April 17, 1997 -- Serving Customers On-line

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, April 17, 1997. These sessions are scheduled for noon-1 PM Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4) every Thursday.

These sessions are hosted by Richard Seltzer. If you would like to receive email reminders of our chat sessions, simply send a blank email message to or go to and sign up there.

For transcripts of 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 quions 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):

Today's Participants:


Richard Seltzer -- 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 Marlboro, 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.

herry I 'm from Indonesia. Looking for international friends

Richard Seltzer -- Hello, herry. The chat is scheduled to start at noon EDT.
It is now 11:40. Hope you can join us then. It must be about midnight where you are.
This chat room is scheduled for a discussion about Business on the World Wide Web. Today we'll be focusing on "serving customers on-line." Are you here for that discussion? We'd certainly welcome an international perspecitive.

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

Richard Seltzer -- Herry, Are you involved in Internet business? Do you have any
examples of good or bad service on the Internet?

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, AJ and Rebecca. We're just getting started. Please introduce yourselves.

Michael Quinn -- HELLO FROM ireland, sorry about last week but they changed the time...Mike

Richard Seltzer -- So far, looks like we have a very international group --
Herry in Indonesia, Gaston in Argentina, and Michael in Ireland.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Michael Quinn. Glad you were able to make it this week. Sorry about last week's confusion about the time. Please introduce yourself for the others here.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Hello all from Maypearl, Texas USA

Ed Jaros -- Hello. Ed From Green Bay, WI here

Ed Jaros -- Some trivia on the side I came across whiole surfing: Cyber means Control. It comes from the ancient Greek word, kyber, meaning Helmsman or Navigator - i.e., the one who is in control.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Ed and Bob@Cottage, we seem to have a good group assembled. Now we just have to inspire everyone to get talking.

Alan Majer -- Hi there all. Just got here, sorry I'm late.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome Gaston, We're just getting ready. Would you like to introduce yourself and your interests?

Gaston Groisman Hello, looks like I got the time right this time!

Richard Seltzer -- Yes, Gaston, glad you were able to make it. Several folks
missed last week because of the confusion over the time. That brought home the necessity of saying that it's GMT -4 

Internet in Argentina

Gaston Groisman -- OK. I am from Argentina working for a brand new ISP. The company also runs a large newspaper that is about to go on-line in a couple of weeks. I'm trying to learn the ins and outs of this business.

Richard Seltzer -- What's the Internet situation like in Argentina today? About what percent of the population has Internet access? Many businesses? And are the businesses on-line mainly trying to reach audiences outside or inside Argentina?

Gaston Groisman -- Like most things here there is Buenos Aires then then there's the rest... BA is well connected and service is inexpensive. But 1500 Km away (where we are) communications make it expensive and cumbersome to set up. The percentage is unknown but not large. Businesses are learning but for the most part this is uncharted waters for them

Richard Seltzer -- Gaston -- 1500 km away from Buenos Aires? You must be way down in Patagonia, getting close to Antarctica. Is there a market for Internet access in a remote area like that?

Gaston Groisman -- Actually 1500 km is only the north part of patagonia, there is about 2000 more Km of it down south! 

Defining service

Michael Quinn -- What do we mean by service? and how can the web help?
Last week the discussion focused on 'after sales service'
but SERVICE is bigger than that. It's about all the transactions a person has with a company...

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- Amen. Service is a very broad topic. To my mind there are three stages to business on the Internet. First you build a community. Second you serve a community. And third you sell what the community needs. That's kind of my Internet definition. But there's also service in the much broader sense of every interaction with customers -- doing what you can to attract and retain customers by being responsive and helpful.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Michael -- Let's outline the steps and see how the Internet can help us. Step 1 - Contact - Letting people know your company exists and what it can do for them. What's step 2 ?

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- I'd say that step two is providing people with information and services that they need. You define your audience by the useful material/services that you make available for free. Step three is then to make it possible and then make it easier for the people in this target audience to "speak" to one another as well as to you.

