The COOK Report on Internet -> NREN Gordon Cook, Editor and Publisher [SEE SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION AT END OF FILE]
COOK Report: Tell us how the MecklerWeb idea germinated. Was it really mainly the result of your analysis of the weakness of print publications as we reported in February, or were there other factors as well?
Locke: Oh, some other factors for sure. In the fall of last year as Editor of the Internet Business Report I was continually talking with business people who wanted to know how they could effectively capture the marketing and information brokering opportunities offered by the Internet. The more I thought about it, the more daunting the obstacles to the business community appeared. There was certainly no place these companies could call where someone would say, "For X thousand dollars, we can have you up and running in front of live Internet markets in three to four weeks."
No single company seemed in a position to serve the Fortune 1000, or the thousands of other companies that were clearly beginning to take a strong interest in the net. Bits and pieces of the required capabilities and resources were scattered about -- a fair number of connectivity providers; a few software outfits with great resource discovery tools; companies with information content ready for delivery.
Beyond that, I saw hundreds of professional associations in the world beyond the Internet, all of which already possessed stores of valuable information developed for their members. And further out still, I saw thousands of companies with no channel through which to express their accumulated knowledge of customer problems, innovative techniques for dealing with same, or informed concerns about industry issues. Mass-market advertising does not constitute a good channel for this type of content. For one thing, it'd be too damned expensive because markets today are too specialized and changing too rapidly to fit the traditional shotgun approaches of mass-advertising.
The intent of MecklerWeb is to bring the Fortune 1000 across the great divide and onto the Internet and establish powerful market presence there. By enabling this, we also want to show that the net is a viable alternative to the commercial online services.
Effective presence on the Internet will be achieved by companies that offer real informational value, not just advertising. Many technology firms have knowledge about business practices and problems that would benefit companies looking for solutions. While such a corporate knowledge base has genuine value to prospective markets, traditional communication channels are not cost effective. One-on-one meetings with clients are often the only choice available. However, such a knowledge base, if well organized and presented to the Internet community through a carefully crafted virtual mall and knowledge exchange like MecklerWeb, can constitute a highly effective attractor of new business.
COOK Report: It sounds as if you want companies to go far beyond simply describing their goods and services to a general public.
Locke: Yes. Just as we have a stock exchange to buy and sell shares in companies, we need a Knowledge Exchange with a phone number and an e-mail address. Such an Exchange would enable companies to plan an effective presence on the Internet. Companies need to know both the costs and timelines for creating such a presence so they can assess not only the risks but also the opportunities. Today there is no such Exchange that has achieved the following two critical prerequisites: a) commercial credibility, and b) critical mass.
Think of a successful mall. Anchor stores create the foundation for dozens of smaller businesses to sell their products. Co-location of the businesses attracts customer traffic that can support the whole operation. In a well designed mall, everybody benefits: the mall management, the store owners, and the customers -- because they get a wider array of products and services. In a physical mall we can also say that the local community benefits.
But the community we're talking about in the case of MecklerWeb is the global Internet. To remain intact and healthy in spite of exponential growth, the net needs the financial energy that only business involvement can supply right now.
COOK Report: So what will this virtual mall look like? How will it function?
Locke: MecklerWeb will be organized into topical domains of interest such as arts, technology, entertainment, medicine, sports, manufacturing, law, environment, education and so on. We will, as necessary, partition these large domains into specialized sub-areas. Professional associations are in fact social networks of people interested in such subjects. We are therefore enlisting such organizations to serve as "domain hosts" to run domain hubs around which user communities and corporate sponsors can gather.
These professional associations will provide knowledgeable discussion moderators, who will also select and organize multimedia content for each domain hub. Such associations are also well positioned to help MecklerWeb bring in corporate sponsors. To encourage this, we will share revenues with these groups so that they can pay very good salaries to moderators and also offset the costs of collection development and document conversion. We derive an added advantage in that our moderators or domain "managers" can play at least a somewhat neutral role in managing subject matter discussions that are likely to include competing corporations.
