BUSINESS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB: where "word of keystroke" begins

June 19, 1997 -- Web-access to databases and database-enabled Web applications


Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, June 19, 1997. These sessions are normally 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 businessonthewebchats-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/businessonthewebchats 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 questions and comments, and suggestions 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

Folks who connected too early. (The chat session takes place on Thursdays, noon to 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time = GMT -4)

Introductions

Richard Seltzer -- Hello, we're here to talk about Business on the World Wide Web. As you connect, please introduce yourself and let us know your interests. That will help us get the discussion off to a quick start.

Richard Seltzer -- Today we want to continue our discussion about Web-access to
databases and database-enabled Web applications (and other ways to create dynamic, personalized pages). What are the alternatives? What are the business benefits?

Jeff Foust -- Hi Richard, this is Jeff, Web-Net webmaster.

Tom Dadakis -- Hi I'm Tom Dadakis who has developed website & strategies for GE, GE Captial & IBM

Kaye Vivian -- Hi everyone...Kaye Vivian, communications consultant from New York. I'm glad to be back again! :)

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Kaye. I also see that there's a Cindy Smith in the background there. Please speak up and let us know your interests.

cindy smith -- Hi Everybody...Cindy Smith, Web Projects Designer - att.com, I thought I could do this (especially on lunch) but just as soon as I go type a msg... I'm interested in web designers, programmers, whiz-bang technologies and examples of real life applications.

Sudha Jamthe -- Hi Everyone, Sudha Jamthe, Internet Enthisiast and Software Engineer. 


Chat

Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- I get many questions about what kind of software web-net uses for this chat session. Is it a commercial software package? Or shareware custom-modified? Do you have any details on it posted at the web-net site?

Jeff Foust -- Richard -- I'm not the person who installed the script, but I believe it's based on a freeware Perl CGI program. Check Selena Sol's archive of CGI scripts; I think it may be there.

Kaye Vivian -- Hi Jeff, you may not be the right person, but I'll ask anyway :) A couple of weeks ago, there was a change in the screen appearance of this chat program...all the buttons below the typing box were on one line and seemed slightly smaller. Then it went back to how it is now. I'm viewing at 1024X768 and it's a nuisance to have the Clear Form on a second line. Do you think that's something that could be fixed?

Jeff Foust -- Kaye -- I'm not aware of any changes in the script, but I'll look into the problem.

Sudha Jamthe -- Kaye: To answer your question about the chat look and feel, no change was done from our side. In fact I see Clear Form on the same line. So, is its possible that you are using a different display size? Pl let us know so we can refine it.

Kaye Vivian Su, I'm using small fonts in a 1024 X 768 resolution on a 17" monitor. It just seems to me that the buttons themselves are too big and could be resized so they all fit on one line. I either have to set my lower window so that the Clear button doesn't show, in order to maximize the upper window, or have only about 15 lines showing in the upper window. It's not that big a deal, however, I do find it awkward. :)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- have you had any luck using chat or forum to capture
the ideas of that diverse set of people and to get those folks talking to one another? (Something that sounds great in theory, but is actually quite difficult to do).

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, I am a very big proponent of chat/forums on web sites, and have been trying all year to get this particular client to find the value in that. So far, they haven't been able to. They are only now really using E-mail at about 75% effectiveness, are mostly not connected to the Internet (from work at least), do not yet have an Intranet (though one is being built) and simply have no idea how forums and discussions online could have an impact on (1) information sharing (2) idea generation and (3) creating a sense of community. Little by little I'm leading the horse to water... :)

Sudha Jamthe -- Richard: With due compliments to you, I haven't seen a single chat site on the web where they do a good job of capturing the discussions to build upon it. What is the key to doing it?

Richard Seltzer -- Sudha -- We're learning about chat as we use it. I don't think there's any magic formula, just an accumulation of practical steps, which I tried to summarize in a article at my site http://www.samizdat.com/events.html I'd appreciate pointers to other chats that, like this one, are scheduled and regular and deal with business topics. I'd like to learn from what others are doing. But, I also, haven't seen anything quite like this outside of AoL. 