Michael Quinn -- Before we get to building communities we need to know what service problems we are 'solving' If Technology is the solution, then what service problems can it solve for companies? Superquinn are using the web to help customers track their loyalty, so are Marriott...that's a solution 'in context'.

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- We're dealing with two separate, but interrelated kinds of service. There's using the Internet to deliver traditional service; and there's providing the kind of on-line service that makes your on-line business successful.

Jack Rahaim (Home Page -- This is Jack. Hello All. I have to say as someone who 'sells' via the web and as a customer of many firms, the primary value of the web is access to info in a consistent way and the immediacy of new info. I can't imagine keeping others or being kept (as a customer) up to date with important info using any other medium.

Automated email vs. real people and speed of response

Ed Jaros -- To the group. How soon do you expect to get a reply on your e-mails to consider it good customer service. By reply I mean a response from a REAL PERSON either with an answer or a commitment to respond with the answer.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Ed -- I try to respond same or next day. As a company gets larger I suppose that could be extended. However, this is the information age and if it takes you longer thatn snail mail, what advantages do you offer you clients with internet communications ?

Richard Seltzer -- Ed -- Regarding email responses -- I notice and remember a site as responsive when I get an answer in 5-10 minutes. (That's what I try to do for queries when I'm on line; but, of course, I'm not always on-line. I try to sleep 2-3 minutes a week.) Three hours feels adequate. Next day and I start to feel that the company isn't really with it. Anything beyond that, and it probably isn't worth my while to do business with them.

Gaston Groisman -- I agree that the expected response time for the customer is measured in minutes. That may or not be possible, but those are the ones you remember.

Richard Seltzer -- Ed, Gaston and Michael -- Yes, email response time (and quality) is crucial and that isn't at all a technology issue; it's a matter of will and effort and people. And that is an important part too of using the Internet to provide service information/answers to questions for your traditional customers.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Email response in minutes is it really feasible ? I have received automated, instantaneous responses from companies only to wait weeks before it was responded to by a real person. That is THE BIGGEST NEGATIVE a company can provide. Automated responses are ok, but the "real" response has to be timely !

Gaston Groisman Richard said it well. "I remember the ones that come in 5-10 min" I do too, so it seems the public likes those but may be OK to take a bit longer. Days is surely wrong.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- I think one of the major problems about "serving customers on-line" derives from what the technology allows you to do. It is easy to set things up in automated fashion, so users get nothing but canned replies. And the folks deciding on the economic justification for the site might very well include reduction in personnel as part of their ROI calculations. But it's the personal touch that satisfies customers and brings them back. You need to balance good FAQs and useful canned responses, with the abiliy to provide real human response if and when needed and very quickly.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- Amen, that many companies simply aren't set up to give personal response. But the ones building their success from an Internet base do. is a good example of how it can and should be done. If you have a question and click on the link to send email to them, you are first connected to their FAQs. If the answer isn't there, then you can go ahead and send the email (to an address targeted at your kind of question), and in my experience they have answered personally within 1-3 hours. Good stuff when you are dealing with tens of thousands of users at a time.

Ed Jaros -- Gaston, Richard... Do you consider an autoresponder effective customer service until your question can be researcherd answered?

Richard Seltzer -- Ed -- Autoresponders have their place. They are the equivalent of an FAQ kind of answer. But if that doesn't provide the answer someone wants their should be a human email address at the end of the message and email to that address should get you a live answer quickly. It's a balancing act -- you don't want to keep duplicating the same answers over and over, but you do need to be responsive when the question really is different.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Richard -- "Good FAQs" do they exist I get tired of seeing comapny FAQ's that are months old and usually sound like marketing oitches rather than information. FAQs hav to be dynamic and change with the influx in questions and problem resoultions about a product. Amazon is definitely on the right track. I'd also like to see the name and email contact of the party my question is being forwarded to.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- Yes, writing good FAQs and keeping them uptodate is an art, and can't be taken for granted. Often they languish for months and years without changes. That's throwing away opportunities for the lowest cost and most effective kind of "service."

