Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Two Canadian Internet gurus pull ahead of the publishers pack with their how-to book

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #304  August 22, 1995 High Tech Office  column

    Have you ever noticed how book publishers, like movie producers, and TV sitcom creators, seem to move in herds (or is it gaggles?) When one of them produces a successful product, a host of similar volumes quickly appear.

    This is especially true of computer books... a big section in almost every bookstore nowadays. After the success of the volume 'DOS for Dummies', the publisher quickly came out with other bright yellow 'XXXX for Dummies' books (and even expanded away from computers. There are now 'Everyday Math for Dummies, 'SAT for Dummies' and more). And the imitators lost little time in following up... there are now bright orange 'Windows for Idiots', and other clones and compatibles.

    Last year's publishing theme was CD-ROMs and Multimedia. But this year, inevitably, it's the Internet. I've personally received about a dozen for review in the last 12 months, and after a while, they start to blur together. (By the way, it's not just the trend for publishing... according to Silicon Valley trendwatcher ............. the same has been true for venture capital-- multimedia is passe, this year's investments are in Internet-related startups).

    And with a late-May Angus Reid poll suggesting that 17% of adult Canadians (or 3.4 million) claiming to have Internet access, this is an area witnessing tremendous growth. I'm no longer more than slightly surprised to see roadside billboards advertising an Internet provider.

    Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead have picked two ways to stand out from this year's Internet book clones... for a start, they're Canadian and aiming at a Canadian market, and secondly, they're pitching their book at the business user.

    The duo has previously published two editions of the Canadian Internet Yellow Pages-- a listing of Canadian access providers and content providers that reached best-seller proportions, selling over 100,000 copies between them. (Because the Internet is a moving target, any resource list such as the Yellow Pages is out of date as soon as it's published, making frequent revisions necessary).

    Their current volume is more than a simple directory... it is making the case for participation on the Net by business, government, and non-profits. And as much as possible, it is aiming at Canadians... if only by providing Canadian examples.

    There is an irony here-- the Internet jumps national boundaries, as was evidenced by the ease with which the Karla Homulka trial evidence appeared on the Net despite the Ontario court's publication ban.

    And with Canadian business being increasingly integrated into North American, or Pacific Rim contexts, is there a separate argument for a 'Canadian' Internet presence? Or is this more a case of the author's trying to establish a small market niche for themselves?

    Certainly, the focus of the book shouldn't limit it to the Canadian context, and aside from the Canada-only examples, their message isn't limited to North of 48.

    Carroll and Broadhead do a good job of pointing out both the benefits and limitations of the Internet for business and government, education, and non-profits. They clearly try to lower the often unrealistic expectations, pointing out that in fact, the Internet is not a place where anyone is making a lot of money (except perhaps for book publishers and Internet access providers). They certainly suggest that you shouldn't expect a lot of retail sales... at least not in the short term.

    They do, however, show where the Internet can serve a useful purpose for business... in technical support or in distribution of product information, for example. And they stress the importance of having a clear plan, and explicit goals for an Internet project.

    This, in fact, is the real meat of the book... a chapter outlining 15 steps to an Internet strategy. Too many companies seem to be rushing headlong onto the Internet, out of a poorly-defined sense that they need to have a presence on the Net now... and they'll define the 'whys' sometime later. Instead, Carroll and Broadhead propose careful planning, including steps such as assessing the Internet activities of other firms in your industry, and thinking about your customers or target audience. Determining your organization's current Internet knowledge and objectives... and how you will use Internet tools such as e-mail, Usenet, or the World Wide Web. Defining costs.

    It would be trite to mention such common-sense steps for most business projects, but giving the current Net-hysteria, this is the only source I've seen that has so clearly stepped back and spelled it all out.

    This isn't a technical book-- it spends virtually no time on the mechanical hardware or software guts. If you're looking for a book describing how to get online, or how to find information on the Net, you should look elsewhere... there are lots of such books, including some with the famous bright yellow covers. But this book manages to stand out from the crowd, both in its Canadian context, but much more so for its common sense practicality-- by forcing businesses to define their goals and purpose for being on the Internet, and helping them find the means to achieve their ends.

    For their clarity and realism, as much as for the models they provide, this could be an important book for many organizations wondering whether to establish a presence on the Net. And despite its title, its message is equally valid on both sides of the border. It's published by Prentiss Hall Canada, for $29.95.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan