editorial for premiere issue of Internet Business Journal.


By Christopher Locke

Welcome to The Internet Business Journal. Thanks to vocal interest from all quarters of the Internet itself -- as well as from BusinessWeek, Wired, and many others -- this first issue already has a considerable international audience. It seems the time is right: mainstream business and computer trade publications are reporting on the Internet as never before; bookstores can't keep their shelves well enough stocked with the plethora of books appearing on the subject; and the current US administration is bullish on the technology. Meanwhile, the number of individuals and organizations gaining access to the Internet is growing exponentially.

But why a publication focused especially on the requirements of the business community? Everyone is familiar with the Not Invented Here syndrome, the insular notion that everything worth knowing can be found within the walls of one's own organization or institution. This usually tacit precept has often held the corporate mindset in an iron grip. Fortunately, it is beginning to break down in the face of global competition and the enormous time pressures brought to bear by the accelerating pace of product and service cycles.

Many Fortune-class firms have instituted a serious quest for "best practices" in many areas of operations. Intrinsic to this search is an admission that another company -- quite possibly in an altogether different industry -- may have a significant edge in customer service or research and development or purchasing or human resource management. Introspection is simply not good enough any more.

Organizations brave enough to examine their own shortcomings with respect to the not invented here mentality have made a simple decision: to talk to each other and share the business practices that seem to work best. The implications are mind-blowing. These companies will not only survive into the 21st century, but are also likely to become thriving high-performance dynamos. If you are among them, you will benefit from their collective experience; if not, they are likely to constitute your worst competitive nightmare.

These industry leaders have realized that the time has finally come to throw open the windows and let in some fresh air. But how? Communication between companies, especially competing companies, has not been exactly exemplary -- precisely because the not invented here syndrome was so powerfully enforced by corporate culture. What's needed is wide ranging discourse, a sort of global conference call with everyone on line at once. Most existing communications media -- newspapers, magazines, telephone, fax, broadcast -- just don't fit the bill. The Internet does.

From simple electronic mail to sophisticated emerging technologies for managing large document collections, the resources of the Internet offer businesses unprecedented opportunities to tune in to the world beyond their own borders. Technical people in large organizations have been reaping these benefits for years. System administrators, for example, can describe thorny problems in a specialized newsgroup and, within minutes, receive advice from colleagues around the world. The archived history of such feedback constitutes a knowledge base incorporating thousands of years of hands-on experience.

Now imagine that everyone in the organization -- from CEO to field service reps -- could tap into similar knowledge repositories relating to their own work. Unlike the projections of the still somewhat distant optically-cabled future, this scenario is possible today. As embodied by the Internet, the phenomenon is already well underway.

The overall impact of this universal discourse on business is impossible to predict, though a few guesses may be hazarded. It is widely acknowledged that being accessible to customers and listening carefully to their needs helps a company to respond more quickly with successful products and services. Many of those customers are already on the Net, and a surprising number of those that aren't are currently making plans to get connected. Remember when a fax machine seemed an option your company could afford to be without? That state of affairs didn't last long, did it? The same holds true today for a corporate Internet address. Companies that have no presence in this new arena will quickly fade from view.

But this presence needs to be very different from what most are used to. Hucksterism will be greeted with a high-decibel barrage of flaming abuse, and rightly so. Instead of hawking products, companies will have to learn to give back as much as they take: offering useful information about their industry or technology, for instance -- and maybe even interjecting some genuine vision into the exchange. In this new context, industry position will come to depend not on how closely you can guard your knowledge, but on how widely you can share it.

There has been much discussion recently about "intelligent agents," software modules that will purportedly profile your interests and independently explore vast information spaces in search of matching data or documents. These agents will depend on artificial intelligence techniques, many of which are either fairly crude or extremely speculative. While research along these lines may ultimately prove fruitful, most companies on the Internet cannot afford to wait for such futuristic "know-bots" to arrive.

Fortunately, the most intelligent agents ever "devised" are already on the payroll. Provided with Net access, employees at every level will increase their exposure to external knowledge and -- unlike software "agents" - - will learn more than most companies could hope to teach them using internal resources alone. Internet access is intrinsically empowering, a giant step toward the "learning organization" so many firms know they must eventually become.

But it's not all roses. The Internet is a daunting collection of online communities and information services that have evolved without top-down design. In many respects, the Net has created itself to serve its own immediate ends. Navigating this virtual discourse can involve frustration, disorientation and some very steep learning curves. While some of these drawbacks will be alleviated as the Internet attempts to accommodate its explosively expanding community of users, waiting for the ultimate user-friendly interface would unnecessarily postpone the benefits companies could be realizing today.

And that's where The Internet Business Journal comes in. As demonstrated in this premiere issue, we plan to deliver pointers to valuable information and sources, whether on the Net or off: suggestions on how to get hooked up, find answers to frequently asked questions, exchange e-mail with varied networks and systems, receive listserv files and postings, join USENET newsgroups, browse and retrieve information from around the world, even initiate new information services yourself. In addition, we will publish substantive articles from leaders in many fields related to the Internet.

Although it will eventually be published electronically as well, The Internet Business Journal will always be available on paper. Otherwise, we could not meet our primary goal: to reduce the hurdles that have prevented many companies from getting connected to the Internet in the first place. While many readers will be newcomers to this universe, we envision a heterogeneous audience; some will inevitably have far more experience than others. If you know more than most, you're a natural candidate to write an article, or inform our readers of a little known Internet resource, and we encourage queries, submissions and proposals along those lines. In any case, we hope more advanced readers will not fault us for tending to favor those less at home on the frontiers of the Internet and its virtual business community.

Our best hopes will have been realized if we can help establish a genuine community of interactive readers. In that spirit, all of us here at The Internet Business Journal extend an open invitation to all of you to send feedback on what you like, what you don't, and what you feel we may have missed -- or gotten hopelessly wrong. The Internet is far too vast for a handful of people to cover alone, and it certainly was not invented here.

Christopher Locke


Copyright (C) 1993 by Strangelove Press