Rebecca Kennemur -- I'm looking to build a site with automated answers to as many as 250 questions. I am not sure how to try to build it. I don't have my web page up yet, but I'm working on it. My site will also answer questions to individual answers too.

Richard Seltzer -- Rebecca -- What kind of site do you have? What's the business? And why would you want automated responders to 250 questions? Why not a single, well-indexed FAQ that could either be read at the Web site or emailed as a single autoresponder?

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Rebecca -- are you trying to build a knowledge base of questions and answers ? Tell us a little more about what you are trying to accomplish.

Michael Quinn -- The issue here with response time is 'what is acceptable for the customer? No use giving same day if it is not important? But if it is medical advice...the same minute is vital!

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- The definition of "what is acceptable for the customer" is very different on the Internet than in the traditional business space. Companies that turn to the Internet as an alternative or supplementary way of providing service-related info need to realize that this is a new and different realm. They need to anticipate that customer expectations will be different.

Michael Quinn -- Richard...I agree companies need to anticipate....but the worst is doing it because the technology allows it. this is technical myopia without any customer value

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- Amen. You have to keep your focus on the customer. You don't just do things because the technology allows it. That's what I mean by the necessity of being prepare to provide personal answers. That's counter to the direction of the technology, which heads to greater automation and anonymity, and taking people out of the equation. But business is built on people. Rather than going higher-tech, with more automation and more fancy effects, I think it makes more sense to have more people available for personal interaction with the customers, using email, etc. 

Using multi-media for service delivery

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- There's another aspect to service that we haven't really touched on and that I feel is very important. That's the delivery of service over the Internet -- not just information, but service. In other words, if the customer has the right hardware and software for a videophone kind of experience, the service tech could step that person through installation and repair procedures. Do you know of anyone doing that kind of thing over the Internet? Also, consulting services -- for a fee or as part of a contract -- do you know of any companies using chat/forum/ and/or videophone kinds of things to do that over the Internet? Seems like lots of potential, but companies are slow to move in that direction.

Michael Quinn -- Personal 'service' will soon be possible over the web using software like CUSeeMe where the customer can see and interact with the service provider.
This is INTERACTIVE MARKETING....Imagine calling your broker like this to see his physical reaction to your stock choice?

Michael Quinn -- Richard...seems like bandwith is holding this possibility back a little...

Ed Jaros -- I feel products like Real Video are giving a glimpse into the future. 80 streams at a time to a T-1 is what the sales rep told me.

Alan Majer -- Ed - I think that on-line video is a great possibility. However, I'm always reminded about how some ofthe mass market feels when I how an average person reacts to even the best of on-line video ..."you mean it's not even as good as TV?". Keeping that it mind, it's going to be a long time before on-line video does get "as good as TV". And I think that's when the mass market will gravitate to it even more.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- My take on today's video is that user satisfaciton depends mainly on the expectations that you set. VDOlive or vivo is great if you are trying to convey the notion of spontaneity -- he's a live interview from the show floor, etc. If the audience thinks that what they are seeing has been edited and worked over, they are going to expect a level of production quality that simply can't be delivered at normal modem speeds. But the spontaneity thing can be important for building trust and building relationships, and the resolution might be just find in a service delivery or live training situation. For that it's what I refer to as "just enough quality".

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Richard -- In my programming and consulting business I use ICQ to be available to my client whenever I'm online. I publish my UIN to them and can switch to netmeeting for video, whiteboarding, and conversations. It says to my customers, "If I'm online I'm available to you !" 

Bandwidth issues

Bob@CottageMicro.Com -- Alan -- Video at 28.8 definitely leaves a LOT to be desired. When I video Phone I usually ajdust my profile and freeze the video. At least they are seeing who is talking. If necessary I point the camera to an object and start and freeze video. It's not like a live video broadcast, but the technology and bandwidth aren't there quite yet.

