December 5, 1996 -- Impact of Search Engines on Internet Business

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, December 5, 1996.

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

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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.

Threads (reconstructed after the fact):


Richard Seltzer ( - 11:55am -- 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.

I also have my own personal Web page -- which is content rich and no frills -- which I do for practically nothing and draws a fair amount of traffic and attention.

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 /chat20.html

Richard Seltzer ( - 11:58am -- Today, we plan to continue our discussion on the impact of search engines on Internet business. My book The AltaVista Search Revolution was just published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill so this topic is foremost in my mind right now. But, as always, we welcome any questions and insights related to Internet business.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:01pm -- By the way, if you'd like to ask questions about this topic in person, I'll be at Borders Book Store in Framingham tonight at 7:30 and at Quantum Book Store in Cambridge on Monday at 12:15 PM.

Todd ( - 12:01pm hi.

Bruce B. Platt, Comport COnsulting, ( -- Hi Richard, I'm back. I will have to leave early however to see a customer.

Bruce B. Platt, Comport Consulting, ( - Are you coming to NY Area?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:04pm -- Bruce, yes I'll be in New York next week at Internet World in the Javitts Center. From Wed. to Friday at the Digital booth.

Bruce B. Platt, Comport Consulting, ( --Richard, I'll be there too, so we can chat in person

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:11pm -- Bruce -- Yes, I look forward to seeing you at Internet World.

BOND ( - 12:04pm -- Hey, I think buisness on the internet is intalengarted.

Beany1 ( - 12:16pm -- Hello All!

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:17pm -- Welcome, Beanyl -- What's your area of interest? How can we help you?

Selling Books over the Internet

vic ( - 12:00pm -- Richard: I want to help a friend who is an author market one of her books. She has a bout 1000 copies in her basement that we want to sell. What do you recommend?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:03pm -- Vic, that's a question I can relate to. My basement is full of books as well. I self-published a couple of mine about 20 years ago, and have lots of boxes left over. What I did, and what I recommend, is put the full text on the Web -- it's easy to get Web space. TIAC and other Internet providers give about 10 Mbytes of free space with a SLIP/PPP account. Create your own page. Post your work there. Add the URL to AltaVista and do other such things to let other search engines know you're around. (check my article on how to publicize a Web site for free over the Internet).

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:06pm -- Vic -- The important thing is to make your text available on the Web in ways that it can be found with AltaVista etc. Personal experience -- My children's book The Lizard of Oz was found on my site by a published of interactive CD ROMs. They found the book with AltaVista. Sent me email because they were looking for content of that kind. And within two weeks I had a contract. The CD is due out in Feb. I also got a query from a movie producer in Iceland about a movie script of mine I had posted on my Web site. Nothing is likely to come of that, but it was a kind of opportunity I wouldn't have imagined.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:08pm -- Vic -- Last thought -- check my Web site There you'll find a pointer to "Basement full of books" a site that lists books for sale by their authors. There's no charge to get your work listed there. It's not likely to sell many books, but it's a start.

vic ( - 12:07pm -- By putting the whole text on the Web, however, aren't we removing the motivation to buy the book?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:09pm -- Vic -- The more text you provide on the Web the more likely you are to sell books. People won't read the whole thing on line (unless they are blind, using voice conversion devices). And it is far too expensive to print out a whole book. They read, they like, they buy.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:13pm -- Vic -- One other piece of advice. Be sure to make it clear that you retain the rights to the books you post. You want to make it so people feel free to copy the work in electronic form (letting their friends know about it), but you want to retain the commercial rights, the right to any print version.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:16pm -- Vic -- By the way, plain text -- the contents of books -- works great with search engines. Remember it is text not graphics that gets indexed.

What's different about AltaVista?

AJ ( - 12:05pm -- What does distinguish the Alta Vista search engine?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:10pm -- AJ, for me the main distinguishing feature is that AltaVista is full-text search. They index every word. That opens up all kinds of opportunities for interesting searches.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:11pm -- anonymous -- What's your main interest with regard to search engines?

AJ ( - 12:16pm -- I just started using the Internet for primaryl legal sources, and then found myself using it to pursue interests from news to recipes for buffalo wings.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:18pm -- AJ -- Interesting. Have you tried LawCrawler. That's a law-focused Web site (one that using AltaVista in the background).

AJ ( - 12:21pm -- I have seen LawCrawler, and I know I have sites bookmarked that have it, but I am not sure I have actually used it yet.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:19pm -- AJ -- By the way, for news, have you tried using AltaVista to search the newsgroups? It's a good way to get up-to-date info. That index is updated continuously. With Web files there's a delay because it takes a finite time to visit and retrieve info from over 30 million pages. The newsgroup articles go straight to AltaVista in a continuous feed.

