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Dan Bricklin: Democratizing the Web 169

securitas writes "This NY Times story featuring Dan Bricklin discusses the social impact of the Web on small businesses (Mom and Pop shops) and how the Web is leaving some behind. Bricklin wants to change that and make creating Web sites as easy (*cough*) as using a PC."
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Dan Bricklin: Democratizing the Web

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  • Small shops? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by numbski ( 515011 ) * <numbski AT hksilver DOT net> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:04AM (#5900639) Homepage Journal
    The small shops are usually the places the high school and college students get their first HTML gigs in. Granted, the sites come out looking less-than-beautiful, but there's no reason to get left entirely behind. With the advent of PayPal [x.com] just about anyone can set up shop online with minimal barrier to entry.

    *shrug*
    • Re:Small shops? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:16AM (#5900756)
      I don't see how it is expensive or difficult to put your business online. Use FrontPage or Dreamweaver to build the web site. Hosting a low bandwidth site should not cost more than $20/month, and getting merchant acounts is easy and cheap. It cost me ~$200 to set up my accounts with Visa, MC, Amex, and Discover, and as far as 'shopping carts', the gateway I use offers one for free. So, from what I've seen, a company that helps small businesses get on the web, is benefiting from the fact that these mom and pops assume it is very expensive and time consuming. (just my .02)
      • Or just use Mozilla Editor. Total cost: zero.
      • Re:Small shops? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JimDabell ( 42870 )

        I don't see how it is expensive or difficult to put your business online. Use FrontPage or Dreamweaver to build the web site.

        Here in the UK, there is a law to prevent discrimination against disabled people, the DDA. It covers things like having ramps to access buildings, and so on. It also covers websites - do you expect the average Frontpage user to know the first thing about making a website accessible? The government are only in the process of assessing how bad the situation is - they aren't enf

      • Re:Small shops? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by goliard ( 46585 )

        I don't see how it is expensive or difficult to put your business online. Use FrontPage or Dreamweaver to build the web site. Hosting a low bandwidth site should not cost more than $20/month, and getting merchant acounts is easy and cheap. It cost me ~$200 to set up my accounts with Visa, MC, Amex, and Discover, and as far as 'shopping carts', the gateway I use offers one for free.

        Allow me to enlighten you.

        The small business people being discussed are people who wouldn't know Dreamweaver from a hole i

    • Re:Small shops? (Score:4, Informative)

      by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:46AM (#5900978) Homepage Journal
      eBay [ebay.com] already seems to have done a bang-up job in this area. There is a huge community of small businesses that have an online presence within eBay, many of which do better online than they do in their retail storefront (in particular antique and collectibles shops). This guy is hardly breaking new ground...
  • by nege ( 263655 )
    That is like saying that people who are really great at math and numbers make more money as accountants so we need to make sure that math is easy to do, or that being an accountant is easy. There are many resources out there to become a great accountant from books to classes, and there are many great resources out there to be a good web designer, again, from books to classes to just plain practice. Sure you could give them a nice WYSIWYG editor or something (and Microsoft has done some of this...) but it
  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <<ten.xoc> <ta> <ikiat>> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:09AM (#5900683)
    This article talks about *LISTENING* to small business about thier tech needs, not just shoving as much high tech gear into thier arms with very little idea how to use it... This is the right way to target small business I think..
  • complacency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asv108 ( 141455 ) * <asv.ivoss@com> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:10AM (#5900693) Homepage Journal
    I think the #1 threat to small business in general is complacency. There are lots of small businesses that I see go under. Mostly from the introduction of large chain stores, but I'm sure some took a dent from the Internet, but almost all of them did not do anything visibly different from the previous year when the new competition was nonexistent.
    • Not Complacency (Score:2, Informative)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )
      the failure rate of small businesses.
      33% after 2 years
      50% after 4 years
      60% after 6 years
      http://www.sba.gov/advo/stats/sbfaq.html
      " Owners of about one-third of the firms that closed said their firm was successful at closure"
      lots of small businesses close for reasons other than $.
  • On the same note... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adamofgreyskull ( 640712 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:10AM (#5900695)
    I propose that installing central heating be as easy as turning my heating on, making my own car be as easy as driving.

    Poor analogies perhaps...anyway...my main point is this, you *can* do it yourself, but it'll never be as good as having a specialist do it.
    I know I'd rather pay a plumber to install my heating than end up with a leaky botch job that I put in myself.
    • That is true but it's also a bit like saying why write a home mechanic manual for a car, since you want an expert to repair it?
      Although you may need an expert to build it, you should be able to do repairs etc with minimum knowledge. Making the web more accessable is good news for everyone.
      As far as putting designers out of work, well DIY plumbing probably creates as much work as it removes :) and that's probably a good ananolgy.
      • by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:50AM (#5901013) Homepage
        That is true but it's also a bit like saying why write a home mechanic manual for a car, since you want an expert to repair it?