COOK Report: How are your domain organizers shaping up?
Locke: Well let me start by mentioning just one domain - the legal. Cornell University's Legal Information Institute will host our legal domain. LII's Tom Bruce -- who also wrote the Windows-based Cello Web client -- has been an invaluable contributor to the MecklerWeb planning process. By linking its WWW server with MecklerWeb, LII will contribute its extensive collection of legal sources. LII also brings the sort of professional expertise that we hope will characterize all of MecklerWeb's domains.
Here is an example of the synergy that can emerge from our domain organizers. Tom Bruce has also created a detailed description of MecklerWeb in software. We plan to take that description and load it into a special version of a soon-to-be-released commercial Web client that has been deprived of its ability to connect to the Internet so that what is now essentially a demo disk can be given away to press and to folk from Fortune 1000 companies.
One benefit of these disks will be for an executive who has no Internet connectivity. This person will be able to go into his or her office, close the door, load this into a standard Windows platform and take a tour of something that will look a bit like MecklerWeb -- viewing some material from each of our Core Technology Partners. It will show them what it will be like to navigate on the Internet using the World Wide Web. Most importantly, it will do this without requiring that they be already hooked up to the net. (Of course AlterNet's part of the disc based demo will include instructions about how to reach the AlterNet sales force.)
We're planning to share 20% of our gross revenues with domain hosts. Thus, if the Legal Information Institute helped us to bring in 20 paying corporate sponsors of the legal domain at $25,000 per year, this would create a pool of $100,000 a year for LII. This is a creative incentive to help us identify the best and most likely corporate candidates. We are leveraging not only these hosts specific knowledge of the various fields they represent, but also their knowledge of the corresponding market.
COOK Report: Explain a bit more about how that works. Why is this an advantage?
Why? Because if I had to go out and hire a direct sales force, it would be a damned expensive one because the sales force would need to be expert one day in medicine, another in law, another in engineering and so on. By partnering with the associations we gain the very best knowledge available of the respective markets. They can tell us off the top of their heads the top 50 sponsor candidates in each domain. How do they know who they are? Well, because these are the companies who buy their mailing lists, advertise in their print publications, or otherwise attempt to reach their constituency.
It is in all of our best interests that whichever organization hosts a domain not be perceived by corporate sponsors as a direct competitor. For instance, General Motors would not make a good host for an automotive domain -- Ford and Chrysler would not be likely to join in. However, a domain hosted by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, say, or maybe the American Automobile Association, would be neutral with respect to all three.
Part of the responsibilities of the domain host will be to provide a professional full time moderator who knows the subject content of the domain very well, can work in a Usenet style discussion effectively, and can select and organize materials to make them easily accessible in practice. The revenue sharing mechanism should provide a very good living for such a person.
Each domain will have a public hub where the association host resides. In the legal domain, for example, the Legal Information Institute will make its own calls as to what is relevant. The corporate sponsor areas will surround these domain hubs. The domain moderator decides what goes in the domain hub and the sponsors in turn populate their areas with whatever they feel is appropriate.
Well, I first want to qualify this a little. Aside from your article in the February COOK Report and a few columns I've written in Internet World, MecklerWeb has not yet been announced to the world at large. Nonetheless, I'm already getting phone calls, e-mail, faxes, you name it, from every quarter of the map. The interest seems even greater than we'd first imagined, which is terrific of course, but a little spooky too. We don't want to be killed by our own success, which is given the gold rush conditions in the Internet arena right now is a matter of concern.
With that in mind, we have done absolutely no pro-active pitching of MecklerWeb to potential association partners. There are literally thousands of candidates out there -- and at some point we'll contact many of them directly about what we're doing -- but to date, we have only worked with those who have come to us expressing an interest in participating in the initiative. And of course I'd be happy to talk about several of those.
Educom -- a consortium of 600 colleges and universities -- will host MecklerWeb's educational computing domain. We have also invited Educom's existing corporate sponsors, of which there are about 100, to join in.
