September 26, 1996 -- International Business

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, September 26, 1996.

These sessions are scheduled for noon-1 PM US Eastern Time (GMT -4) every Thursday.

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For transcripts of other previous sessions and a list of future topics, click here.

For an article on how to make "business chat" work (based on this experience), click here.

Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts in particular URLs as they appear on-line. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).

Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see.

For transcripts of other sessions, click here.

Threads (reconstructed after the fact):


Richard Seltzer ( - 12:02pm -- The scheduled chat is on Business on the WWW. If you are here for that discussion, please identify yourself.

We're here to share experiences about doing business on the Internet -- particularly the World Wide Web. What works? What doesn't work? Why? What are the trends that matter? How can you/should you adapt to the Internet culture and environment?

I work for the Internet Business Group at Digital Equipment in Littleton, MA. In that capacity, I end up talking to people from large companies about how they can use the Web for business.

In a chat session like this things can get pretty frantic. It's sometimes difficult to follow the threads of conversation. And there's no time to write down interesting URLs and facts. So last week, I took a copy of the raw transcript and edited it to make the threads clearer and posted it at my own little Web site so anyone could take a look. You can see it at I plan to do the same today. Barring technical difficulties, I hope to have a transcript up later today. I'll post it at the same site, naming this one /chat11.html

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:05pm -- Today, while we'll (as usual) be open to questions of all kinds about business on the WWW, we would like to focus on international business over the Internet. Are using the Internet or your company's intranet for international business? Has it opened new markets for you? Has it reduced costs? If so, how? What problems have you encountered? What are you doing to deal with them?

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:10pm -- Hello Richard, I'm just going to listen for a little while.

WP How ( - 12:07pm -- Hello, this is WP How from Malaysia again. Sorry I'm late.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:08pm -- Hello, WP -- Glad you were able to connect. I realize it's after midnight where you are. We're just getting started.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:28pm -- All -- For those who are new here: this regular weekly chat session was initiated by the Boston Computer Society. That organization recently dissolved, but these sessions will continue. We did however in the past benefit from some publicity done by BCS, and most now build our own list of interested people to whom to send regular reminders to tune in here on Thursday. Please let me know if you'd like to be added to the list. (Send me email at Please help spread the word. And when you do tune in, please step forward and participate. Thank you.


Richard Seltzer ( - 12:06pm -- In previous sessions, we talked a lot about chat/forum and other collaborative tools. You might want to check the Web site CollaborativeStrategies which has a lot of material on that subject.

You also might want to check the Contact Consortium at They are into the three-D graphics, virtual reality approach to collaboration.


Richard Seltzer ( - 12:17pm -- Warren -- I'd think that international trade over the Internet would have enormous potential for lawyers. There are so few precedents, and the conflicts and tangles among national laws can be quite confusing, and no one can figure out yet where a transaction takes place. Have you had any clients/cases of that kind?

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:18pm -- Richard, I haven't personally had any such cases. But the issues are definitely a concern.

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:20pm -- The greatest problem is identifying the locus of an international transaction over the internet. Does it occur at the server location? At the client? At either parties principal place of business? This issue is still very much up in the air and will greatly affect the law which will apply to any particular transaction.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:20pm -- Warren -- Have you made an active effort to market your services to international clients? I'd think that companies outside the US trying to reach US markets by way of the Internet might need/want some advice on local legal complexities.

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:22pm -- Richard, I have not yet made an effort to target International clients. My focus is primarily on performing in-house counsel tasks for start-ups. Most major New York firms have international offices which no doubt are focusing on servicing that specific clientele.

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:22pm -- But that is nothing new.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:22pm -- Warren -- That problem of identifying the "locus" must be greatly increased in the case of international companies doing business with one another over the Internet. And of course when there are multinational teams within one company dealing with multinational teams within another. It seems like the better use a company makes of the Internet (taking advantage of its global reach) the more the legal headaches that can arise. But do the financial benefits outweigh the legal risks and costs today?

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:24pm -- The financial benefits absolutely outweigh the risks. As most businessmen will tell you, the law is generally only relevant when a problem arises. And in most commercial transactions, no problem occurs, or the parties can work it out on their own.

WP How ( - 12:32pm -- Warren -- that's true in my experience although we have inhouse lawyers to look through agreements before we sign them.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:30pm -- Warren -- That's certainly reassuring. Is there any rule of thumb as to what legal costs normally amount to a company as a percent of revenue? And is that likely to differ at all in the case of business over the Internet?

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:32pm -- Richard, I have no idea. I don't think the legal costs will appreciate significantly if the Internet is used v. other method of operation.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:24pm -- WP -- Have any legal issues arisen from your international use of the Internet? Are there opportunities that you have not followed up because of the complexities? Do you have legal counsel in the countries where you do business remotely?