        Although you may need an expert to build it, you should be able to do repairs etc with minimum knowledge. Making the web more accessable is good news for everyone.

        Yeah, and things like changing oil and spark plugs fit the bill. However, unless you yourself are an expert, next time your car needs the head gasket replaced, you're taking it in. That's all there is to it.

        Web's the same way. You want a static page, well, that's pretty easy, and well within the capabilities of something like Frontpage or whatever. Need dynamically created content linked to an SQL database? Sorry, but you're not doing this yourself unless you're an expert. There is pretty much no way of making this available to the average schmoe, unless you want to make a cookie-cutter it-installs-itself version.

        That's just how life works - there are aspects of both car repair and web design that are within grasp of morons, and aspects that aren't. And I think html is already pretty easy to work with thanks to creation engines (hell, it ain't that hard to write in emacs, but I digress).

        Oh, and for what it's worth, the article kind of read like an ad for that guy's small-business web hosting. It seems to me that Bricklin's less interested in making information freely available than he is in the proliferation of for-profit tools - namely his. So don't forget the conflict of interest here.

        Before the flames start, I'm NOT a web designer. I'm the guy with the shitty page written in a text editor. But at least it loads faster than you can blink. ;)

        • > Yeah, and things like changing oil and spark plugs fit the bill. However, unless you yourself are an expert, next time your car needs the head gasket replaced, you're taking it in. That's all there is to it.

          True.

          Somewhat-OT rant: I'd love to have an option to pay a mechanic or utility guy an extra $20/hour or whatever to put up with a clueless n00b who asks lots of silly questions. (or even $10/hour to have a nice cup of STFU and just watch :)

          My computer's a part of me. I wouldn't do anything

          • Time my friend, time. Its not free.

            You take it in and pay to have it done quickly or you can do it yourself for free at the expense of your time. If you have nothing better to do with your time then knock yourself out.
    • Someone was bound respond with this, so it might as well be me. I've put my own central heating into two houses now, and it doesn't leak, the disruption to the house and family is minimal, I get the job I want, when I want it.

      now... where did I put that engine hoist

      • :o You see what I was getting at though...there are always going to be some jobs that you can't do yourself, either because the money for tools, or time required to gain knowledge to do it exceeds what you can afford to offer.
    • It's more like refridgeration. You could can someone to install refridgeration, but, for most people, it's better to just buy a fridge and stick it in your kitchen. There aren't many parts you'll want to tune or replace, assuming that you buy one that initially works as advertized.

      Small businesses should be able to get websites by looking at a catalogue to find one that they like, buying it, and filling in the blanks. Sure, there are a lot of things you have to get right when running a web site, but the te
    • And I had to laugh when I saw Trellix mentioned. It was the first web-building app I tried. I hope it's better now than it was back then, but at the time it was the epitome of counterintuitive, and made pages that were essentially uneditable (proprietary local files), and the HTML as uploaded was buggy as hell.

      Kinda like doing your own plumbing, but with a chainsaw as your only tool. Well, I guess you can use it to cut the PVC pipe...

  • Frontpage, Geocities Page builder, etc etc why do you think those who refuse to try are left behind? because those that do try have a webpage (although most are crappy)
  • 800 pound gorilla (Score:5, Interesting)

    by L. VeGas ( 580015 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:11AM (#5900702) Homepage Journal
    There is no excuse for any business to not have a web presence. Minimally, every business, no matter how small, should have appropriate contact information and business description.

    As added features, they should also have free samples. And attractive customer representatives. Plus, snacks.

    But at least a website.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I work with a friend creating websites. He's a graphic artist and does _outstanding_ work. It's AMAZING how many small businesses DO NOT want to pay to get a website up, and we charge roughly HALF what others charge for creating websites.

      We had a customer who was amazed after we created the site how much business he got. If more people would listen and read what's going on, they would realize there is some VALUE to having a website, even a basic one.
      • Look at how many small businesses use what Kliban called "nephew art" for their physical signs.
      • A friend of mine made a small website for a Dutch garage that fixes up old citroen 2CV cars. A few months later they didn't advertise in magazines anymore as the website brought in more than enough work for them.

        They're in a specialist business with a lot of people willing to do some searching on the net, so that makes this a bit different case from the four-in-every-town small shops, but nontheless.

        Reinout
    • by tomhudson ( 43916 )
      Actually, there's no use for most businesses to have a "web presence". Most businesses are small businesses (less than 25 employees). They sell specialized services and/or products to a well-defined market.