Success Stories? Case Studies?

cindy smith -- Has anyone attended conferences that solely focus on technology applications and their implementation with real-life case studies or success stories?

Sudha Jamthe -- Hi Cindy: We have an enterprenuer series section in our monthly Web-Net meetings where we hear success stories. We don't have it during summer and will resume again in Fall.

Kaye Vivian -- Hi Cindy, Welcome. My basic background is marketing communications, and I get information all the time about seminars focusing on case studies and success stories. If I have a chance in a second I'll go grab one or two I may have lying around and give you the info on them. I do notice that many of them use the same speakers...makes me wonder whether there are only a couple of organizations that are willing to talk about what they are doing .

Richard Seltzer -- Cindy -- there's lots of info of the kind you are looking for at http://www.mainspring.com It's a paid subscription service, but some of their content is open for public view. 


Web site transformation

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to contribute to the discussions today. I really don't know that much about database web applications, and am not currently using any. I'm really hear more to listen on this particular topic.

Richard Seltzer -- At Digital we've been talking about how to make the company's Web presence much more interactive and personal. I believe that some of the applications we were discussing last week might be very helpful in trying to do that. Have any of you engaged in "Web transformation" projects? In other words, taking a large static site and giving it a totally new feel? If so, please share your experience.

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- I'm thinking of this topic in the broadest sense. There are lots of different ways for making Web-content more dynamic. Many of those are related to the use of databases-- both to keep track of the interests and tastes of visitors/members and to serve up miscellaneous pieces of info and graphics to a tailored, custom view of the site for each visitor. I see that kind of capability out on the Web. I'd like to get a better idea of how it is done, and also the business-side of it -- what are the tangible business benefits? what business models work and when?

Kaye Vivian -- Ah, now there's a subject close to my heart! :) I'm in the middle of a web transformation project. About 15 months ago I developed a web site for the US division of a global organization in 70+ countries. Because they were new to the technology and didn't realize what was involved in keeping a site fresh (despite all my memos and discussions instructing them that they had to supply fresh content regularly), it basically turned out to be a rather elaborate and multi-faceted online brochure. Since then the site has quadrupled in size, but grown like Topsy...the sections don't really all seem to fit together. We are now undergoing a major re-do of the entire site, maintaining the International graphic standards imposed upon us, yet creating a much more dynamic and interactive site. We are also building in some commercial applications that we were unable to even consider previously. Of course, we are keeping our target audience squarely in mind and designing for them, and not for "popular appeal" :). I estimate we will have the new look ready by Fall. We've just started to rethink the graphic look and that will be a major factor in the overall approach.

Sudha Jamthe -- Kaye: Sounds very interesting. Can we see the site?

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- That sounds right on target. Can you tell us anything about how your are making it happen? And what are the new dynamic and interactive features? If I were looking at a typical page, what would look and feel different about it?

Kaye Vivian -- As to what we are changing, wow. Lots. We have basic pages now with standard "click here for..." icons and a text navigation bar at the bottom. One of the newer sub-webs we installed uses frames. We will probable go to frame navigation, simply because that is a much neater/cleaner way to do it for a site with lots of sub-categories. I have been considering navigation along the lines of what Interwoven does. We are going to have a commercial area with a secure server, where people can subscribe to certain information for a fee, and potentially several online communities in specialty areas. In addition, I'm hoping we will be able to do some really interesting and lively interactive things in the "recruiting" area, since they have to attract a steady stream of young college graduates. I'd welcome suggestions for anything others have seen that would be appealing to young people and help to overcome a somewhat stodgy impression of the organization that has always existed. It will never be state-of-the-art, but we only have to look like we're playing in the right ballgame. :)

Sudha Jamthe -- Richard: I don't know if this is Web transformation, but I am facing an interesting change with the web at work. We setup an intranet with static content, mostly archives of info, Then we started changing it to dynamic content to read of documents more to make it easy to maintain. Now we are adding threaded discussions to archive our learnings and are extending the intranet to our international offices. I have been in Project Management for a while but I couldn'nt predict what was coming or the pace 6 months earlier. So my question is: Does anyone have such transformation experience? Is it just a re-engineering exercise? How do you predict and manage the change?