Kaleidoscope Media -- a southern California-based group that recently launched a highly successful World Wide Web server for artists -- will host the MecklerWeb arts domain. As might be expected, their server includes a high proportion of graphics, sound files and even video clips. It will be interesting to see which companies elect to sponsor this domain area -- quite likely some big names.
Bill Washburn, executive director of the Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX), has been an invaluable sounding board for MecklerWeb design ideas. As a direct result of his encouragement, we are offering free initial presence on the system to any CIX member organization that wishes to join in this initiative.
A very special domain will be our Business-to-Business domain composed of companies offering value-added services or products to our client base -- for example, HTML consulting groups who would assist other clients in designing and shaping their on line presentations. This will be like one-stop shopping for services that we think will be very useful to our clients over and above what we offer for the $25,000 which is basically presence on the system and access to a large Internet-connected audience. This fee will not include the HTML mark-up -- there is simply too much variability in the material to allow us to flat-price such a service. Instead, we will point our clients to various conversion services. One such is Passage Systems in California which can convert client materials into HTML files that can be read by means of the Web.
Another consulting service that may be required is help in selecting appropriate material to apply HTML to in the first place; deciding how documents should be linked via hypertext; figuring out what proportion of graphics to text works best, and so on. Services in this area will include those offered by companies such as The Internet Group and Ogilvy & Mather Direct. The former is a Web-savvy startup; the latter a household word in the Fortune 1000.
We're also working with various content providers. For example, American Cybercasting will provide some portion of USA Today. Jay Machado, author of Bits & Bytes Online will share his content and perspective. Demand Research will provide a database of contact information on thousands of American companies; Reference Press, which publishes the Hoover's Handbook series, will provide profiles of the same organizations, and on thousands of additional international firms and emerging businesses. Individual Inc., which gleans stories from over 300 electronic news feeds, will offer a daily "newspaper" about the Internet and related developments.
All such outfits face the challenge of providing real value -- and thus creating an effective market presence -- yet not giving away the farm. If they put their whole data base up there why would you ever need to buy their products? One of the ideas we have is to create on a daily basis dynamic hypertext links between the Individual Inc. feed of news on the Internet (see below) and the Hoover's Handbook series. This would permit someone to click on a company name mentioned in the news feed and go immediately to the Hoover's Handbook two-page profile on that company. If these pages -- that change on a daily basis -- are the only ones from its books that Hoover gives away, then they still have plenty of information to sell. Having given them a free sample of the value their products provide, Reference Press will then be happy to sell MecklerWeb users access to their entire database for $9.95 a month. The synergies along these kinds of lines are really interesting for us to explore and develop.
Let me say a few quick things about other content providers. Fast Company, a new business magazine that describes itself as a cross between Rolling Stone and Harvard Business Review will share some of its content. GlasNews, a journal devoted to linking Western and Russian interests will likewise offer its pages on MecklerWeb. We will also offer content from Inside Multimedia, an influential UK- based technology newsletter.
Some of the many other companies that have agreed to participate in the MecklerWeb launch include the Bureau of National Affairs, EDS, Interleaf, the Maloff Company, NetManage, Spry, McGraw-Hill and Trusted Information Systems. Many more have requested further information about the initiative.
Locke: Your question naturally leads into a discussion of our five Core Technology Partners: AlterNet, DEC, Enterprise Integration Technologies (EIT) and WAIS, Inc. Each of these outfits has agreed to provide substantial backing for MecklerWeb in the form of contributed products and services.
We first approached AlterNet -- or UUNET -- in Falls Church, Virginia, and told them we could pull this initiative off if we just had the pipes to run it on. After considerable discussion, the company agreed to provide the Internet connectivity MecklerWeb will require -- and that's no trivial ante given our plans. We are proud to have landed a partner that, to our minds after much investigation, represents best-of-breed among the major Internet access providers.