      Putting up and maintaining a "web presence" (fuck, how I hate that term) diverts energy from servicing those clients. Certainly, it's not going to increase sales (we all learned that from the dot.com con games). All it can do (since they don't have the need or the resources to do a bang-up job) is make t

      • Re:800 pound gorilla (Score:2, Informative)

        by bitmason ( 191759 )
        >Actually, there's no use for most businesses to have a "web presence".

        I have to disagree. Just about ANY business depends on attracting new customers in addition to servicing your current customers. A "web presence" doesn't need to be a full online catalog. It doesn't even need to be particularly dynamic. It can be as simple as information about services/products and hours if you're a store.

        Let's say you're a small landscaping business that would like to attract some new customers. Wouldn't having a s
      • by ip_vjl ( 410654 )
        Actually, there is a pretty compelling reason for any business to have *some* sort of site - the yellow pages.

        Rates to advertise in the yellow pages are pretty high for small businesses, but it *does* generate interest. A web site is a great way for a business to "extend" their yellow page ad. Yes, it only works for the percentage of people who have web access, but it still can be worth it.

        Put your URL in your yellow page ad, and that way you can have a small ad that can expand to 10 (virtual) pages (for
        • With my business, once in a while I need to run an ad in the LA Times classifieds, and I now include my URL: it saves me the cost of a bigger ad (no need to repeat info that's on my website) and it weeds out lookie-loos with no money and no real intent to buy (an ongoing problem in my business).

          Essentially, it's using the classifieds as you suggest for yellow pages ads.

          A small business site need not be more than an intro to the people and product -- a nice friendly picture of the store, a quick rundown of
    • My father owns a business. A farm. He grows corn, beans, wheat, and some clover here and there. He sells to local elevators, and knows all the people he interacts with. He doesn't use a computer, much less have a website. He doesn't need one.

      However, you might correct yourself and say that all SERVICE businesses should have a website. I agree, as another form of communication, and advertising is a great asset. I use a local database of local businesses quite often, www.activedayton.com, and i really

      • Even farmers can benefit from a little extra advertising. For example, if your father grows clover, then he almost certainly has some bees. You would be surprised what people will pay for honeycomb, and selling a little sweet corn at retail prices doesn't hurt either.

        Your father is in a commodity business with very few potential buyers. In that sort of a situation keeping prices down is paramount. However, increasingly the farmers that stay in business are those that are able to run some sort of a bus

        • true, but it's a VERY limited field, with very high risks, to do anything but regular farming. if an investment goes bad, you lose everything. and you have no way to get back in, ever. you're basically screwed, and your family too, for life.

          oh, and no bees. i don't even see why you would think we'd keep bees? maybe you're from new york or california, who knows.

    • The cost of web hosting+dns can exceed the amount of business the website brings in. Some small businesses really DON'T need webhosting. espcially in rural areas where they make thier money by fufilling a niche role, such as a general store or the local livestock feed market.

      However, online "Yellow Pages" such as http://yp.yahoo.com and other directory services are cost effective enough to justify that cost though, usually free.
  • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:12AM (#5900719) Homepage
    You mean its not like that already? Okay, with C, java, python - yeah, I expect people not to know. But I learned HTML in half an hour. Non-geeks CAN learn HTML, and its not that hard. Hell, these are small business owners, so they've at least got enough intelligence to perform their own accounting, HTML should be a breeze. Buy a book that explains HTML and how to use FrontPage. The only thing left is an easier interface for setting up shops online (PayPal is pretty close). Or, just make an HTML exporter for MS Word that produces actual useable webpages instead of bizarre imbedded crap.
    • Well, yeah, even easier than learning HTML. For a business, the web is just another tool. I don't have to learn typography to put an ad in a newspaper; why should I have to take the time to learn HTML to get on the web?

      Besides, "learning" HTML (otherwise known as memorizing the syntax) doesn't make you any more able to build a decent web site than does memorizing C syntax make you a programmer. HTML has as little to do with building good web sites as C does with building good programs. Or a hammer does wi
  • here's [sureshotsoftware.com] a web page that's as easy to use as a PC.

  • Thanks Google! (Score:5, Informative)

    by FsG ( 648587 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:13AM (#5900729)
    Here's the no-need-to-register version of the article, thanks to Google:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/06/business/busines sspecial/06LOHR.html?ex=1052884800&en=ea31bf9e5b8a 61be&ei=5062&partner=GOOGLE [nytimes.com]
  • Making web pages (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rf0 ( 159958 ) <rghf@fsck.me.uk> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:14AM (#5900734) Homepage
    I would have to disagree slightly. In a mom+pop shop in the high street it is possible for them to see how customers shop and rearrange stock accordingly. Making web pages however is a not as easy. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sometimes less than intuative. This [webpagesthatsuck.com] is good example of how not to do things

    Rus
  • It may be dificult to do it well but that is like everything - most people can do most things at a pretty basic level. Being good at something (or at least better than most) takes some effort.
  • Its Always Been Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:17AM (#5900764)
    Creating a website has always been easy. Although, creating a scalable ecommerce website with all the wiz bang features is not. I know of a software package called Weblisket created by AllBinary that will allow anyone to create an ecommerce site with seven easy steps. Although, if you don't like the visual styles it provides through the Weblisket Store Wizard you still need to know JSP, XSLT, and the client ML you wish to modify like DHTML or WML. Plus, whenever a new client ML is needed you must change the XSLT to include the new client agent. To sum things up if you need a professional website you will always need professionals.
  • "SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR Bob Frankston, left, and Dan Bricklin about the time they created the first spreadsheet software program, in 1979."

