The rapid sublimation of the Internet into the commercial world has been nothing short of amazing, although in retrospect it seems like it was heading towards it all along. Early commercial networks like The Source and CompuServe had the right idea of providing information on the desktop on demand, but they were limited in both what they could offer and who they could offer these services to by both logistics and economics (namely establishing modem lines in every community, the need for the consumer to own a modem, etc.). The Internet, evolving at the same time, had the resources and the connections, but unless you were a government researcher or an academic, you weren’t allowed access. The creation of the commercial backbone by CIX bridged the gap between these two worlds, and the advent of the World Wide Web has provided the needed graphical user interface necessary for almost anyone to utilize the connectivity. Businesses are no longer wondering if they should become part of the online world, but how to do so and in what form.
Mary Cronin does a good job in Doing Business on the Internet and More Doing Business in the Internet of explaining what the “network of networks” offers businesses, mainly through the use of case studies of businesses who have already opened up an electronic storefront. Although this book is written and meant for managers and executives with little net experience, the case studies provide some insights even for long-time users. The methods of doing business on the Internet are fairly obvious–from moving customer service from one-to-one phone exchanges to the one-to-many exchange offered by newsgroups and updated online catalogs by FTP–but the case studies illustrate how these methods achieve results. This focus on the cost-benefit to the bottom line is what conservative managers are looking for before they dedicate resources to achieving an Internet presence.
The speed at which this part of industry is growing and changing is not lost, and can be best illustrated by the book itself. Published only last year, it has already been outdated in many areas. Mary Cronin spends a lot of time reassuring businesses that the “Acceptable Use Policy” of the National Science Foundation is no longer a hindrance to commerce on the Internet; this policy is hardly ever mentioned today, now that the commercial side is fully two-thirds of the Internet and growing daily. Cronin mentions the World Wide Web only in passing, while in the past year it has been the Web that has brought the Internet into the mainstream and will likely be the vehicle that the majority of Americans and the world will use to connect to businesses.
Change is hard to deal with, and grizzled net veterans are prone to reminisce about the “good ol’ days” when business was not a part of the Internet. It is likely that older business managers have fond memories of their own of days when acronyms like HTML and FTP were not part of their marketing plans. But, as Cronin correctly observes, the future is in increased connection and communication in all aspects of our lives, and someone is likely to use it to make money. This book shows that some people already have and provides some excellent tips on how to follow their example.
[Finished March 1996]