We then went to WAIS, Inc., the folks who have crafted one of the best resource discovery tools on the Internet today. The Wide Area Information Server system (which is what WAIS stands for) consists of network publishing tools that incorporate highly sophisticated automated indexing technology. Both the company and their technology promise to help people make better sense of the net's vast information stores. The WAIS information retrieval technology is a natural complement to the information browsing orientation of the World Wide Web; search and hypertext are far more valuable in combination than either by itself. A Web site can, in effect, be WAIS indexed. One of the menu items can be to search for something on that site using WAIS. You fire off a query in WAIS for a search string or an index word. Doing this will create an additional Web page on the fly, with all the hits listed as hypertext links.
John Duhring at WAIS immediately grasped our plans and has been an enthusiastic supporter from our first conversations. As a result of many such talks, WAIS has agreed to provide MecklerWeb with the commercial implementation of its WAIS server. The company is also working with Dow Jones and Encyclopedia Britannica to deliver some very interesting content indeed, and we are hopeful that synergistic business relationships will naturally emerge between these WAIS customers and MecklerWeb.
In addition, we were obviously also going to need some pretty hefty computing power -- enough to launch the world's largest commercial Web server. Since MecklerWeb will be available at no charge to anyone connected to the Internet, we expect to take a lot of hits.
The first computer company we went to seemed more interested in how to limit its exposure rather than in facilitating our unlimited growth. We flew to the west coast to make our presentation to these folks. They simply didn't seem to have a corporate-level Internet strategy into which they could fit the message we brought. They asked: what's the cap on our resource allocation here? Why, you could take hundreds of thousands of hits on this server every day. That's precisely our intention we replied. Gee, that's a pretty open- ended commitment -- how about we give you a starter kit?, they said. How about we go talk to DEC, we replied. And, fortunately for us and our beggars-can-be-choosers approach, it turned out that DEC -- the second computer company we went to -- instantly clicked to the MecklerWeb plan, and saw it as highly conducive to meeting its own Internet objectives.
After seeing a very competently produced DEC video presentation at an Internet show in Boston on March 1, I got the name of the right person to contact at DEC from Lisa Thorell at Dataquest. I cold-called Russ Jones, who grasped our proposition immediately -- and in three business days I had a top-level corporate commitment from DEC. The company has an enormous focus on the Internet -- not only for hardware but also in services. Something like thirty percent of their business today is in systems integration. They build Internet firewalls and provide many other related services.
When he called me back Russ asked: What do you think your requirements are likely to be? I replied: We want to take as many hundred thousand hits per day as we can possibly get, as fast as we can get them, moving into the millions as soon as possible. Despite the open-ended needs we described, DEC agreed to cover them. My response was basically: wow!
As a result, the Digital Equipment Corporation will provide MecklerWeb with an Alpha system fully capable of handling the conceivable load, and also cover our disk requirements. DEC has also offered to contribute systems integration talent to help launch the initiative. DEC will be available to assist our clients as they opt to build their own Web servers internally -- a "graduation" process we will encourage -- and help to facilitate through our Core Technology Partners -- wherever we can.
Enterprise Integration Technologies is the primary software technology arm of the CommerceNet project that will link up many Silicon Valley hi-tech firms. EIT has agreed to contribute their commercial Web server to MecklerWeb -- along with the robust encryption and authentication that system will enable -- as soon as it is ready for production use. EIT's work in this area is critical to the development of a viable commercial Internet. As with our other Core Technology Partners, we will also link EIT's Web server site into MecklerWeb.
COOK Report: Are there other similar partnerships in the works?
Locke: In addition to our Core Technology Partners, we've also developed a sort of matched set of Core Business Partners.
Dun & Bradstreet will participate as a core business partner in MecklerWeb, providing key information and services for business transactions. Discussions are underway to determine potential contributions from several of D&B's subsidiaries, possibly including A.C. Nielsen, Dataquest, Dun & Bradstreet Information Services, the Gartner Group, Moody's Investors Service, and the Reuben H. Donnelley company.