Gaston Groisman -- Bandwidth! And dont forget those who live in a country who only connection to the net is a single T1 (yes for the WHOLE country).

Alan Majer -- Gaston - A friend of mine has looked into ISP's in Kenya. In a city of 3 million people, one of the biggest ISP's has a leased 64kbps line! And they serve several thousand people on it.

Gaston Groisman -- Alan, we are in a very similar situation... And if you ask people around here they'll tell you that Africa is third world, we are not!!

Richard Seltzer -- Gaston -- Yes, bandwidth is definitely still an issue. But, as we've been saying plain old email with the right people dedicated to provide personal responses is the most effective way to serve customers on-line today.

Alan Majer -- Has anyone tried out video using a new 56kbps modem or on ISDN? Does it become useful enough for customer demo's or training?

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Yes, I'd be interested in hearing of instances of video etc. running on intranets (at Ethernet speeds) for training, employee communications, etc. The capability is there, but is anyone doing it on production scale? Anything more than experimental pilots? 


Richard Seltzer -- Rebecca -- What's your business? Who are your customers?

Rebecca Kennemur -- I apologize for the response time. I am having problems with phone lines and/or ISP. I have a small (retain and training computer business) I want to expand. I am in the process of designing my web page and want to give a service to anyone that wishes answers. I am fairly well versed in most of the wordprocessing, spreadsheet, data base etc programs.

Richard Seltzer -- Rebecca -- If you are into training, are you using or planning on using chat or forum or videophone things for delivery? In any case you might want to check a free educational service site Anybody can set up educational forums on their site for free. Looks very interesting.

Rebecca Kennemur -- Richard, thanks for the info. I'll check that out. I will be back again . . . but It's is very hard to get anything going today. I have called the phone company and the ISP. . . maybe next time. See ya!

Michael Quinn -- or personal interaction try the Global Executive MBA from Duke university. URL is as good example

Michael Quinn -- What is valuable in information must get determined by the customer....the online model gives buyers information on new books by their favourite author...thats service....but the customer determines what's important

Gaston Groisman -- Another thing I noticed about Amazon is the the content of the pages does not feel like is was automatically pulled out of a catalog as a I expected when I first called. There is a human feel to the information.

Richard Seltzer -- Gaston -- One reason that Amazon doesn't feel like a catalog is that they really have used the "community" approach. There's the community of publishers -- each of whom can submit all kinds of info about their books, including covers and descriptions and long excerpts (hence lots of diversity); also a community of authors -- who can do on-line interviews about their books for posting at Amazon; also a community of readers who can submit books reviews and comments about whatever books they want; and also a community of "associates" -- little Web sites that have set up to provide links for the purchase of particular books from Amazon. Great model. Has anyone seen anything else like it? 

Recommendations for software to create a no-frills Web site

AJ -- I would rather just be AJ, and I may not be able to stay for the whole chat, but if you are looking for questions ... I will probably be ready in a week or so to start putting up a simple web site, with some content on family law. I picked up a book on basic HTML and have been storing suggestions, but I was wondering -- is there a modestly priced software program you like for creating a fairly straightforward web site, which will probably be just text. Thanks.

Richard Seltzer -- AJ, I use the simplest of the simplest -- I just downloaded the Internet Assistant for Word from Microsoft's site for free. It enhances Word and makes it so you can create Web pages as easily as creating Word documents. You might want to look at my site to see the results. You'll also see there a detailed step by step article I wrote about using that software

AJ -- Thank you for the advice -- as it happens, I use the Corel 7 Suite -- my word processor is WordPerfect, which I am extremely fond of (I know I am in the minority) ... do you know of any simple programs for that, or is that a matter of going throught the Corel site? Thanks, AJ

Richard Seltzer -- AJ -- Yes, you probably better check the Corel site. I don't know what they have. I'm stuck in the tunnel-vision realm of only knowing one way to do it.