AJ ( - 12:26pm -- For news, I have been going to sites such as (besides and NYTimes) CNN and recently MSNBC, have also used PointCast -- how would you use Alta Vista to search newsgroups?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:28pm -- AJ -- In AltaVista, there's a button that you click to toggle between Web and Usenet. Click the arrow to see the choice. Then click on Usenet. The basic commands for search are the same as with Web, but there are some additional targeted searches you can do related to the structure of newsgroup messages. e.g. from: to: subject: etc. Check the online Help or the book (AltaVista Search Revolution) for details.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:31pm -- AJ -- I generally pay little attention to the commercial press (read the headlines on Sunday, listen a bit to NPR on the way to and from work). But if there's something that's happening that I consider major and very interesting or important, I immediately search the newsgroups to get all the detail. (The radio just keeps repeating the same sound bytes over and over). I'm usually interested in figuring out not just what happened, but what the implications are, and not just to a local US audience, but rather to the world. The immediate candid postings of people around the world in newsgroups usually give me what I'm looking for (often including first-hand immediate accounts).

Todd ( - 12:41pm -- Richard - when you say "search the newsgroups" youre implying AltaVista? So the usual indexing lag does not apply to newgroups?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:44pm -- Todd -- Yes, AltaVista receives a continuous feed of over 14,000 newsgroups and indexes those articles very frequently. So you can and do receive up-to-date information. (Also AltaVista serves the newsgroup articles to you directly -- the items reside on the AltaVista systems rather than you clicking to go to somewhere else and sometimes being disappointed that the Web page is temporarily inaccessible or has gone away.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:46pm -- In case you didn't notice, I'm a big fan of newsgroups -- especially with a search engine to navigate them. I can enter a very specific query and get a list of all articles across all newsgroups that have relevant info. If the search is finetuned to my specific needs, I can bookmark the search results and launch a new search of that kind any time I want by just clicking on the bookmark. It's like creating your own cross-group newsgroup. (Also, helps you find out about interesting groups that you didn't know existed -- who can keep track of 14,000 different groups?)

Metatags and Netiquette

RD Garnett ( - 12:13pm -- gday all.. when considering the many meta tags is it recommended to place these on all pages or just the "main page. obvioously the exposure would be greater on all pages...but does this conform to "netiquette"?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:15pm -- RD Garnett -- Good question. Keep in mind that AltaVista indexes every word of every page. To AltaVista there is nothing special about a home page. All pages are created equal. Hence, if the text of your pages (HTML title and first few lines of text) doesn't make it clear what the page is about, you should put meta tags on all of them. That means a description tag tailored for that particular page and also a keyword tag (which many of your pages might have in common).

RD Garnett ( - 12:19pm -- thanks richard ( please bear with my typing!) the idea of "stuffing" a web page with keywords..either by comments, or small type....what is the industry feel on this it appropriate?..accepted...?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:22pm -- RDGarnett -- There's no benefit to "stuffing" at least with AltaVista. It only takes account of the first two instances of a given word or phrase. Further repetition gets you nothing. Also, comments are not indexed at all. They are considered private communications of the Webmaster. Put whatever you need into a keyword metatag -- that's its purpose -- mainly for synonyms, alternate ways that people might want to look for you. And the user doesn't see the metatag (unless doing View Source) so it is not at all an issue of netiquette.

vic ( - 12:26pm -- RD: What kind of business are you in?

RD Garnett ( - 12:29pm -- vic...I manage 3 websites, targeting the traveller to Australia, New Zealand and the South-Pacific...

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:32pm -- RD Garnett -- Are you located in Australia/New Zealand?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:33pm -- RD Garnett -- By the way, there's an AltaVista mirror site in Australia (for faster response). The main AltaVista site has a pointer to there.

RD Garnett ( - 12:34pm -- nope..."real live" offices in Seattle..and the sites reside on a server in Vancouver B.C. Can i ask why you would ask?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:41pm -- RD Garnett -- I asked out of curiosity. In a forum like this, participants can be physically located anywhere. (A few weeks ago we had someone from Malaysia tune at at midnight his time).

vic ( - 12:39pm -- RD: Plug your sites! I'd like to see them.

RD Garnett ( - 12:45pm -- vic... the Down Under Travel Planner...serving the South Pacific with unsurpassed destinational knowledge The Down Under Traveller webzine...promoting destinational information and encouraging reader participation Great savings on travel adventure in the South Pacific...soon to incorparate other destinations Please note...these sites are all under going the tiresome task of revamping.......