Edelman Worldwide Public Relations will coordinate all MecklerWeb's press relations, both online and through traditional media channels. Edelman Technology Communications recently managed the highly effective introduction of CommerceNet to the world business community.
EDS will contribute management consulting talent to help engineer the business processes involved in efficiently bringing MecklerWeb partners and clients online. EDS has significant experience in this area as well as hands-on familiarity with the special requirements posed by the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Ogilvy & Mather Direct will design MecklerWeb's "look and feel." This division of O&M has over ten year's experience in online advertising, yet instantly understood our very different approach to corporate presence on the Internet. Through their presentation of themselves on MecklerWeb, we think they will help demonstrate to our clients some of the exciting things that can be done with these technologies today.
COOK Report: How will the tools and systems you've talked about interoperate?
Locke: Because they are already open Internet technologies, nothing special has to happen for them to work together.
COOK Report: OK, but say more about how WAIS and Web will be combined.
Locke: There are two fundamental approaches to information retrieval. Unfortunately, these have often been at war with one another. One is search and retrieval which says that if you give me a word or some combination of words I can find whether they occur in a chunk of text. The other modality is browsing which today basically equals hypertext. Here you have text that humans have organized by adding links to other related text so that your knowledge is laid out somewhat like the shelves of a library, where if you find one volume of interest you are likely to find other volumes on related matters nearby. But bring the search and retrieval capabilities of WAIS together with the browsing and hypertext capabilities of the World Wide Web and you have what we should have had along -- two complimentary technologies aiding people in getting to relevant information. >From a WAIS "hit" on a keyword you can browse outward into information that an organizer has decided belongs together because it is semantically related.
COOK Report: What's your architecture?
Locke: Initially we'll becoming out of DEC's Network Operations Center in Palo Alto California. Part of what we are doing is proving the viability of the technology model. At some point in the future, we could go to Web servers in multiple locations, but for the time being we are carefully feeling our way.
COOK Report: When will your service be available?
Locke: We will formally announce our plans at Mecklermedia's Internet World Conference in San Jose on June 1. Our Core Technology Partners and quite a few of our association partners and content providers will participate in that event. We intend to be open for business within 90 days of the announcement -- so that would be by September 1.
One of the principles that we are leveraging is concurrent engineering. Rather than start with a fully elaborated top down plan, we said: why don't we get together with the best and the brightest and do it together. We'll make MecklerWeb available on a private basis to those organizations we believe can help us in this respect before we open it up to the world at large.
We are obviously not going to open on day one with the entire Web populated with everything that we think belongs there. The process of bringing in new association partners to seed new domains will continue for quite a while. Also, we will not be likely to bring up a new domain without some minimum number of charter sponsors.
COOK Report: How does the financial structure work?
Locke: We have listened to a lot of very smart people on this score. One message came though strongly: don't charge the global Internet audience for access. Consequently it will be free to the world. Income will derive solely from corporate sponsorships of $25,000 per year.
We had given some thought to mediating monetary transactions and taking a percentage -- say %5 -- of each. But one thing that caused us to forgo this has been our belief that authentication and encryption are not quite ready for prime-time on the Internet. The potential legal exposure from having a half million credit card numbers in a database and having it cracked was enough to... give us pause, you might say.
The other side of it was that the transaction processing requirements -- in terms of sheer computing power -- were fairly daunting. We thought that trying to mediate financial transactions would substantially delay our launch date and cause us to miss the window of opportunity for what we could offer near term.
Through our partnership EIT, a lot of the security required to do handle such transactions will become available to us. However, this will still, of course, not give us the processing power required. Given our model of partnerships with other organizations, it's unlikely that we'll undertake to provide this ourselves. Once we've proved the general viability of what we're doing, we think it'll be pretty easy to find a partner with such capabilities. In short, our sponsors will certainly be able to sell goods and services, but they will do this on their own -- via email, fax, 800 numbers or whatever avenue -- without our direct intermediation.