Rebecca Kennemur -- WordPerfect 7.0 in Corel Office Suite has a built in HTML Publishing feature. It is very user friendly.

Gaston Groisman -- I use Navigator Gold to build pages. Haven't tried others except a few hours with Front Page (which I found confusing).

AJ -- I have the Netscape 3.0 -- what kind of web pages can you do with Netscape Gold? Should this be a side discussion? AJ

Richard Seltzer -- AJ -- I'm sure you can use Netscape Gold to create pages. Just check their help and documentation. But Netscape is focused on making fancy graphics pages. Plain text is much simpler, and much better for most users.

AJ -- I tried playing with the Quick Task Create a Web Site feature once, but found I could only create something too basic, and something I could not manipulate easily or do much with. I have not spent time yet, though, looking through the documentation on the CD-ROM.

Rebecca Kennemur -- To All, I see you are suggesting Navigator Gold to build sites. I haven't looked at it yet, but have it. Will it allow animated objects?

Richard Seltzer -- Rebecca -- I would not recommend Navigator Gold for building a site. I myself use just the Internet Assistant for Word and that works great for me. If you want to get into heavy graphics and multimedia effects, there are lots of choices.

Bob@CottageMicro.Com Rebeccca -- AskSam Systems has a text database product that works like Word and can handle a lot of database, text and graphics. Really Simple to use too.

Ed Jaros -- Rebecca - My firm uses Microsoft Frontpage 97 and has some great results. Check out my home page. Downside... somewhat complex without a few hour class. Don't buy Introducing Microsoft Frontpage97 book. It's a waste. 


Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- Yes, bandwidth is holding back the on-line service delivery kind of thing. But there's a neat new development at Digital's Cambridge Research Labs that let's you have the personal touch of video-phone effects (the parties see each other talking) without having to transmit video. It's called Face-to-Face and software translates phonemes to muscle movements on a three-D image that sits on your computer. Interesting possible applications. If there's interest, I could get one or more of the developers to join us in a future session. It's a low-bandwidth high-personal-touch approach that runs on ordinary PCs.

Ed Jaros -- Richard.. is there a demo of this out there? URL?

Richard Seltzer -- Ed -- The developers are just now putting together stage one of their demo kit. They showed the capability at Internet World in LA last month. If folks are interested, I could include in the transcript a memo I sent to them with my speculations on the various ways this technology could/should be used.

Alan Majer -- Richard - I'd be really intested in talking to the developers of Face-to-face. It sounds like it has all sorts of interesting possibiilities.

Richard Seltzer -- Alan -- Okay, I'll talk to the Face-to-Face guys this afternoon and see if I can get them to join us next Thursday. Feels like that would be a natural extension of what we are talking about now -- alternative for providing service, and building customer relationships.

Michael Quinn -- Richard,can this demo be accessed via the net? Looks like you should set one up....

Richard Seltzer -- Michael -- I'll have to check with the developers to see what might be demoable now and how to set it up. [NB -- Bill Goldenthal from the development team will join us next Thursday.]

MSN Email Problem

Ed Jaros Note: MSN e-mail down til Friday

Richard -- Ed -- you mean that all of MSN email will be down until Friday? If so, that sounds like an horrendous customer service/customer satisfaction snafu.

Ed Jaros -- 2.2 million customers worldwide . here's the article.

REDMOND, Wash. (Reuter) - Microsoft Corp.'s online service, Microsoft Network, has shut down its worldwide electronic mail computers temporarily while it upgrades the service, the company said.

The network, with approximately 2.2 million subscribers, took the computers that serve the network offline for a service upgrade late Wednesday, Microsoft said.

A message to customers on the Microsoft online service, the world's third-largest, said, "Service should be restored midday (Pacific time) Friday, April 18. When the servers are back online, you should receive all e-mail that was sent to you during the upgrade. Delivery of delayed e-mail should be complete by Sunday, April 20."