WP How ( - 12:26pm -- Mainly we use the Internet for communications, not transactions. The closest we have come is to use email to place orders but these have to be followed by paper.


Richard Seltzer ( - 12:09pm -- WP -- Could you give us a quick run-down on how your company uses the Internet for international business? That includes intranet as well as connections to other companies.

WP How ( - 12:12pm -- We look for possible business partners over the Internet and usually send an email to start off. We usually get a reply and proceed from there with phone calls. Normally if there are several parties, we use speakerphones. So far, we have only experimented with Internet conferencing tools but find that these are not mature enough for our use.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:11pm -- WP -- Have you used and have you found useful any of the on-line trade shows/exhibits? I recently took at look at one for Korea at It looks quite good, but I'd be very interested in finding out if such projects are actually generating business.

WP How ( - 12:15pm -- Nope, we have not attended on-line trade shows. The main reason being that we do not know of them. Where would these events be listed in future?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:18pm -- WP -- I have a brief list of them that you can get to from a page of my favorite URLs at my Web site But I'll keep a look out and try to update that list. It's an area that is growing rapidly. Have any of you who are listening in had any experience with on-line trade shows? particularly ones with an international flavor.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:15pm -- WP -- How do you search for potential business partners? Searching the Web? Searching newsgroups? Business related mail distribution lists? Or simply circulating email among your existing contacts?

WP How ( - 12:17pm -- Actually we use all of the methods you mentioned in addition to traditional ones such as existing relationships and recommendations from our branches overseas.

Harold ( - 12:25pm -- Are there any contacts that anyone might suggest regarding any high technology needs that might be of interest in Malaysia?

WP How ( - 12:30pm -- Harold -- the latest buzzword in the IT industry in Malaysia is the Multimedia Super Corridor. Malaysia is formulating cyberlaws for international companies to relocate there.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:29pm -- Harold -- What's your main area of interest?

Harold ( - 12:42pm -- Richard: TechCentral has a staff of very experienced technologists and we would like to establish a business relation with anyone in Malaysia that could benefit from it.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:33pm -- WP -- Multi Media Super Corridor certainly sounds interesting. What would that consist of? Sound like perhaps an Internet Exchange, like the one that Digital recently announced in Palo Alto, CA. Do you know who is working on that project? Is it a government initiative? And what is involved? Fiber optic cable to cities and businesses? High-speed switching? Etc.

WP How ( - 12:36pm -- Richard -- MSC is a government initiative and covers the 40km between Kuala Lumpur and the new administrative center of Putra Jaya where all government agencies will be relocated. All transactions with the government will be paperless starting with the Prime Minister's office.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:39pm -- WP -- So, n other words, the initiative is mainly focused around access to government rather than providing a general utility for business? Is that the case? Or is the government connection just a first step?

WP How ( - 12:41pm -- Richard -- It's a first step to coerce all business transactions to be paperless.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:36pm --WP -- I've heard of major Internet initiatives in Singapore and S. Korea. Is Malaysia likely to compete in that arena?

WP How ( - 12:38pm -- Richard -- certainly. Both the government and the private sector are working hand in hand to make Malaysia the Internet hub of South East Asia.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:38pm -- WP -- While the US today seems to have advantages in the Internet -- this is where most of the servers and users are -- countries that focus their resources on improving their local Internet infrastructure and their international links could well leapfrog to a leadership position.

WP How ( - 12:40pm -- Richard -- Malaysia does not have to squeeze data into copper lines can we can begin by laying fibre optic cables. Many new townships and buildings are preparing for the future with fibre optics infrastructure.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:40pm -- WP -- Is your company directly involved in that effort? And are universities involved as well?

WP How ( - 12:42pm -- Richard -- Well, all I can say is we are involved. And yes, universities are getting a lot of the high bandwidth in the country.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:41pm -- WP -- Interesting. By starting with fiber you do have an opportunity to leap frog. Here, with so much investment in older technology, the temptation is great to squeeze every last bit of utility out of old copper lines.

WP How ( - 12:44pm -- Richard -- We not only do not have copper cables, we also do not have legacy networks.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:45pm -- WP -- Sounds like Germany after World War II -- blasted out of obsolescence; rebuilding with all the new stuff.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:43pm -- WP -- "Transactions"? You mean the government isn't just providing information on line but also enabling transactions? That's interesting. Are there public facilities/ kiosks that ordinary citizens without PCs/modems can use to connect? Or is that part of the overall plan?

WP How ( - 12:45pm -- Richard -- Yes you heard right. Transactions are in the pipeline. And talking about universities, a joint venture with MIT was announced today.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:47pm -- WP -- What can you tell us about that joint venture with MIT? I haven't heard about it.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:53pm -- WP -- Is that MIT branch just for research and technology development? Or will it also be a teaching facility? Will it be staffed primarily with people from the US? Or largely with local people?

