internet started quickly pushing stand-alone BBSs out of popularity.)

Judi Phelps, 50, is addicted to Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), as are many of your friends and neighbors, and millions of people across the world. Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) answer your calls 24 hours a day and greet you with a warm welcome. There are more than 100,000 BBSs in the US, and thousands right here in the greater Bay Area.

Phelps, a resident of San Jose, enjoys cooking and collecting recipes. Phelps' spouse found he was not able to use their home computer because of Judi's addiction to calling BBSs and Online services. "A second computer solved the problem, now all we need is another phone line."

Phelps has an Internet account and spends a lot of time there - she created the alt.creative-cooking Usenet conferences. Still, she makes time for one of her favorite pastimes calling local BBSs. "Every day I learn something new or gain some type of knowledge through local BBSs. This is an important part of my life - my way of relaxing and making friends."

BBSs offer a variety of services to persons who use a modem to connect from their own computer. The simplest BBS consists of a computer, modem, telephone line, and software. Once installed and activated, the BBS software waits for an incoming call. As a small BBS gains popularity and expands, it can grow to multiple computers, modems, and phone lines.

Two of Phelps' favorite BBSs are "Bowl of Chili" (BOC) and the "Road Kill Grill". At the BOC, she checks out the "always expanding list of wonderful food files." She avidly collects recipes from BBSs like BOC. Another of Judi's favorites is the "Road Kill Grill". She enjoys the way "a small BBS affords me an intimate way of getting to know lots of local people. I have made many friendships along the way."

Jeff Trowbridge, 36, lives in the East Bay and works in the Real Estate industry. Trowbridge uses his America Online account daily for Internet email, "to look at what is available in the latest software, and to receive a couple of Internet newsgroups." Trowbridge is another fan of the Bowl of Chili BBS.

Besides enjoying good recipes, Trowbridge frequents the BOC because of BOC's connection to one of the small, but vital networks available only to BBSs - Wildnet. Jeff enjoys reading the messages shared between BBSs on the Wildnet network. The network has messages about computer-oriented subjects, genealogy, gardening, ham radio, and more.

With all the excitement about the Internet, it's easy to overlook the importance and popularity of Bulletin Board Systems. You can find a BBS in virtually every region of the world, yet each is as unique as the individual who operates it - the system operator, or Sysop. The Sysop crafts a BBS to his or her taste, adding features to attract callers. Many BBSs cater to the needs of specific segments of society. Like many who keep accounts on large systems, Trowbridge often prefers the intimacy of BBSs. "I meet people I probably would never otherwise have met. BBSs add a unique feeling you don't get from the large services."

Sysops range from pre-teenagers to senior citizens. While most Sysops run BBSs as a hobby, many are run as a business. Some businesses offer technical support through their own BBS. Some BBSs have been active longer than a decade, while others spring up and shut down within a month. Generally, the shortest-lived BBSs are run by teenagers.

As with the Internet, BBSs attract callers by offering a treasure trove of functions. Some BBSs are file libraries, while others act as message centers, game rooms, and social halls. BBSs offer games, software programs, data files, pen-pals, hobbies, employment help, technical support, and more. BBSs with multiple telephone lines allow callers to chat (type messages to each other in real-time) while online - a very popular feature.

Calling BBSs can be a surprisingly inexpensive addiction. A BBS can be the cheapest (sometimes free) way to get a network (e.g., Internet) email address to keep in touch (toll-free) with distant friends and family. For those wanting to visit a variety of places online without spending a bundle, a BBS list is invaluable.

Many BBSs carry message conferences with interesting and helpful information. Some conferences are local - for one BBS only. Other conferences are "echoed", a system where BBSs all over the city/country/world exchange email. Conferences can be centered on general topics or can be as specific as how to cook chili. Many (even product support) BBSs include an element of fun. Above all, BBSs are a way to share information, learn, and have a good time.

Unlike many systems on the Internet, BBSs are privately owned and operated. Although most BBSs are designed to attract as many callers as possible, a BBS is not a public place. Sysops have no obligations and can deny access to anyone.

Compared to the Giant Online Services (GOSs), BBSs are small and personal. Many BBSs function as a community where callers get familiar with other callers. An important difference between the GOSs and BBSs is that BBSs have limited phone lines (sometimes only one) and resources, so busy signals and downtime can be common.

While most BBSs are friendly, family-oriented places to visit, some are bizarre or weird and some are dedicated to controversial topics such as pornography. Unlike the Internet or unsupervised areas of a GOS, virtually all "adult" BBSs have strict proof-of-age requirements making BBSs relatively safe for immature minds. Like any online service (or any public place), parents should monitor where their children visit.