Microsoft said the network experienced a partial outage of its e-mail service earlier this week that prompted it to accelerate an expansion of its e-mail capacity that had been planned for later this month.

Microsoft said it was doubling the number of computers that function as servers on its e-mail service. 


Richard Seltzer -- Everyone -- time is marching on (even at GMT -4).
Please join us again next week at the same time. And meanwhile send me email with your followup questions and comments and suggestions for future topics. I'll post the edited version of this transcript hopefully later today (possibly early tomorrow). Check I'll also add followup messages to the transcripts, as usual.

Rebecca Kennemur -- Bye to all - see ya later!

Alan Majer Thanks for the chat... bye

Gaston Groisman -- Well my students are coming in, time to get to work, bye everybody.

Ed Jaros -- Thanks for the Chat. Looking forward to next week.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- Before you leave, please post your email addresses and URLs (if you didn't when logging on) -- so we can keep in touch. Thanks again.

AJ -- You have my address already -- Have a good week!

Michael Quinn -- Bye from Ireland..till later....Mike 


Ad Revenue Articles

From: "Kaye Vivian, ABC" <> Date: Thu, 17 Apr 1997 14:53:20 -0400

Darn, Richard :( I lost track of the time, and missed the chat today. Actually I was surfing at the time and got engrossed in chasing a couple of topics that I need for a client. Anyway, in the course of that I found this very interesting and practical article that you might want to add to the distribution:

From Web Management Strategies, "Have You Considered All These Options for Increasing Ad Revenues on You Web Site?"

It includes an interesting mention of the new concept of "auctions" for unsold web space that FlyCast Communications ( started. FlyCast auctions available spaces and gets 20% of the proceeds.

Best, Kaye Vivian


From: Kathleen Gilroy <> Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 00:06:01 +0000

A comment for the FAQ section:

I recently used the Netscape customer query section and easily found the answers to two of my questions through their hierarchical menus. When the answer to another question wasn't there, I ran into a dead end, with no place to go except back to the beginning of the menu. It was quite off-putting.

Kathleen Gilroy

Outstanding FAQ

From: "Kaye Vivian, ABC" <> Date: Fri, 18 Apr 1997 15:15:27 -0400

One of my hobbies is multiplayer (online) gaming. For the past 6-8 months Origen has been building a groundswell of player support for the live beta test of it's new online game Ultima Online that has a presigned test group of 30,000 (!). I know nothing about the company or its games, but several friends encouraged me to sign up for the beta test and I did.

In the course of that sign-up process (the game is still not live yet), I have visited Ultima's web site ( many times for various purposes and read their regularly updated FAQ. They have without a doubt done the best job of any FAQ I have seen or read anywhere. It's beautifully written, with a very light touch and gentle humor. It is so different from what I have experienced in any other FAQ that it's very memorable.

Origen did an excellent job of creating a business tool that (1) serves the needs of visitors, (2) minimizes the amount of human time required to answer what are probably (mostly) mindless questions, and (3) keep their audience/market fully informed and up-to-date. And because it's kept up to date (surely an important feature for any FAQ!), I return to it again and again, knowing that it is not a waste of time.

One particularly savvy thing they do is each week when they update the FAQ, they add all the new responses to a "What's new" top section of the FAQ. When they update the next time, they then move the older replies down into the main body of the FAQ. Their FAQ is a very long document, and it's amazing to say, but I have actually read it from start to finish several times. It's that well written.


Study of 1000 Commercial Web Sites

From: Sudha Jamthe <> Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 11:02:10 -0400

Here is an interesting site I found. This may be of interest as a followup message. ---> It contains a study of 1000 commercial web sites by Prof.James Ho of University of Illinois. It is very different from the other studies I have seen as it does not focus on individual companies but sorts the results as stats data categorizing into various industry sectors.


PS: I'll write to this Prof to see if he can join the chat.


From: Sudha Jamthe <> Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 16:17:02 -0400

I heard from Prof.Jim Ho. He visited your transcripts and likes them lots. He is leaving for New Zealand on 05/09 and has promised to stop by at the chat soon. I have given him your email too.