What's wrong with junk mail?

vic ( - 12:19pm -- What are people so against bulk email? We all get unsolicited ads in our snail boxes everyday. If you get something you are not interested in, just throw it away! Why all the fuss?

RD Garnett ( - 12:22pm -- yr email post...i have over 7 different email addresses which for the most part are meant to serve is very painful and timeconsuming for me to be receiving unsolicited email...clogs my mailboxes...and just makes me generally grumpy..(:

Bruce B. Platt, Comport Consulting, ( -- Vic, also, it's very much like junk snail mail, it uses up bandwisth, and increases costs for the 'net and for users in terms of disk space, cycles which could be used for other things, and so forth

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:25pm -- Vic -- Re: unsolicited mail. Many people on the Internet 1) have to pay for the mail they receive or 2) have to pay for all mail above some threshhold or 3) have small mailboxes/little disk space and if their mail box fills with junk mail important messages bounce back and are missed. In addition, there is the time and annoyance involved when I open my mail box and find there are over 200 messages today and more than half of them are junk and I have to go through and weed the junk out. Above all -- consider the consequences of junk mail/spamming for the sender. There are people out there who get very angry about that and can and will do very nasty things in reply.

vic ( - 12:34pm -- I am relatively new to the net, but I don't have to pay for any email. I have a local provider who charges me $15/month unlimited. Who has to pay, users of online services like Compuserve? As for "junk" maybe some of that stuff is very interesting, or could even change your life in positive ways. Why not just have a look? Although I guess when it gets to 200 a day, that's way too much. Maybe there should be a way to specify what sort of unsolicited messages we want to get, business opportunities, etc. which might be relevant at certain times.

RD Garnett ( - 12:36pm -- vic...i have tried that...i subscribe to sites or list focusing on travel to the SoPac...and this morning i got a message promoting a hotel in Yemen...and it was a large file with jpegs...i was not impressed....

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:40pm -- Vic -- It's important to remember that the populace of the Internet is enormously diverse. People with all kinds of equipment (much of it obsolete) and connecting at all kinds of speeds (much of it very slow) and paying very different rates on very different terms. Many people outside the US have to pay in one way or another for email or for the extra disk space needed to store extra email. I really don't care how much paper junk comes to my house -- it's easy to sort and throw it away. But when junk comes electronically it takes up a resource that for many is limited and sometimes costly. On the Internet unsolicited mail very often leads to business disaster -- to a storm of ill-will that is very difficult to overcome. I strongly advise looking for other approaches -- for instance setting up your Web pages so they provide useful and valuable free information for your target audience and optimizing the design of your pages so people can easily find you with search engines like AltaVista.

Todd ( - 12:46pm -- Vic - Richard makes a good point. Part of the beauty of the web is that people "pull" what they want from it. Not have it "pushed" on them.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:48pm -- Todd -- Yes, and search engines are an important tool to make it easy for people to pull what they want. On the push side, There was a column by Steve Steinberg in last Sunday's Globe that talked about PointCast and "Marimba" as ways of pushing information over the Internet. Have any of you used Marimba or know anything about it?

vic ( - 12:49pm -- But I'd like to offer the book to people who, for instance, are not "looking for a book". However, I think this book has a wide appeal. Isn't there any way for me to present it to millions on the net? I don't want to take a billboard in Times Square!

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:50pm -- Todd -- Steinberg describes Marimba as "an 'open' version of Pointcast." Excuse me Marimba is the company name and their product is Castanet. -- a platform that "allows developers to quickly and easily send content to users." Sound like the kind of technology I'm allergic to -- technology that caters to the passive...

Todd ( - 12:54pm -- Vic - with search engines like AV people don't need to be looking for a book to find it, just the subject of the book. Give it a try. It's free and you'll be surprised. I put a debt clock on my page just as an experiment adn have almost a thousand hits. They found it, I didn't advertise other than notifying the serach engines that it was there.

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:56pm -- vic -- Brief descriptive messages in appropriate newsgroups make sense. (Be sure to read the traffic in a group to get a sense of whether your message would be welcomed. And tailor your message tot he particular group. You could use AltaVista newsgroup searches to try to identify appropriate groups. But above all create your own Web site with the complete text and publicize that site by all the free means available. (Best to creat the site before posting to newsgroups -- it's best to have something on-line to point people to.) That's the best advice I have to offer.

Any value in using "controlled vocabulary" for metatags?

CJSnyder (snyderinfo*WebDesign) ( - 12:50pm -- Richard et al: Any opinions on using a "controlled vocabulary"? (e.g. Library of Congress subject headings) when putting in MetaTags?