How BBSs Work

To start a BBS, you need only a computer, a modem, a dedicated telephone line, and software to make the computer function as a BBS. While entry level requirements are modest, large BBSs use very powerful/expensive computers and peripherals. BBSs require dedicated phone lines - one for each modem, and the largest use hundreds of modems and phone lines.

Although the IBM PC is by far the most popular platform, BBS software is available for every type of computer. Many modem communication programs, e.g., Procomm, have "host" modes which function as a stripped-down BBS. Using multitasking software, such as DesqView, Windows, Macintosh, Unix, or OS/2, it is possible to use a computer for other activities while running a BBS in the background.

The BBS software directs the communication ports of a computer to control the attached (or internal) modems. When a caller uses communication software and a modem to connect to the BBS, the BBS software answers the phone and starts an interactive communication session. The software controls the modems, creates and maintains a database of callers, and manages the flow of information and activities available to each caller.

BBSs and the Internet

In many ways, BBSs are still far ahead of World-Wide Web pages when it comes to security, information handling, chat capability, flexibility, conferencing, and file archival/retrieval. Unlike web pages, BBSs don't usually provide links to other BBSs.

For a company, the need for a BBS and an Internet connection (web page, gopher, or ftp site) are not always mutually exclusive. An example is a corporation requiring automated product support, such as a video board company that needs to make software driver updates available online. Many companies maintain both an Internet presence and a BBS. Files placed on the Internet require an Internet account to access. A BBS can be reached by anyone with a modem.

Telnetable BBSs

Telnet is a software standard that lets Internet account users log into other systems across the world bypassing the long-distance call. Telnet allows anyone with a terminal or terminal program to connect between their local Internet access provider's "host" computer and other computers connected to the Internet.

Building on the feature set and friendliness of BBS software, telnetable BBSs are becoming an important part of the Internet. Already, thousands of BBSs are fully connected. A telnetable BBS can be reached with any modem or Internet account. A list of BBSs reachable by telnet can be found at http://dkeep.com/sbi.htm. As an alternative to a Web page, a telnetable BBS eliminates the need to maintain an ftp site or a Web page server. Also, BBSs have built-in security and privacy, eliminating the need for firewall protection and most security procedures.

Getting Started

There's a lot to learn. Besides mastering modem calls, you'll need to learn about such things as file archiving and transfers. Becoming familiar with the procedures of calling BBSs and online services is like learning to ride a bicycle: They are tricky at first, with a learning curve, but once you learn, you never forget.

To get online, you need a computer, modem software (e.g., ProComm for the PC or Zterm for the Mac), a modem, and a phone line (your household voice line will work fine). The hardest part is installing the modem and software. You will find a new 14.4 kbps (kilo-bits-per-second) modem fast enough, although a 28.8 kbps modem is also a good choice. We've had good luck with US Robotics external modems. Every modem includes documentation, and that's the best place to start. Your best bet is to find a patient and experienced friend or relative to help you. Other options include:


Your First Call

Many BBSs require some type of registration on your first visit. This can be as simple as an online questionnaire. Some BBSs have an automated call-back, where the BBS calls you, to make sure your phone number is valid. On your first call, take time to read about everything the service offers. Look for a section named bulletins or newsletter. Sysops usually provide instructions for new users, posting them in easy-to-find locations. If you ask questions, don't be offended if other callers or the Sysop directs your attention to these instructions. The best place to look for BBS lists is in computer/online related magazines. BBS lists can also be found on other BBSs, and the Giant Online Services. Nuggets of BBS lists are also available by sifting through the rubble/garbage of the Internet's alt.bbs.lists and comp.bbs.misc Usenet newsgroups.

Tech Tips
Most BBSs and Internet accounts use the default settings of: 8N1 (8 data bits, No parity, 1 stop bit). When calling a BBS, ANSI terminal emulation is best. Other choices are TTY and VT100. Most computers on the Internet work best with a terminal emulation of VT100.

Many modem programs install with a default "Dial time" or "Wait for Connection" setting of 30 seconds. That isn't always enough time for two modems (yours, and the BBS's) to negotiate a successful "handshake" and connect. Change this setting to 60 seconds.

The "local echo" option in your telecommunication software should be set to OFF. If it's on when you call, you may see double letters on the screen lliikkee tthhiiss. Usually, the "set line feeds" setting should be turned OFF. Most online services add line feeds for you. If incoming text overwrites the line on the screen, set the line feeds to ON.

What about Viruses?

Viruses are a concern to any computer user, and are usually transmitted by removable media (e.g., floppy disks), local networks, or the Internet. Sysops check incoming files. Useless, commercial, or virus-infected files are immediately deleted, along with the account of the person who uploaded (sent) the file to the BBS. Getting a virus from a BBS is extremely rare especially if you stick to the BBSs that are open to the public.