    I suppose it's possible that they got their hands on a prototype IBM PC in 1979.

  • We are not typical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:20AM (#5900792) Homepage
    The /. crowd is hardly typical of the business world as a whole. Kids today are growing up with tech tools as their play things, but for many small business owners they did not have that environment growing up and they don't want it now.

    From the article: " In the focus group, a woman who manages a bridal shop said she was concerned because customers asked if she has a Web site, and she has to tell them no.

    "You hear that all the time in these sessions -- the customers are asking," Mr. Bricklin said behind the mirror. "Having a Web site has become a generational necessity for a lot of businesses. You lose the people under 30 without it."

    You sure do lose people without a Web site. For us it would be unthinkable. You begin with a Web site and then build your company! But the average small business owner who is computer-phobic or at least computer-neutral doesn't think that way. And furthermore, even if they do decide to get with the program and get a Web site, they probably don't know what to do about it.

    I see some touting the ease of HTML -- "They can make their own site, it's easy!" Well, no, HTML may be easy for us, but for someone who views computers as mysterious boxes the very idea of general programming concepts is beyond them. "I never was very good at math," they mumble when you suggest they learn HTML.

    So what is a win-win situation? Suggest to these small business owners that they get some college kid to create a web site for them, and if price is an objection they can pay little and advertise it as a way for the kid to build his online portfolio. Hey, building a web site may be child's play around here, but you gotta start somewhere in the job market, and plenty of PHBs will be impressed at your extensive portfolio.

    ----------

    • by khakipuce ( 625944 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:45AM (#5900961) Homepage Journal
      If these people want a shop sign, they pay a signwriter - very few would do it themselves. If they want leaflets, stationary or business cards, they pay a printer and may be a graphics designer.

      It seems to me that the issue here is the cost justification. For most small shops a web site is very intangible, especially if they don't sell through it. If they do sell from it it then starts to get complicated and expensive (compared to brochureware).

    • by iainl ( 136759 )
      "I see some touting the ease of HTML -- "They can make their own site, it's easy!" Well, no, HTML may be easy for us, but for someone who views computers as mysterious boxes the very idea of general programming concepts is beyond them. "I never was very good at math," they mumble when you suggest they learn HTML. "

      My wife manages to cope fine as a finance director, too, but I don't hear people suggesting that everyone should be able to do that without paying a professional.

      If these small business people m
    • College Kids (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jefu ( 53450 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @10:19AM (#5901244) Homepage Journal
      I tend to be very much in favor of hiring a college kid to do a web site - trading off pay for the opportunity to put it in their online portfolio as said.

      However in many colleges the people learning about web sites do not learn about building decent web sites, do not learn about accessibility, do not learn about usability, do not learn about maintaining the site, do not learn about reading logs to see if the site is used.

      They do learn how to make huge and pointless flash animations, how to make IE only sites, how to make sites that show off fancy (and usually unnecessary) features, how to add in every feature they've heard of.

      Too often they're like the webmaster I talked to once who (several years back when bandwidth was not easily accessible to most people) repeatedly said that streaming audio and video were to be an important part of his site. When I said that this would be a problem for much of his audience on slow lines, he told me "Then they don't deserve to see my site."

      And for far too many, HTML is still one of those opaque programming language things for geeks. And often enough the web site designer types are told that such things are only for geeks and that learning any of those icky details is beneath them.

      I'd still recommend the college kid - but ideally with sensible supervision.

      • in many colleges the people learning about web sites do not learn about building decent web sites, do not learn about accessibility, do not learn about usability

        It became clear from the rest of your post that you were talking mostly about college design students, but when I read the sentence I've quoted above I thought, "I know what you mean! These computer science/engineering students are taught to program the back-end but never learn how to make a decent web interface."

        I know that it's impossible to be
    • OTOH, the fact that geeks think "build a website, then build a business" may well be a lot of the reason for the dot-bombs: lots of hype, no actual business.

      In the real world, when your website brings you those customers, you'd better already HAVE a business they can buy from, or you've just wasted their time and gained their ire.

