column for June 1994 issue of Internet World.


By Christopher Locke

Last month we talked about the need for a commercial "knowledge exchange." In the meantime, things have heated up fast. Rather than just talk about it, we're doing it. Since being written up in Fortune magazine (March 7, 1994), MecklerWeb has generated a mountain of inquiries from businesses worldwide. The following is an e-mail response to one such request from a CEO asking for more information. The discussion here hints at what Mecklermedia will formally announce on June 1 (in conjunction with many partners) at our Internet World conference in San Jose, California.

To:      [name withheld]
Subject: MecklerWeb
From: (Christopher Locke)
Date:    March 1 1994
Alice, Thanks for sharing your enthusiastic assessment of Rick Tetzeli's article in Fortune; I agree it was one of the best things we've seen to date from the business press on the commercial development of the Internet.

Let me flesh out some of our thinking beyond what was said about MecklerWeb in that article, and attempt to share with you why we decided to create the service, some notion of how it will work, and what we envision its impact to be.

As it stands today, many companies such as your own are greatly interested in how they can leverage the Internet in pursuit of their business objectives. However, as you have experienced yourself, the obstacles to achieving corporate presence on the Internet can be daunting, to say the least. This is unfortunate, both for companies and for the net itself.

For companies, the Internet represents a truly open platform -- unlike most commercial online services -- for reaching new electronically connected markets on a global basis. Because commercial services such as America Online and CompuServe can only reach their own existing customer bases, the Internet offers a very substantial edge in this regard. However, to take advantage of the Internet's global reach, companies are typically faced with challenges they would perceive as constituting unacceptable risk in any other arena. These include the need to work with multiple vendors and consultants (many of which offer conflicting models or advice), the lack of fixed pricing, the lack of certainty as to effectiveness, and not least, learning curves steeper than Everest.

For the Internet, this state of affairs is hardly conducive to healthy growth. New users are coming onto the net in unprecedented numbers and straining existing resources, yet the governments and institutions that have traditionally underwritten Internet costs today have fewer, not more, resources to deal with this influx. Business involvement in the Internet is critical if it is to live up to its potential as a national resource (one of Al Gore's favorite themes, and appropriately so). In addition, much of the "pro bono" work that has gone into the Internet -- document collections, information management systems, and a lot of other great software -- has so far gone largely unrewarded. Such work cannot continue without new sources of funding beyond universities and libraries. Providing a mechanism for corporate involvement in the Internet will augment existing resources at a critical moment and provide employment for many thousands of highly capable knowledge workers.

But businesses need an on-ramp to the Internet and MecklerWeb was designed to provide it. Based on the World W