Richard Seltzer ( - 12:53pm -- CJSnyder -- For metatags, I'd be inclined to rely on common sense -- and maybe double check with a bunch of people in your target audience. What you want are the words and phrases that people are most likely to use when looking for your kind of information. If Library of Congress heading help you arrive at that fine -- but try to put yourself in the shoes of the seeker of information. And usually that seeker is very unsophisticated and just entering the first words that come to mind.

CJSnyder (snyderinfo*WebDesign) ( - 12:56pm -- Richard -- Ha...You're absolutely right..It's like when most people go to a library and look up the first words that come to mind..(not necessarily the standard words)..but that's another topic (standards!)

Todd ( - 12:57pm -- CJ - a controlled vocabulary is only good if the researchers are also using it. Not likely.

AJ ( - 12:56pm -- It's also technology that, hopefully, passes through the hands of people trained in a discipline-related area known as "journalism," involving, theoretically, checking sources and employing a somewhat trained mind.

CJSnyder (snyderinfo*WebDesign) ( - 12:58pm -- AJ--...and hopefully, passes through people who know how to "organize" information--Information Specialists/Librarians..

AJ ( - 12:59pm -- The next time I find myself wondering whether Janet Reno will be staying on as Attorney General, I will be sure to search the Web for some first hand source who was chatting about this in the Oval Office and who immediately rushed to publish the info on the Web.


Richard Seltzer ( - 12:57pm -- All -- Time is running out. Please, before you sign off, identify yourselves (even those of you who have been lurking in the background). Let us know your email addresses and URLs for future followup.

All -- Remember I'll post the edited/threaded transcript of this session at And if you send me followup questions and comments, I'll add those to the transcript My email is

Next Thursday, I'll be connecting here from Internet World in New York City. We can continue this discussion and/or get into topics prompted by what we see at Internet World. Please let me know your preferences.

RD Garnett ( - 12:59pm -- gday all...and thanx

vic ( - 1:00pm -- Thank you all and Richard!

CJSnyder (snyderinfo*WebDesign) ( - 1:00pm -- interesting discussion..

AJ ( - 1:03pm --

Richard Seltzer ( - 1:00pm -- All -- Please send me email if you would like to receive email reminders of these sessions.

Time-wise, we'll be back next week Dec. 12 and the week after Dec. 19. Then we'll be off for Christmas.

Also, please send email with suggestions for future topics. I'd like to work out a schedule for coming months so you know in advance when we'll be focusing on a topic of particular interest to you.

Thanks to all for your participation. Hope to "see" you again next week.


How prevalent is AltaVista?

From: Tracy Marks <> Date: Sat, 07 Dec 1996 03:13:52 -0500

I enjoyed your recent chat, as I've enjoyed and learned from all the previous ones (also suffered with Real Audio today to "hear" your recent lecture on my 14.4 modem). However, I'm wondering about the statistics from the August 1996 issue of WIRED that Paul J. Bruemmer recently posted on the I-Sales mailing list - a study of which search engines are used by people on the Net.

><excerpt> According to Wired Magazine August 96

>Consumer driven search traffic who ROUTINELY use:

>1. Excite 28%

>2. Lycos 25%

>3. Infoseek 21%

>4. Yahoo 14% >+/- 3% margin of error

>5. Alta Vista 5%

>6. Magellan 2%

>7. Others 4%

As a loyal AltaVista user myself, and as a researcher who has done a comparison of ten search engines and found some such as Lycos and Yahoo terribly inadequate, I find the above statistics hard to believe, and somewhat appalling. BUT IF INDEED THEY ARE TRUE, then shouldn't we be paying far more attention to Excite and Lycos and Infoseek....? If indeed these are the search engines that most people are using, isn't it far more important that we be found by them rather than by Alta Vista?

Tracy Marks, M.A. CCAE and WINDWEAVER Software Instruction WINDOWS 95 manual


I believe that the telling words are "consumer-driven search traffic". To me that indicates that this is bogus research.

1) Very few people doing searches today are doing so because they want to buy something. Rather they are looking for answers to questions.

2) Of the 23 million hits a day at AltaVista or the numerous hits at other search sites, how could anyone conceivably determine which were "consumer-driven"?

Sounds like they had to have taken a backwards approach (I'd be very curious what their methodology was). My suspicion is that they somehow identified a population of "consumers" and then asked them what search engines they used.

Internet business is based on a totally different model. You attract a loyal audience by providing good useful information. And as those people repeatedly return to your site, they over time will become interested in your related products and services.

You win by providing good information -- and letting your audience contribute to it -- and making sure that the folks who want that kind of information can find you. And AltaVista is excellent for helping those people find you.

Wired just doesn't get it.

Richard Seltzer,

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