  • before anything else (Score:4, Informative)

    by ramzak2k ( 596734 ) * on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:21AM (#5900793)
    NYTimes username:freethepress123 password:freethepress12
  • Why stop at IT (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:22AM (#5900804)
    It always amazes me that after studing for how ever many years, gathering 10 years of experience there are always those who feel technology should always be reduced to the lowest common denominator so every tom dick and harry can build enterprise solutions. I am in favour of technology being made accessible to the public but as with every task if you want it done properly there is some level of skill and expertise required. Is there really such an objection to a few IT professionals earning a crust by providing this service ??

    Why dont people concentrate their simplifiction efforts on the ABC of the Legal matters, or DIY Surgery or a program that make Accountants redundant.
    • I think the point is that with a set of companies such as this, you could boil down their requirements to something fairly consistent, maybe along the lines of:

      shopping cart

      meaningful, useful web stats linked to customer info

      email

      simple content management

      mix and match templates and colours

      It's fairly obvious that a small business will want to say what domain name they want, and get up and running with a whole system as quickly as possible with zero fuss and high reliability.

      Yes, as we de-skill vario

    • amen. ...BUT it's a great tool for getting really expensive consulting jobs.. I used to work at a place that pretty much, their entire business consisted of going into places that had some slapped together system of access, vb, etc, that ran their business and the dude who did it either left or couldn't add the features they wanted or couldn't make it fast enough/stop crashing 10 times a day or all of the above.

      Man, that place made a boatload. not that the above tools are horrible (each has it's place, and
    • It always amazes me that [...] there are always those who feel technology should always be reduced to the lowest common denominator so every tom dick and harry can build enterprise solutions.

      Perhaps it's because the geeks would so much rather stay up nights and write a program to do it than meet you in person to provide a valuable consulting service.

      Only half kidding.

  • on the article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ramzak2k ( 596734 ) * on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:24AM (#5900817)
    I think it is more about someone who has recognized the money to made in the small businesses rather than someone trying to "Democratize the web". And there is nothing novel about it as the article wishes to potray. The big guns are fairly well established on the web after dot com boom (as in explosion) and the next obvious target for the web development industry would be small business. Has anyone seen Microsoft ads lately on TV ?

    Interland intends to lower that barrier by offering Web site hosting to small businesses for as little as $23 a month.
    Hey, there are many more good hosts which offer hosting for price far lesser than that.
    • > Hey, there are many more good hosts which offer hosting for price far lesser (sic) than that.

      Bandwidth gets to be a mofo. The cheaper hosts will eat your profits quickly if you use past their set bandwidth caps. And with customers demanding Amazon-scale pictures of everything, and 10,000 spiders sucking your servers dry every day, that bandwidth goes away fast before your first customer shows up.

      My wife's webstore (home grown, and I'm not crass enough to plug it with a link here) has about 70,000 i
  • Then maybe you can compete with stores on the web. I'd gladly shop at a mom and pop B&M if they had even slightly higher prices than stores on the web. But they never do.

    The days of sitting back and watching profits pour in by setting your prices way to high and expecting people won't notice... Well, they're still here, but they belong to the megacorps, not the mom and pop shops.

    • Look at the Z Shops on Amazon or Yahoo Stores in Yahoo Shopping. There are literally thousands. Some are failures, some do okay, some are hugely succesful - just like physical retail.
    • The days of sitting back and watching profits pour in by setting your prices way to high and expecting people won't notice...

      Mom and Pop stores rarely set their prices sky high because they want to reap mega profits. They set those prices in order to make any profit at all. Those goods in their stores come from wholesalers, who give discounts based on volume. The reason an online store can give you the consumer a dirt bottom price is because they recieved the item at a cost that a m&p would hardly
  • as his car project.. but not quite as useful..
  • by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:27AM (#5900839) Journal
    ...and make creating Web sites as easy (*cough*) as using a PC.

    Right click->properties... Add shweet web site.

  • by jcknox ( 456591 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:31AM (#5900856)
    What's killing small businesses isn't the inability to do fancy HTML, it's the inability to compete in a market larger than their own city. It doesn't take a wonderful web site to be competitive (although it helps). All it takes is the ability to provide the best mix of product, price, and service.

    Many small businesses (not all, but many) survive because they are the only ones offering their specific product line in their area, so they can get away with higher prices, sloppy service, etc. What the Internet brings to them is the same thing large chain stores bring: competition with lower prices and better service.

    I've bought stuff off of some really ugly web sites (can you say Yahoo shopping?) because they had the best prices and good shipping & service policies. Deploying a web store is easy enough already. There's no reason these mom and pop stores can't use the Internet as an opportunity to expand their operations. The keys to their success on the Internet will be the same as in any other large market: distinguishing yourself by offering a unique product, an standard product at the lowest price, or a standard product with the best support.