WP How ( - 12:52pm -- Richard -- Basically a branch of MIT will be set up in Malaysia with relevant technology transfer and development work done locally.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:46pm -- WP -- But what about ordinary citizens? I can imagine business links and university links, but how wide spread as PCs among the general populace? I'd expect they'd be out of the price range of most people. Or do I have an out-of-date image of life in Malaysia? Has the standard of living risen dramatically?

WP How ( - 12:50pm -- Richard -- There are information kiosks and Internet kiosks in public places. The standard of living has risen but I think the price of PCs should drop to that to televisions before we see a computer in every home. Here's where we are counting on network computers or other cheap Internet access devices.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:52pm -- WP -- Here people talk about kiosks as a possibility, but I've never seen one. Are they located in public offices (like post offices) or in shopping malls/large stores? Does one have to pay a fee to get access? Are there long lines?

WP How ( - 12:54pm -- Richard -- The kiosks are mainly in shopping centres. I think there is some thought of over the counter service for post offices.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:56pm -- WP -- Is there a fee for using those kiosks in shopping centers? If so, about how much does it cost? And are they heavily used? Or are they just a curiosity for now?

WP How ( - 12:59pm -- Richard -- There is a time based fee for the kiosks and charge cards are available. The ones I see in shopping complexes are heavily utilised mainly for chatrooms.


WP How ( - 12:48pm -- Richard -- Back to the topic about international business, I would like to ask what image of me do you have? Does it affect your communications with me? Would you have trouble communicating if we met in person?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:50pm -- WP -- Interesting. In this medium, I don't form a visual image of the person I'm chatting with. I just deal with the words. In person, it's hard to say -- but it's possible that our accents and the rhythm of our speech would get in the way of us understanding one another. And, of course, we would not understand and would perhaps misunderstand our body language and facial expressions -- because that form of communication varies widely from one country to another and cannot be learned in school.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:55pm -- WP -- Another aspect of the "image" -- I realize that it's nearly 1 AM where you are. So I imagine you're probably getting ready for bed, and not in the least thinking about your appearance -- focusing only on your thoughts; which is really the best mode for business communication.

WP How ( - 12:56pm -- Richard -- About the cultural barriers in face to face communications. I think this is why online communications is a great way to start of an international relationship. By the time the first phone call is made and the first actual meeting taking place, the relationship would have already developed to a much more mature stage.

WP How ( - 12:57pm -- Richard -- In fact, in one instance, the negotiations took place almost entirely via email, faxes and phone calls. The face to face meeting was only for the signing off.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:58pm -- WP -- I agree. In instances like this picture phone kinds of connections with video and voice could simply get in the way. Though there might be some use of graphic avatars. I guess over time protocols will evolve for developing contacts -- starting with text and adding other capabilities as the parties develop a relationship.


Harold ( - 12:58pm -- WP: I would like to discuss the technological development in other areas, such as high performance manufacturing, sonar systems, robotics, etc. I will do this off line by email if it is ok with you.

WP How ( - 12:59pm -- Harold -- certainly.

Harold ( - 12:51pm -- WP: Do you have an email address that I can use to contact you?

WP How ( - 12:53pm -- Harold -- my email is

Warren Agin - Law Solutions ( - 12:32pm -- Well, got to go. See everyone next week.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:59pm -- All -- We are nearing the end of the hour. Thank you ever so much WP for joining us. I have learned much from this encounter and hope that you will be able to join us again next week.

Richard Seltzer ( - 1:00pm -- All -- I'll post a transcript of this session at later today. Please send me email with your followup comments and questions and also with suggestions on what we should focus on next week.

Richard Seltzer ( - 1:01pm -- All -- Also, please help spread the word. We are now operating without the support of the Boston Computer Society, which has dissolved. Please let me know directly if you would like to receive regular reminder messages about these sessions.

WP How ( - 1:02pm -- Richard -- well I've benefited lots from your articles and look forward to participating again next week.

Richard Seltzer ( - 1:03pm -- Thanks again, WP. And thank you, Harold, for joining us. Please send email with suggestions on future topics.


From: Harris Sussman <> Date: Thu, 26 Sep 1996 18:24:44 -0700

I won't be able to join in--

international issues include the availability and reliability of connections in many countries; what language to use--when will Internet have built-in translation?

Depending on the country, what is the state of "business" as a culture? In some cultures, communications and decisions are done by groups, not individuals--we need better group-user interfaces for Internet, so it's not just individual-to-individual. This could be done with displays, like speakerphones, so a group can participate. But so far, Internet seems to be monolingual, one-person activity.

On the other hand, Internet provides common resources and references across national borders--everyone can look at a site and discuss what they saw, everyone can have a group/virtual group chat; people can quickly receive and respond to text/graphic material.

I want to highlight Internet for international training--it makes most training--and certainly all looseleaf binders--obsolete. I think it transforms the way companies should use consultants and trainers.

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