The Internet beyond the Web

by Philippa Gamse,

Philippa Gamse, who works in Britain and the US advising businesses and voluntary organisations on use of the Internet, finds she needs to remind both newcomers and existing users there is more to it than the World Wide Web. This article was written in 1997.

Electronic mail

E-mail can be an incredibly effective communication tool. It is usually available at the cost of a local phone call. It can reach anyone in the world with an Internet e-mail address for this minimal cost. So using e-mail in preference to the phone or fax can significantly reduce expenses, particularly on long-distance or international rates.

E-mail is also useful in a local setting. The statistical chances of reaching someone directly during the working day are estimated at less than 20%. However, e-mail can be sent and received at any time of the day (or night!), and so becomes an effective and non-obtrusive way to contact colleagues and customers.

Contacting many people at a time

I frequently suggest to my clients that they start to record e-mail addresses for their customers as readily as they do their phone and fax numbers. It costs essentially the same (i.e. almost nothing) to send a message to one, or to many people. Thus, e-mail can be a great way to distribute announcements, newsletters, or other regularly mailed pieces. And, since e-mail is pretty basic in its looks, typesetting can be minimal in effort, while printing and postage costs will be zero!

E-mail can also be a great tool for running long-distance meetings that have traditionally been conducted using expensive telephone calls. Although I do not suggest that e-mail totally replace these interactions, significant time and cost can be saved if reading material (such as reports, papers, previous minutes, etc.) are sent electronically ahead of time. This gives participants an opportunity to review them, and then make better use of the meeting time to discuss action points and make necessary decisions.

Sharing files

Sending files via e-mail can have applications in many settings. Artwork can be sent from graphic designers to printers, without regard for physical location. I heard of a recent case where significant changes were made to an organisation's brochure just before a major exhibition. This event took place in a distant city, and it would have been impossible to reprint and ship the materials from the home base in time. However, the copy was sent via the Internet to a printer at the exhibition location, the new brochures were delivered to the exhibition centre, and no shipping costs were incurred!

Electronic mailing lists and newsgroups

Electronic mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups exist to discuss just about every conceivable subject (and some that most of us wouldn't want to conceive of!) Although effective participation in these can require a serious investment of regular time, there are real potential benefits for the business person.

When participating in these lists, make sure that you have a signature file. This consists of a few lines containing your name, organisation, and contact details, including your Web site if you have one. You can set your e-mail or newsgroup reader to include the signature at the end of every e-mail or posting that you write. This inclusion gives you enhanced visibility within the group -- it is said to take 27 instances of seeing a name to achieve instant recognition, so every repetition helps!

Problem solving

The participants in these discussions also represent a pool of expertise that can be very useful. Anyone who has recently bought hardware from a store, or a new software product, knows that it can be increasingly difficult and expensive to reach the vendor's technical support team. However, posing the problem to the appropriate newsgroup can bring many qualified, and free responses.

Of course, I do not mean to suggest that all advice or opinions gleaned in this way should be treated as gospel. The same caveats should be used as in any other situation of reading, or hearing information if you are unsure of the reliability of the source.

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