  • I thought viaweb (now Yahoo!Store) was successful because it automated as a server the mechanism for store creation in e-commerce. The management of the server is challenging, and is a customer interface, but not really the product or service actually delivered for most small businesses. I'm not sure that operating PCs got that much easier as Bricklin stated (with the notable exception of the windowing GUI stuff that became popular instead of command line interfaces). Administration, backup, maintenance,
  • According to some guy named Strongbad, there's a few simple rules to follow and you, too, can have a great web site.

    Welcome To Your Doom!! [homestarrunner.com]
  • by bergie ( 29834 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:34AM (#5900884) Homepage

    We're building the Open Source TownPortal [sourceforge.net] application for just this.

    The idea with TownPortal is that a local community (say, town or county) can easily build and maintain their web site.

    In addition, the TownPortal will also enable local small businesses, clubs and schools to run their web sites with simple but efficient CMS tools.

    By default the sites of these organizations are hosted under the main TownPortal site, but they can also be easily shown under their own domains with their own layout. In this case the operator of the portal would probably provide this as an additional service.

    /Bergie

    • While the idea sounds good, I've seen a few sites that are effectively a "town portal" as you describe, and they've uniformly sucked. Doesn't help to have a great concept if the people using it implement it that badly! :(

  • by hibiki_r ( 649814 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:36AM (#5900900)

    From The article

    Don't try to be Amazon.com with a full e-commerce presence all at once. Step in gradually, he said, by starting with a Web site and company e-mail. "You have to try it out -- see what works for you and what doesn't work for you," he said.

    What does a store gain from having a small web site? I think that a web site for a small shop will not do any good unless the costumers can find it in google when they are searching for the products directly, and the site has, at least, descriptions, photos and prices of the items to be sold.

    Is a small web site that does not list inventories, and just offers a street address and an e-mail any good?

    • Email is the point (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bergie ( 29834 )
      If the store gets an email address and actually reads the email, that makes them much more accessible.
    • I think that a web site for a small shop will not do any good unless the costumers can find it in google when they are searching for the products directly, and the site has, at least, descriptions, photos and prices of the items to be sold

      It can be useful just to have a website with store hours, directions, and contact info.

      I know I've looked up web sites just to find the hours a store it open. It's faster than getting out the phone book, looking up the store, calling them and asking how late they are

  • by ejaw5 ( 570071 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:36AM (#5900901)
    Do it right. There's nothing worse for a company than to have a website that only works correctly with one particular browser (it still happens today occasionally) or does not comply with the KISS principle (JAVA for a simple navigation bar).

    The GUI editors like FrontPage and Dreamweaver are great for starting out, but when it comes to making good websites, they can only go so far and you need code. For example, for a boss who wanted 15 scanned documents posted on the web one on each page, I wrote a PHP script that used the querystring to load a particular image named by it's number, and autogenerated the PREV, 1-15,NEXT navigation on the bottom. Resulted in ONE page to handle it all. If I would have done the way she would have, then it would have taken more time and needed 15 redundant HTML pages.

    I also think people become to dependent on the GUI editors. Instead of using one CSS file to handle formatting of content, people depend on DreamWeaver to replicate changes. May not sound significant, but when you have a large site, making one change is better than a hundred changes, even if it is automated.
    • I also think people become to dependent on the GUI editors. Instead of using one CSS file to handle formatting of content, people depend on DreamWeaver to replicate changes. May not sound significant, but when you have a large site, making one change is better than a hundred changes, even if it is automated.

      Consider also the burden you're placing on low-bandwidth, low-power, low-memory wireless devices. A big slow site is a sure way to turn away these customers.

  • There are numerous services available for small business to sell on the web at a fraction of the cost requireed for physical retail space. Most range from simple hosting fees to a few hundred a month for promotion in a larger shopping site (i.e, Yahoo Store).
  • Already happened (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <robert.merkel@nOspaM.benambra.org> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:48AM (#5900992) Homepage
    On a couple of visits to the US, my impression was that "Mom and Pop" stores were already gone. Every single retailer seemed to be a franchise operation. Even in Manhattan, it seemed like you walked past the same sequence of retailers selling the same stuff you'd find in Anyville, USA.

    Franchised retailing and chain stores do exist pretty much everywhere in the developed world, but the franchise and chain store is far more pervasive there than it is elsewhere.

    So is this a good thing or a bad thing? I dunno. The efficient logistics of big retail probably means stuff is cheaper in the US under such a system than it is with more chaotic retailing. It also leads to staff who know nothing about the goods they sell, and a conspicuous sameness about the goods on offer. But then again, is eclectic, funky, and individual shops really the best thing creative people could do with their lives?