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, it's a lot of fun redesigning this web! I'm having different people I have been slowly educating over the last year come up to me and actually offer workable suggestions for changing the web! They don't know what they are talking about for the most part, but they now understand that it's an interactive environment and are getting a grip on new ways to look at their information and present it interactively. That is such an amazing transformation! :)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- I'd suspect that there's a good consulting business that could be built around Web site transformation. It would certainly be easy to find prospective clients. The vast majority of major company sites are totally static today. What's needed is the business pitch -- examples that show how transofrming a site can make a difference at the bottom line. Intuitively, it's obvious. But many business people don't seem to have intuition. They'll just ask -- what does it cost? and what do I get for it? So can we point to some examples?

Kaye Vivian -- Richard, I think I will start saving web sites . My hunch is that once a company undergoes a transformation, they blow away the old one. It might be hard in a year or so to find good examples, because you will never have the old one to compare to! Certainly the good sites are constantly in a state of transformation. Some of the Microsoft areas and AT&T areas for example have changed dramatically in the past 18 months for various reasons. And sites that once relied on an image map for navigation now go for alternate and more section-specific navigation aids. And of course, the initial use of frames by so many sites...Netscape itself, as an example...exploited the technology without regard to the frustration level of users! I, for one, can't stand to have the information I'm looking for displayed in a tiny window only 50% of screen size because of frames I'm forced to bring along! I'll try to think of examples where I know of sites that have been transformed and perhaps send a follow up message.

Kaye Vivian -- Su, I'm typing this note just to remind me when I read the transcript that I need to send you some information. I can put you in touch with several people I know who have dealt with exactly what you are going through at work. Transformation is what is happening almost universally right now IMO with web sites that have been up a year or more. The growth has been so amazing, and people were unprepared (or structures were inadequate). And with the shift to Intranets for some of the information and the exponential growth there, predicting and managing change really is a critical element.

Richard Seltzer -- When I was thinking about this topic, I was hoping to get info about ISPs who provide data-base capabilities or the ability to build dynamic Web pages as a value-added service. But from what I'm hearing today, it is dawning on me that there is an evolution at work. Companies typically start with static pages and then evolve to dynamic and interactive. And there may not yet be enough small and medium size companies who understand the importance of that to support ISP value-added services. Though I do suspect that will change soon. 


Publication archiving

Kaye Vivian -- One of the major challenges I'm facing with the redesign of this web site (outside of a good working structure that will accommodate growth in a lot of directions), is publication archiving. The organization is just now starting to put it's extensive collections of newsletters and other information into archives on the web site, and we are struggling to get an effective authoring plan in place. My firm handles site maintenance for them, but it's not really cost effective for them to have us HTML code all the documents. And PDF just doesn't seem to be the way to go either. I'd really like a recommendation or two for good applications for importing/scanning publications and then indexing them for archival use. I'd guess we will have about 20 different publications areas, each with about 100 issues in them and each issue consisting of a typical 6-8 page newsletter.

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- As you know from previous chats, I'm non-technical. I come at the Internet from a user and business point of view. But if you want to do authoring cheaply and easily, the Internet Assistant for Word (which is a free download from Microsoft,and which I believe is built into Office 97) is ultimately simple to use and quick. No need to learn HTML. You simply create a document using the html template, and can quickly add hyperlinks, etc. That's how I do my site. If you are dealing with material that is mostly text (like newsletters), I'd recommend it highly.

Jeff Foust -- Kaye - Are you talking about archiving already-published articles or archiving new issues as they're created. The solutions will be a little different in each case.

Kaye Vivian -- Jeff, re. archiving, yes, already published information. Some is reprints from trade publications but mostly it is company-generated newsletters in various business line areas. I can get them to take a text file of it now and use Internet Assistant in Word to save the files as HTML and forward them to me, but that is about all the sophistication most of the various people I deal with have. I'd really value a way to streamline this archival process! Plus, as a good consultant, I want to make it cost-effective for my client to get results. It's not cost-effective the way we are doing it now (plus it's a huge drag on my associates!). 