Our audience will not be "ours" in the same way that America Online's customers are theirs. These folks are free agents on the Internet, not "clients" in the usual sense at all -- for one thing, they will pay us nothing for our service. If they decide they want to make a transaction -- send a Visa card over e-mail for instance -- it's up to them. Of course, until such time as we provide such services, we also won't have our hands in sponsors' pockets for that %5 -- so the initial-phase scenario has an upside as well.
COOK Report: Why are you charging everyone the same annual fee?
Locke: Well consider a company like GE that makes everything from toaster ovens to locomotives. We doubt that they could present their entire breadth adequately without taking multiple presences on MecklerWeb and using them to target different constituencies. General Electric consumer electronics, GE medical division, GE locomotive, and so on.
Or consider a company like Interleaf. They'd want to present themselves one way to a legal community as having good support for document assembly, for example. If they were talking primarily to information systems managers, they'd want to take a significantly different approach.
COOK Report: Does the $25,000 then only buy exposure within a single domain?
Locke: Yes. If MecklerWeb is as effective as we envision it to be, we see larger companies taking multiple presences to present themselves effectively to quite disparate micro-markets.
To understand our thoughts about pricing, you should consider each domain area as being similar to a hardcopy publication -- an online magazine or journal. Note that we will have to have staff who can deal with people from a large company taking presences in multiple domains and that the people responsible for each domain within a company will likely be different.
While it is not cast in stone, we are trying to keep our pricing model as flat as possible. We think that we are offering a compelling deal because of the very effective touch MecklerWeb will allow our sponsors in the often highly specific market niches they are trying to reach. That touch is the ability to demonstrate their intelligence and insight to target audiences in a way that just isn't possible with mass-market advertising.
COOK Report: Tell us more from the user perspective about how you will be organized.
Locke: At the home page or close to it, we'll have a screen saying here are the top level domains. think of a mall with a sign that says You Are Here and here is a categorization of what you will find inside. Because we are a virtual mall, we can slice and dice this along different dimensions. Look here by category of businesses. If you know a name of a business, enter it here. We'll offer users both a search and a browsing capability to decide where they want to go. For example if MDs log in, they are going to ask straight off how do you find medical related information? We'll be sure that they can find out very quickly.
To digress momentarily: One of our content providers will be Individual Inc. They have 300 online sources of daily news feeds. Their customers give them profiles of data that they are looking for and Individual matches these profiles against their news feeds on a daily basis. Individual will contribute to MecklerWeb at no cost to us, and hence no cost to our users, the EFF feed that they have put together the Internet, information infrastructure and NII. This feed will appear every day.
Now lets go back to that MD. Any such MD is coming to us with a couple of things -- a computer, an internet connection, a Web client. It is conceivable that this MD also has an interest in the Internet and might just want to take a look at this Individual feed rather often. Now this MD may get the idea he could have a profile on medical data of interest. He could email Individual and say how much would a feed on Oncology cost? The moral of the story is that you want to have good topical partitioning that gets people into the right areas, but you don't want it to be so hermetically sealed that you rule out serendipitous cross-overs from one area of interest to another.
COOK Report: What has surprised you? What's turning out somewhat different from your initial expectations?
Locke: I originally thought that this would be a sort of self-selling idea to the technology partners. Some companies didn't quite get it, and of course, we did not partner with those outfits. We have put a lot of thought into articulating the model in telephone conversations, on the net, in Internet World, in The COOK Report and so on. I have had many quite lengthy conversations about MecklerWeb -- such as the one I'm having with you -- perhaps several hundred of them at this point. At the end of the day, I often feel like the telephone is still glued to me head. E-mail only works with organizations already on the Internet, and not all our potential charter partners and sponsors are hooked up yet -- the whole point is to get them there.