  • Appearing Dated (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) <mrpuffypantsNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:48AM (#5900993)
    I don't think that there is anything wrong with a small business going online, as long as they don't get bilked by some web hosting provider that uses a bunch of acronyms to convince them of the benefits of their "cheap" $30/month hosting package while knowing full well that the site will probably get about 10 hits per month.

    Also, I've seen very often where a small business will go all out and get a web page set up, looking good (or bad), and have all the great stuff about their business. Somebody's son designed it, or the bizness hired the same company that is hosting it to design the site too. The problem comes with updating it.

    Often the owners of the business are far too concerned with actually taking care of their business and they either don't know how to or forget to update their web site. In the end, when people go to "grandmasflowerstore.biz" they see the site from early 2001 when the site first launched. It looks dated, and people get a bad impression from the old content and prices/specials.
  • Creating websites already _is_ easy. Creating a website that is good, well, that's alot harder. Static html pages are pretty unattractive nowadays. You need to be able to incorporate php or other scripting into your site in order for it to become truely useful and/or attractive to the passer-by.

    But for your simple mom and pop shop anyway, they probably really only _need_ a simple html page to put their menu on or what have you, which let's face it, can be taught to a monkey how to do that in very little ti
  • I wish (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IWantMoreSpamPlease ( 571972 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @09:54AM (#5901044) Homepage Journal
    ..Bricklin wants to change that and make creating Web sites as easy....

    I know how to create a web site, I know all the goodies. You know *why* I can't create a good website?

    I have no artistic talent. None whatsoever. I see all the nicely designed sites out there and think, "Sure, no sweat."

    But then I try and they look horrible. All the HTML works fine, in fact the last site I did worked on 12 different platforms and were all viewed the same.

    But it still looked like crap.

    Anyone got some artistic talent they don't need?
    • by jefu ( 53450 )
      I know how you feel. I'm the same way.

      I have learned a few tricks - which follow. Even so, nobody (least of all myself) will claim that most of my web pages are pretty - I will claim that the information in them is easy to find and accessible.

      The first is to find a simple style that you like, encode it in a style sheet and just use it consistently. Simple is best. You can usually find a reasonable style somewhere in some web page.

      Secondly - find someone who does have a sense of style and get them t

  • According to the article, Interland offers small business hosting packaging from $23 per month. I can't exactly say that's cheap. Granted it includes domain registration and 30 email forwarders, but theres no site design, just a choice of templates. If they want anything more than static pages, it's extra $$$.
  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @10:14AM (#5901205)
    I'm exaggerating a little, but there's an important point here, and I'll illustrate it with a little bit of personal history. In 1985, I was told by a well-meaning acquaintance that I might want to reconsider my chosen career path because 4GLs were going to make programmers obsolete. Programming was going to be easy enough that anyone could do it.

    That argument was already recycled at the time, although my would-be mentor probably didn't realize it. Compilers for high-level languages were originally going to put programmers out of a job. COBOL was going to be so much like English that businessmen (not businesspeople, it was the 1950's) would be able to understand it.

    The flaw in this whole theory is vital to understanding business, and where the future of programming is likely to go. If you own a business and your product is not computer software or hardware, you do not make your money from writing code. You spend your time learning the skills relevant to your business. You research the market for what you sell, not the latest programming language.

    Programs capture knowledge. That is one of their most important functions. As programmers, we have a great deal of specialized knowledge that is common across broad ranges of software. We know a variety of algorithms, strategies for error handling, data formats, network protocols, etc. None of that has anything to do with most businesses, any more than the guy running the sub shop down the street needs to know the electrical code.

    Businesses use software the way they use lots of things. It makes no sense for them to learn to wire the building or build their web site. The sub shop owner has business needs. He needs lighting and power for the cash register, and a refridgerator over there. He may need to put up a web site advertising his business. But his interest in programming is at the content level: deliver web pages with particular information, and maybe take orders.

    Putting up web sites from a tool that just lets users write some content, and select some options will necessarily limit those users to the options that are available. The full flexibility to innovate requires a tool that acts more like a language. Doing new things is a Turing equivalent problem. Doing existing things, even in new combinations does not have to be. The majority of users will never be programmers in the sense that specialists are. It doesn't matter that huge numbers of kids have learned some programming in school. I took biology in high school. I'm not a biologist.

    It's all about division of labor. People who aren't overly technophobic will use tools that programmers provide. Millions of people use word processors, spreadsheets, presentation packages, and even indirectly, databases. Most won't ever write a macro for their word processor or a schema for a database, nor should they. They use the tools that specialists provide to help them do what they do well.
  • http://oneandone.co.uk/xml/static/webpack_prof_wsc [oneandone.co.uk]

    I found this while I was looking around at getting a new hosting service. It has a demo that you can try out - I was quite impressed - a kind of paint-by-numbers website creator...