BBSs are much more likely to find and destroy a virus than to spread one. Still, any new file should be tested for infection, whether obtained from a BBS, or anywhere else. Always virus-check all files you download, get from a network, or a floppy disk.

The latest shareware virus checkers are available for download on most BBSs. One very good virus checker for DOS, Windows, or OS/2 is McAfee's Scan software. A good choice for Macintosh users is Symantec's SAM.

Virus-infected files remain inert until they are executed. It is safe to move, copy, or perform any other operation on an infected file as long as one takes care not to execute them. If you do find a virus, be sure to notify the BBS Sysop, network Sysadmin, or person who gave you the floppy disk. At work, sometimes the safest thing to do is to print an anonymous note and forward it to the management.


The Future of BBSs

BBSs were here long before "the Internet" was a household word. In the beginning, BBSs were private "underground" services run by programmers who hacked out communication programs. Over the years, commercial BBS software packages became refined, and the 100,000+ BBSs in the US, and millions of callers, fueled the modem industry. With few exceptions, BBSs are now public and available to all.

Perhaps permanently, the (WWW-based) Internet has pushed BBSs out of the spotlight. Most likely, BBSs will not go away, but their role is destined to change and the exponential growth of BBSs has already leveled off.

In a future of computers, communications, and freedom, it will become hard to distinguish between BBSs, online services, and networks (e.g., the Internet) as separate entities. In a future of censorship, surveillance, and control of electronic networks; BBSs may revert to the underground, hidden from public view. Let's vote to keep our electronic rights and freedoms.




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Internet Settings

(Most of this article had specific information to help customers connect to WCO's own service. Here; is only the portion that could be useful to all.)

How to log into the Unix shell without TCP/IP

Use your modem communication program to login, as you would calling a BBS. Your terminal emulation should be set to VT100 and your connection settings should be N81 (parity none, 8 bits, 1 stop).

Domain Name Delays


Everyone seems in a hurry to register Internet domain names for business or private use. Be sure to wait until your ISP notifies you it is ready before telling anyone about it - to avoid leading them to think you can be reached via email at the domain name before it is ready. Also, avoid publicizing your new domain name (e.g., printing it on a business card) until it is really "yours".

Shell Tips
To access a unix shell account, enter your login (case-sensitive) and password. This brings you to your home directory, where you'll see a prompt (e.g, a dollar or percentage sign). If you are prompted for a terminal type, enter vt100.

Reading Mail To read or send email, type pine. The Pine mailreader sets itself up in your home directory the first time you use it. Pine starts with a main menu of selections to choose from.

Reading Usenet News Access newsgroups by typing tin. Like Pine, Tin sets itself up the first time you use it. It usually starts by asking if you want to join such-and-such new group y/n/q. Start Tin with a q (tin -q) to avoid answering this question for each new group.

Useful Unix Shell commands:
du -s Shows your disk usage.
exit To logoff.
ftp Type ftp <site> to transfer to another site to get files.
ls Lists the files in your home directory.
ls -al Lists everything in your directory, includes size and creation date.
lynx Text- based World Wide Web browser...just type lynx.
mv Rename a file in Unix, type mv oldname newname.
ncftp User friendly FTP program, some terminals need the -L option.
rm To remove a file....type rm <filename>.
rx, rz For uploading to a system using X or Zmodem, type rz or rx.
status A script, a superset of the DU command, shows much more info.
sx For downloading via Xmodem, type sx followed by the filename.
sz For downloading via Zmodem, type sz followed by the filename.
talk Type talk <username@site> to initiate or respond to someone.
telnet To log into another Internet site, type telnet <site>.
w Shows you who's online in the shell (Unix) session.



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Make your own Web Page

How to make a personal web page on your ISP's HTTP server:

In your home directory, type mkdir public_html. Any files placed in this directory will be available to anyone using a WWW client. Name your home page index.html. Internet users can access your home page and webspace as: http://www.yourisp.com/~username





West Coast Online

Founder/Publisher/Editor: Mark Shapiro

Contributing Editors: Robert Holland and Rich Chin
Customer Service: Mel Enberg and Karry Walker
Graphics: Steve Kong
Systems Integration: Paul Theodoropoulos
Hardware Chris Ward
SJ Office Manager: Joseph Magdalena
Technical Staff: Laurie Grey and Scott Shultis

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Distribution: City Racks,
Mark Murphy, TLC, WHT.


Electronic PrePress and printing at: Fricke-Parks Press (510) 793-6543




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