IBM and GE

Richard Seltzer -- Tom -- in your work with GE, GE Capital and IBM, have you been doing any transforming in the direction of dynamic interactive pages? If so, what was the immediate objective, and how did you accomplish it?

Tom Dadakis -- Richard, my most recent assignment was identifing and assessing the multiple website which had popped up in the IBM North American division during the last 30 months. We identified over 125 separate URL websites for this division. Some of these sites had not been maintained in an ongoing basis. Many were outside of the firewall. We prepared a strategy by which they determine a goal or purpose of these websites which can be measurable assessed after a period of time, 6-12 months. These goals could be visits (and revisits), downloads, transactions. All of these sites will be transformed according to this new criteria.

Jesse Smith -- My dad worked at GE service shop for 27 years

Richard Seltzer -- Tom -- looks like you were typing the answer at the same time I was typing the question. How do you go about coordinating 125 web sites and at the same time try to make the content more interactive and dynamic? Are you using any database applications (or things of that kind)? Are you setting up chats and forums? Do they or will they allow users to talk directly to one another and to add to the content of their sites (through forum etc.)?

Tom Dadakis -- Richard At those companies, they were still dealing with static pages. In some cases, stuck in HTML 1.0 becuase they we're designing to the lowest common browser. Move to frames took several meetings. Dynamic pages was not on the scope.

Tom Dadakis -- Recent web management tools like Webmapper from Netcarta now MS helped track these sites. We were not responsible for these sites, just sureveying them. Chat was not what they were interested in. 


"Playing" data as an animated graph

Todd -- One step sites can take to provide dynamic content is to keep their data in a database and then "play" it as an animated graph. I'm working on an application to do this and also a general control for others to use in their applications.

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- by "play it as an animated graph", do you mean like making graphs out of stock price data? What's the animated piece and what do you mean by a "general control"? Sounds interesting.

Todd -- Richard - Stock prices are a potential application. Instead of showing the changes in price from left to right (or whatever), one could show them rising and falling over time (animation). The control would enable the viewer to control the animation: forward/backward, fast/slow, pause, single step... 


HTML pre-processors

Richard Seltzer -- Have any of you used HTML pre-processors? Dave Rockwell sent any email about that which I attached to the transcript. It's an approach I had not heard of before. Roughly, I guess the info resides in a database and goes through a preprocessor that puts it into ordinary HTML form for the user.

Jeff Foust -- I've experimented a little bit with something called PHP/FI, which basically allows you to include scripts in HTML files that are interpreted and then sent to the user. It's pretty simple to learn and it does have some interesting abilities, including the ability to interface with several types of databases.

Sudha Jamthe -- Jeff: Where can we find PHP/FI? Is it a software we need to
install to use it?

Richard Seltzer -- Jeff -- Is there a site/page I could go to to learn more about PHP/FI? Is that shareware? Is there a company that sells software of that kind?

Kaye Vivian -- Jeff, I'm very interested in PHP/FI. Is it a language or a program? How can I learn more?

Jeff Foust -- Check out http://www.vex.net/php for more information. It's a software package that runs on the server and provides the ability to create scripts within Web pages. It's free; distributed under GNU Public License.

Jeff Foust -- http://www.vex.net/php/intro.phtml has a good introduction to PHP/FI. 


Software for dynamic sites

Tom Dadakis -- What do you think about Netdynamics, Cold Fusion or Net Objects for maintaining dynamic sites? I used Netdynamics at one site and found server load was a problem. I played with Net Objects but haven't used it in production

Kaye Vivian -- Tom, we should have a chat about NetObjects Fusion. I can give you ALL the details about that. I have used it on three web sites now, including my own. It's a fabulous program, that I have come to hate . It has so much to offer, yet it creates such bloated code! :( And maintenance is a nightmare if you are used to just jumping into the HTML and fixing some small problem. I have a real love-hate relationship with it!

Todd -- Kaye - check out the ODI talk following this one. They are in the business of storing all kinds of Web data. 


