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Big business finally catching on
about e-commerce


It's been almost 10 years since my first introduction to the Internet.

I was enrolled in a computer class as a student at Western Kentucky University, and part of this class involved learning to send and receive e-mail.

Once I learned the basics, I immediately put the Internet to work -- I sent a question about electronics to a Cornell University professor who had contributed an article to a magazine to which I subscribed.

To my amazement, his reply awaited me the next day, the first of successive e-mails.

It was around this time that I realized this thing called the Internet would change the way everyday citizens communicated -- and this was even before I had laid my eyes on the World Wide Web.

If the Internet itself hasn't changed the way we communicate, the World Wide Web certainly has.

Remember when seeing a Web address in a printed advertisement was a novelty?

We're now at the point where businesses no longer trumpet their presence on the Internet as an example of their "cutting edge vision". In practical terms, if you're business isn't using the Internet, you're already behind the times.

And now, even Big Business agrees.

Top U.S. investment banker Merrill Lynch, in a report issued last week, states that firms that continue to ignore electronic commerce and the Internet made follow the path of the dinosaurs into extinction.

E-commerce is more than the latest business buzzword; it's revolutionizing the way business is being done, the report says.

Investment brokers, online banking and real estate sales are all being altered by the Internet, it said.

According to a recent report from Forrester Research, more than 40 million households will be shopping online by 2003.

These online sales will generate revenues of more than $108 billion, and account for about 6% of total sales, the report says.

BOOK WAR WORRIES WALLSTREET. The e-commerce race among the biggest competitors is now beginning to surface.

Online bookseller Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com are locking into a price war based on the New York Times bestseller list.

Amazon.com pushed its discount on all NYT-listed books to a full 50 percent this past Monday.

Before the day was up, Barnesandnoble.com and Borders.com both had matched the discount.

While discounts aren't uncommon for books on the bestseller list, the move toward a real price war by the e-commerce giants reportedly had a chilling effect on Wall Street, cooling the enthusiasm about Internet-related stocks.

Shares of all three stocks fell in value last Monday as well.

Analysts say this price war is the significant change in how online retailers compete.

In the past, the three retailers had competed to build their brands and establish themselves in the market.

According to a ZDNet columnist, the price war could lead to more cuts, which will erode anticipated profits -- and potential returns on investment.

And just to make life more interesting for those who have invested heavily in the top three online book retailers, Book.com, the first online bookstore, recently began offering instant price comparisons with Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com -- with a pledge to beat the prices of any competitor.

Sounds like survival of the fittest to me.

WOW MUSEUM. One of the nice things about writing this column each week is finding that occasional gem, that rare Web site that really shines in effectively using the medium.

The most recent gem I've unearthed is a Web site that provides a unique perspective of Western frontier life in the 1870s -- through the eyes of a woman.

The Women of the West Museum Web site shows women's part in Westward expansion -- often overlooked and unappreciated.

Last week's feature story used details from letters written by Nebraska mother Maddie Oblinger to her kin back in Indiana.

Maddie and Uriah Oblinger were typical frontier settlers moving to stake a claim out West.

From their sod house and 160 acres, Maddie writes back with enthusiasm to her family.

"Every lick we strike is for ourselves," she writes. "I tell you this is quite a consolation to us who have been renters so long. There are no renters here."

It's a fascinating look the lives of the people who were our grandparents and great-grandparents -- in the days long before Star Wars prequels, microwave ovens and Tommy Hilfiger.

In addition to the virtual look back at frontier life, you can also visit the museum's Educational Resource Center to learn more about how to apply the museum's resources into a classroom setting, and much more.

Visit the virtual museum at www.wowmuseum.com.

NETSCAPE BROWSER UPDATE. Netscape Communications has released an updated version of its Web browser software.

Communicator 4.6 includes all the recent patches, updates and fixes to the Navigator Web browser, Messenger (e-mail client), Composer (Web page creator), AOL Instant Messenger 2.0, RealPlayer G2, PalmPilot Synch tools (Windows only), and a variety of multimedia plug-ins.

If you don't want the entire Communicator package, you can opt to download only the updated Navigator 4.08 Web browser.

If you already have Communicator version 4.0 or higher installed, you may be able to take advantage of the SmartUpdate feature.

SmartUpdate allows you to download only the portions of the program necessary to update your existing software. This means you don't have to download the entire Communicator program, saving you time and installation headaches.

For more information, visit the Netscape Netcenter Web site at http://home.netscape.com/.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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