You can reach him at

He has another piece on Web Ads called Focasting at



Bill Goldenthal from Digital Equipment's Cambridge Research Labs plans to join us on Thursday, April 24, to talk about technology in development known as Face-to-Face.

Attached is a memo I wrote at the end of February after I first saw a demo. It briefly describes what Face-to-Face is and speculates on how it could and should be used.


In brief, Face-to-Face turns a photo into a 3D image of a head and allows that head to "speak". The mouth (actually all the muscles of the head) moves in synch with recorded natural voice or voice generated from ASCII text (with DECtalk). All languages are accommodated (it deals with phonemes, not semantic meaning). The synchronization is extraordinarily good. The processing and the output can be performed with ordinary PCs. The results rival what before took enormous processing power (and was territory owned by SGI). This solution could be on every desktop.

Here's my quick view of how this technology could be used on the Internet.

LOW-BANDWIDTH, PERSONAL-PRIVACY VIDEOPHONE I see your head speaking and you see my head speaking, but the images only had to be transmitted once. The live audio passes through the lips of the faces. The effect is very much like videophone, but is not limited by bandwidth problems typical of dealing with video on today's Internet. The face is see is crisp and clear and the motion is natural. And this is not a live image -- the parties at both ends don't have to worry about what they happen to look like at this particular moment. (You don't need to dress and shave).

LOW COST VIDEOCONFERENCING Same as above, but multiple participants, as part of on-line meeting packages.

VIDEO-ENHANCED CHAT Take today's Java-enabled IRC-based chat software (e.g., the chat in AltaVista Forum) and modify it to add faces for participants, and to give the user the option to hear selected text as DECtalk voice. This would enable you to multiplex -- choosing to hear input from certain participants while scanning the text input of others.

EMAIL READER Voice output, with a speaking face (persona) for your normal email -- so you can hear messages while taking care of other tasks in the office.

FACE-MAIL As an email component, you can send and receive voice messages with faces to speak them.

LOW-COST HIGH-IMPACT ADVERTISING Today we see a few examples of digitizing images from movie classics and putting new words in their mouths. What we have here is an extremely fast and low-cost way of producing similar effects.

POSSIBLE LIP-READING ALTERNATIVE TO CLOSED-CAPTION AND SIGN LANGUAGE FOR THE DEAF This needs to be tested with people who are deaf. But if the quality of lip-synch is good enough, this could be a low-cost alternative way of making lots of video material accessible to the deaf.

AID TO LANGUAGE STUDY AND ANY OTHER AUDIO COURSE MATERIAL Today's audio-tape language courses often fail to teach in part because there is nothing for the eye to focus on. Run those tapes through speaking faces and the results are likely to improve. (The difference could be tested and quantified.)

FACES AS TOOLS, COLLECTIBLES AND TOYS Owners of image content (like Ted Turner) could sell/license the images they have rights to for this application. It could become a market in and of itself like screensavers or like printing pictures on tee-shirts.

THE INTERNET'S PERSONAL FACE As agents and filters proliferate, these faces could become common elements in numerous applications. E.g., when a Web agent or mail filter recognizes information that should be extremely important to you, the face appears on your screen -- interrupting whatever you are doing -- and speaks the message (using text-to- voice conversion). And when other individuals and agents try to contact you, a face of your choosing can deliver your voice-reply messages.

Previous transcripts and schedule of upcoming chats --

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The full text of Richard Seltzer's books The Social Web, Take Charge of Your Web Site, Shop Online the Lazy Way, and The Way of the Web, plus more than a hundred related articles are available on CD ROM My Internet: a Personal View of Internet Business Opportunities.

Web Business Boot Camp: Hands-on Internet lessons for manager, entrepreneurs, and professionals by Richard Seltzer (Wiley, 2002). No-nonsense guide targets activities that anyone can perform to achieve online business
success. Reviews.

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