    (I'm not assosciated with these people at all, by the way...)
  • by kjfitz ( 256432 )
    I have seen many small businesses (especially small businesses in fact) that have been convinced to put up a web site and then it just sits there and collects dust. I can't count the number of times I go to a site and find out of date event lists and calendars, or menus that don't reflect the current offerings, or even directions and phone numbers that are no longer valid.

    Just HAVING a web site is not enough. Many small businesses are done a disservice when they are pulled into the modern world, convince
  • Wiki [c2.com] is a good an accessible way to generate content. The language is very intuitive (not as hard as HTML), and if even it was intended for open collaborative generation of content, there are a lot that provides authentication, ACLs, etc (i.e. TikiWiki [sourceforge.net] provides a good portal system with easy administration and wiki as content generation language).
  • by geordie ( 258181 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @10:26AM (#5901297) Homepage
    Creating a website is easy, we have clients who knew nothing about HTML or the web that have put together simple sites for their businesses.

    Creating a website that actually looks good and works well and that actually is a benefit to the business is an entirely different matter.

    What we come across time and time again is a business that has created a site themselves but the site is doing nothing for them because it wasn't built search engine friendly, or the graphics are 200+k each or they are using dark red on a dark blue (insert own bad colour scheme here! ) background making the page unreadble. Many people seem to think that : more crazy gif animations = better website.

    Most people don't realise that they have to prepare their site for the search engines, or that multiple 200+k graphics are going to make visitors go elsewhere.

    The other big misconception is that once they have a website, that's it, they're on the web, they're going to make money.
    Trying to persuade a client that they need to update their site on a regular basis and that they should put the URL everywhere they can (business cards, store window etc etc ) is usually met with the response 'oh, ok' but then no action.

    To sum it up, creating a site is one thing, but it's only the first step to a successful site and most people don't realise that.
  • Wrong tree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    There's a lot wrong here, but also a larger problem.

    Larger problem:
    If by Mom & Pop stores we mean small, privately owned retailers with single-digit locations, then the problem presented to them by the internet is that they have to compete with the national chains *at all*. Before, the national chains weren't in their area. Now the area's overlap, and for some Mom & Pop's that's a very bad thing. Before they existed just because they didn't have to compete with the chains, or, more precisely, becau
  • I work with others on a website called Digital Agora [digitalagora.com] which is intended to work towards the democratisation of the Internet by creating an open forum of communication.

    It soon becomes apparent though that merely creating a space is not enough. It is actually quite limiting communicating within the confines of the web. So personally I think ease of web use is not the be all.

  • ... why don't they shoot for as easy as using a Mac? ;)
  • first off, how many of you have actually designed a website for a mom-and-pop business? if you haven't then you simply don't know what you're talking about--i've been designing websites since 1995 and have worked on all levels of sites, from one-man bands to major corporations/brands, including the late not-so-great Microsoft Sidewalk, which was actually the first wave of this 'every business needs a website' euphoria, and which eventually and deservedly bit them in the ass. prior to 1996, i was a graphic d
  • by uncadonna ( 85026 ) <mtobisNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday May 07, 2003 @01:29PM (#5903369) Homepage Journal
    Maybe this would be an appropriate opportunity to voice my Interland gripe. A couple of years ago I had a unix virtual server account with a company called Hostpro that merged somehow with Interland. Prior to the merger it was the best ISP experience I have had.

    Immediately after the merger, my email became unreliable. I would get several bounce messages per week from an active majordomo list I was on. On more than one occasion, inbound email simply stopped altogether for over a day, sending (the same) bounce messages to correspondents to myself and my staff.

    After establishing that they had no intention of diagnosing and fixing the problem, I moved my account to another provider and duly informed Interland. I did not demand a refund for the two months of inadequate service.

    They kept charging me $95 per month (yeah, too much, another reason to switch), so I emailed and called, getting assurances that the problem was resolved and my money would be refunded. This occurred on three occasions (amounting to four cancellations, and three promises of a refund). The details of the incompetence and confusion of the cutomer service in this incident are largely lost in the mists of time, but I recall it was generally a big waste of time.

    Eventually they stopped billing my credit card, but the refund never arrived. I am of the opinion that Interland stole $570 cash from me, as well as several hours of my time, not to mention a competent hosting service.

    They sent me an exit interview email when they finally closed the account. I told the story in great detail, but never got any further response.

    If this is how they intend to get small businesses online let me just say that I have my doubts about how well it will go.

    • Interestingly enough my original submission was not posted in its entirety. The last line originally read:

      Bricklin is now CTO of Interland, a company which I have few positive things to say about.

      We were with HostPro as well -- phenomenal QoS and customer service -- I recommended them to several people. Then came Interland.

      I won't go into all of the sordid details here but Interland has just sucked. We have noticed brief and minor improvements in service when we compalined loudly wnough, but those we

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