We have been willing to put this time and effort into it because as I said before, we believe in the concurrent engineering model: continually refining what you are doing with the smartest, best informed devil's advocates you can get your hands on. They will help you identify your shortcomings. One thing that has been very gratifying is that absolutely no one has thought this a bad plan. That's been a surprise. We have run across a couple people who have said "this model doesn't work for me." These folks tend to be publishers. One came right out and said: we don't find this compelling because we think it might be competitive. Other than that, we've had enormously positive response from those who explore the model with us and critically pick it apart. Many have come away from such conversations saying: "Wow! This is really possible, isn't it?" Responses like that have kept me going through some tough slogging over the past four months.
We now know that corporate interest in the Internet is at least as high as we initially suspected. MecklerWeb by any other name is an idea whose time has come -- whether we did it or someone else did. Whoever does it, somebody needs to reduce the hurdles for industry to use the net. Otherwise, four or five years from now we'll look back and say: Remember all that stuff in 1994 about opportunities on the commercial Internet? Isn't it too bad that we are left with the equivalent of what we had in commercial television 30 years ago: CBS, NBC and ABC -- except they are going to be called America Online, Compuserve and Prodigy. The commercial Internet would be something that never quite came together. And if truly viable commercial Internet doesn't jell, the net as a whole could be in for serious problems. This is a case of "They're already coming and we haven't even built it yet!"
If we can create a legitimate commons for commerce on the internet, there will be money pouring into the infrastructure. This is what our partners are looking for. In the case of DEC, we will give them early entre into those of the Fortune 1000 who are looking at building their own Web servers and who as a consequence will need hardware and systems integration assistance. In the case of AlterNet, we will funnel qualified clients for enterprise-wide connectivity into their marketing operation. For EIT and WAIS, we provide prospective software buyers. We also feel that if there is no alternative like a MecklerWeb, the green-card lawyer types are likely to proliferate and you will have outlaw advertisers all over the net.
I got involved simply because I didn't see it happening by itself. Commercial Internet services are popping up like weeds, but I don't see any that have a solid sense of marketing. Marketing does not simply equal advertising. It entails a fundamental understanding of what vendors are trying to accomplish and what buyers are likely to perceive as value. Unless they are quite well established, I don't see many technology companies having a good sense of what marketing even means. Most still believe that the world will beat a path to their door for that better mousetrap they've still got in R&D.
COOK Report: What else have you learned?
Locke: We started out asking what were the areas in which we should constitute domain hubs. We looked at Roget's Thesaurus, the Dewey Decimal System, the Library of Congress Subject Headings -- all very intellectually stimulating, and the utterly wrong approach! We quickly decided to be market driven rather than try to create some overarching epistemological map of all human endeavor. It is much more profitable to work along lines of least resistance -- that is, with organizations that come to us with a clear interest in what we're doing. That's a lot more bottom-up approach, but the results will better reflect the real interests and needs of the communities we represent and speak to.
COOK Report: So the domain moderators are there to advise and coordinate, and recruit corporate clients but they are not there to extend any control to content of corporate presentations?
Locke: Absolutely. The "out of control" part of our "fast, cheap, and out of control" slogan means -- that we are not into constraining or manipulating anyone. We are setting up the opportunity, then getting out of the way -- off-loading tremendous freedom to association moderators and corporate sponsors. We are not going to give them content guidelines or restrictions, and we are not, conversely, responsible for what they think or say. We'll give them the best advice we can, for what it's worth, but beyond this they're on their own. MecklerWeb will probably be a regular hotbed of Darwinian natural selection. Some companies well intuitively read their markets' interests clearly, and therefore do quite well, while others may make fools of themselves by relying on hyperbolic cant and hucksterism. What is the vendor equivalent of "Caveat emptor"? I forgot all my Latin, but maybe we should post the slogan over our home page.
COOK Report: Are you providing advertising or content or a little of both?
Locke: Interesting question. The print media has tried to divide the world in two -- it's either content or advertising. We believe that there is a third division, that there is genuine corporate content representing real knowledge, real experience and real value. That is a very different animal than advertising, and it is a a much more powerful new-business attractor in this new medium.
