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Below the Radar


by Glen Emerson Morris

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The ability to put interactive searchable databases on the Internet has been available for several years, but only for the more affluent businesses; ones with large computers, large staffs, and large budgets. Recent releases by Apple, Claris, and some third party developers have permanently changed that.

Apple recently released its first Internet compatible server, AppleShare IP 5.0, primarily targeted at small to medium businesses. The server acts as both a standard network file server, and an Internet Web server, and is easy enough to be set up and run by a person with average Mac and HTML skills. The AppleShare 5.0.2 server, which should be available by October 1997, will support FileMaker Pro databases through the use of a program called Tango, from Everyware Software. Anyone familiar with FileMaker Pro can learn to use Tango in a few hours. The forthcoming FileMaker Pro 4.0, due this fall, will be fully Web compatible and not even require a Web server.

These new tools open up a variety of new opportunities for advertisers and marketers ranging from used car dealers to real estate to trading card stores. For instance, a used car dealer could put a FileMaker Pro database on the Internet providing a description and digitized photograph of every car on the lot (taken with an expensive digital camera). The database could easily be updated with new inventory by non-skilled car salesmen. Consumers would be able to search the database for cars based on price, make, year, color, or any other type of information the dealer wishes to provide. Given the large ad budgets of most car dealers, the cost of setting up and running a system like this would be a marginal expense.

Real estate agencies would find a similar system equally useful. It would be easy to include a digital photo of every room in every house for sale. Deluxe homes could even use VR technology to provide 360 degree views of the home's interior.

Advertisers have two options for implementing the system. The cheaper method would be have the Mac running the Apple Web server physically located at the premises of an Internet service provider. Prices vary, but in the Bay Area this kind of service is frequently priced around $500 a month. This option eliminates the need for the advertiser to have a T1 high capacity phone line connected directly to their premises. The other way to do it is to have the server located on the advertisers premises, which gives the advertiser greater control, but at the cost of a T1 line and a high capacity network modem. The T1 alone could easily run $1000 to $1500 a month, and the modem adds $1000 to $2000 to the system cost. AppleShare 5.0 goes for under $2000 street price for the unlimited version.

To use James Burke's words, technology is always a double edged sword. The downside to this technology is that it will also be used by consumer groups to publish complaints against companies, and it will become much harder for businesses to notice.

Currently most comments consumers make about businesses on the Internet are in Usenet chat groups. Several services like Yahoo! and Excite index the content of these groups, word for word, and provide an easy way for Internet users to search and find any word or phrase in any posting on the Internet. This allows any company to find any mention of themselves, positive or negative, on the Internet in seconds.

Information stored in databases is not indexed by search services, and is, in effect below the radar. It can still be found, but it will take far more time and effort on the part of the business. Instead of a quick search on Yahoo!, companies will have to log on to every consumer run database on the Internet to really know how their reputation is doing.

The same "below the radar" effect will also apply to an advertiser's presence on the net as well. All information about products stored in databases is equally out of reach of the Internet search services, though this is likely to prove a minor issue.

It is unfortunate that these products are being released at a time when so much negative publicity about the Macintosh is flooding the media. Much of the bad news about Apple is true, but it is not the complete story.

The recent moves by Apple to kill the Mac clone market are regarded by many in the Macintosh world as marking the end of Apple as a general computer company. This is probably true, but Apple still has vertical niche markets like DTP, digital video, and Web production. Despite major management and marketing problems, Apple still has one of the best engineering departments in the world. This may well be enough to keep Apple, and the media and advertising businesses dependent on it, going strong for years. AppleShare IP 5.0 is exactly the kind of product to justify the purchase of a Mac, even in an otherwise all Windows business environment.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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