Object Design Inc.

Richard Seltzer -- Sudha -- I saw at the Web-net home page that your next speaker will be dealing with a database related topic. Can you give a quick summary of what his company does/provides?
Sudha Jamthe -- Richard: Our next speaker is from Object Design Inc (www.odi.com). He will focus on their Object Database called ObjectStore. The idea is that the web presents many different data objects that cannot be stored in simple rows and columns like in a traditional database and the new concept of Object Databases is evolving. This talk will help anyone developing Web applications like an electronic store or software development using Java.

Wrapup

Richard Seltzer -- All -- while I still have a lot to learn about this topic, I think we've about exhausted it as far as chat sessions are concerned. I'd like to move on next week to -- Internet telephony (including voice delivery of email, FAX over the Internet, etc.): How can it be used and why isn't it being used more extensively today? What business models can be built around it? In the lingo of Crossing the Chasm, how would you define the "wholeproduct"? If you were trying to market such a product, what market niche would you target first?

Richard Seltzer -- How does Internet telephony strike you as a topic for next week? If so, please send me suggestions regarding individuals and companies to contact regarding that, and pointers to background reading. If not, what other topics would you suggest?

Kaye Vivian -- Internet telephony is a good subject, Richard. I'll send some suggestions. Kaye Vivian, kvivian@cloud9.net...signing off. :)

Richard Seltzer -- Kaye -- yes, please if you can make a list of examples and send it by email for inclusion with the transcript.

Tom Dadakis -- Tom Dadakis signing off

Richard Seltzer -- All -- as usual I'll do a transcript of this session -- editing it and recreating the threads. I hope to have it up sometime tomorrow. Check http://www.samizdat.com/#chat

Richard Seltzer -- All, before signing off, please post your email addresses and URLs so we can followup. Also please send email with followup thoughts and suggestions for inclusion with the transcript. seltzer@samizdat.com And let me know if that telephony topic is on target for you.

Jeff Foust -- See ya... Jeff Foust, jeff@astron.mit.edu, http://reudi.mit.edu

Richard Seltzer -- Scott McCarley -- I see you just joined us and that you are with Virtuflex. We're winding down now. I'll be posting the transcript late tomorrow at http://www.samizdat.com/#chat Please take a look and send email with your comments for inclusion with the transcript. And please join us next Thursday at our regular
time -- noon to 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

Scott McCarley -- Sorry I missed this weeks discussion. I would have liked to participate. I must also complement you on the layout and set up of the discussion area. I really do like it.

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks to all. Hope to see you again next week. 


Followup

Object Design, Inc. at Web-net

From: Kaye Vivian <kvivian@cloud9.net> Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 13:10:29 -0400

Just in case you missed it in the flurry there at the end of the chat today, here's the ODI info, and you might be able to squeeze it into the chat transcript. :) ODI = Object Design, Inc.

Kaye

(from the Web-Net opening page)

When: July 8th, 6:30pm

What: "Killer Web Applications with Object Databases" by Richard Hanagan of Object Design, Inc.


Mbone -- suggested topic

From: David Schafer <SCHAFERD@mercyhealth.com> Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 13:41:36 -0400

I missed about the last two months of chats, but will peruse them to keep up-to-date. Internet Telephony would be a great topic, but at a higher level of things, I'd like to learn more about the Mbone from an expert. I've been reading about this "thing" and I am very intrigued about its potential to drastically change the way we communicate digitally.

Just a suggestion.

David Schafer, http://www.mercyhealth.com


Internet publishing -- suggested topic and links

From: "Todd S. Moyer" <tsm@unx.dec.com> Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 16:43:36 -0400

I'd be most interested in Internet publishing. However, I may not be able to make the July 17 session, so I'd prefer if we didn't have it then.

Some related links:

http://www.usatoday.com/

http://www.pathfinder.com/

http://us.imdb.com/

http://www.msnbc.com/

http://www.yahoo.com/

http://www.cnn.com/

Todd Moyer


Previous transcripts and schedule of upcoming chats -- www.samizdat.com/chat.html

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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.

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