Let me give you an example based on one of our charter partners, EDS. Here is an organization that is rubbing shoulders with customers and potential clients on a daily basis. Before they close any sale they need to demonstrate their intelligence about issues relating to some specific market -- their insight as to potential opportunities and obstacles -- in order to convince prospects to take them seriously. This is the kind of information that EDS must find a way to transmit if it is to sell anything. Now, if you look around, there are no traditional channels whereby this type of knowledge can be cost effectively communicated. Certainly not through ads in Business Week or 30-second spots on CNN. To do this today you typically put someone on a plane and fly them to another city to have a one-on-one meeting with a prospective client. We think that MecklerWeb will quickly become the vector of choice for moving knowledge of this sort. Among other things, it will be an effective way of presenting the information generally contained in the capabilities section of a paper-based RFP response.
Still, this is more the boilerplate part. Much more powerful will be a company's participation in the ongoing discussion groups each domain will provide. This is an opportunity to listen carefully to what the market is asking for, reading its likes and dislikes, and responding directly with ideas and suggestions based on previous experience. Such involvement will build enormous credibility and prestige for companies that understand how to provide genuinely useful information and advice rather than over-excited marketing pitches.
COOK Report: Is there anything you'd care to add before we finish?
Locke: Well, to sum up, we are providing integration on two fronts. On the technology front, we felt that no single company had what it took for all of this. We needed to put together the various pieces I've described here to make it easier for our intended clients to get on the Internet. The need for fast, creative alliance building was clear from the start, and we're proud of what we've assembled so far: a set of truly world-class partners.
The other front is marketing integration: gathering together and organizing the presentation of many many different kinds of associations and companies, and creating an infrastructure in which that could work -- a Big Tent, if you will, with high visibility. Too much of what happens on the net is tantamount to preaching to the choir. In our view, an effort like this needs to get its message out beyond the borders of the Internet -- become news that touches the mainstream business world. Few net-based companies can individually achieve that kind of result, but as more than "the sum of the parts," MecklerWeb will be able to do just that.
Eventually we will face the question of whether or not clients should remain physically on our system year-after-year or move to their own Web servers. When they are ready to graduate to that option, we will simply install a pointer to their server -- which is another way of saying that their home page will still be there in MecklerWeb. This change will have absolutely no impact on our pricing. These sponsors will still pay us $25,000 per year.
Clients who build their own servers will achieve certain benefits. They'll have greater -- that is to say, more local -- control over updates and additions. As many will bring the HTML conversion function in-house at this point, they will no longer to pay an external service for this -- though that will be an option all along anyway.
MecklerWeb will clearly need to limit the amount of information a company can put on our server. We want to be very generous here, but we need some protection from the client who says: $25k? Great! Here's our three terabytes of data! However, for clients who build their own WWW systems internally, there will be no such cap on the amount of information they can serve from their side of the link.
Because we will charge the same fee whether clients are on our system or theirs, we will have no motivation to try and hold them captive to our server. Remember that we are "out of control" by our own admission. But that has a serious meaning here: we are not into control or manipulation of any sort. In this, we feel we differ markedly from the commercial online services. Rather than hold our clients hostage within some limited proprietary enclave, we will strongly encourage open Internet cultural practice and the proliferation of the World Wide Web into the corporate mainstream.
COOK Report: Well, the last part sounds wonderful, but why on earth would your clients pay you anything once they have brought up their own servers? Why would they need you at all at that juncture?
Ultimately, what these clients will continue to pay us for is not disk space and bit pipes, but corporate presence in front of specific online markets. Just having a Web server and a Universal Resource Locator doesn't give you that, as many companies have already discovered. What we are selling is not a physical system so much as the facilitation of access to various audiences that will converge on MecklerWeb from around the global Internet. In many ways, we think that MecklerWeb is beginning to look like a model for 21st century business -- how commerce is going to be conducted in a networked environment embedded within a global economy.
COOK Report: OK, thanks. That should give our readers plenty to think about.
Locke: My pleasure entirely.