How you can use the Internet in your day-to-day work routine.
By Erik J. Heels
First published 1/1/1997; Law Practice Management magazine, “nothing.but.net” column; American Bar Association
You have heard how to use the Internet for legal research. You have heard how to use it to find law-related organizations. But here’s how you can use the Internet in your day-to-day work routine. The paper-based resources that you use on a daily basis are all making their way — slowly but surely — to the Internet.
One very helpful Web site is a Web-based dictionary. The hypertext Webster interface (http://c.gp.cs.cmu.edu:5103/prog/webster), written by a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, provides a point-and-click client interface (for non-linemode browsers) for accessing the various Webster’s dictionary services on the Internet. It’s quick. It’s simple. It does one thing. And it does it very well. All in all, rather nifty! For the record, here’s the definition of “nifty” given by the hypertext Webster interface.
nifty \’nif-te-\ aj [origin unknown] : FINE, SWELL – nifty n
But suppose you don’t need to know what a word means, but, instead, you’re looking for an alternate word to use. What’s another word for thesaurus? How about WordNet (http://www.cogsci.princeton.edu/~wn/), a thesaurus-like research tool from Princeton University. Because it’s interactive, it does more than a thesaurus, and the algorithm was designed to give you synonyms for related concepts as well as for related words. With a database of nearly 20 megabytes, it’s also much larger than your everyday thesaurus. WordNet also runs as a stand-alone program and is available in various flavors (UNIX, Windows, MacOS). For more information, see ftp://clarity.princeton.edu/pub/wordnet/README or send e-mail to email@example.com. An older, and a bit more clunky, interface to a thesaurus is also available from the National Institute of Health (gopher://odie.niaid.nih.gov/77/.thesaurus/index).
Who you gonna’ call? Like it or not, many consumers still use the (good old?) yellow pages as their main source of information. Of course, the problem with most yellow pages (as with some Web sites) is that you have to know what you’re looking for before you can find it. If you need a new windshield for your car, do you look under windshield? Glass? Automobile? Car? There’s also no guarantee that one city’s yellow pages will be organized like another’s. Fortunately, there are a couple of Web-based yellow pages that have gone a great way towards solving some of these problems.
The biggest Net-based yellow pages is the NYNEX Interactive Yellow Pages (http://www.niyp.com/). But don’t let the name fool you. These yellow pages are not limited to NYNEX’s calling areas (New York and New England). Over 16 million businesses are listed from all over the country. The NYNEX interface needs some work. Searching for “Massachusetts” and ‘windshield” lead to one manufacturer — of windshield wipers. Also, because the Web site is a derivative of a product developed for and with the French, the server is located in France, so response time is often slow. Nevertheless, it’s an addition to the Web surfer’s toolbox.
Business school students are taught that leaders in one technology (such as paper-based yellow pages) are never the leaders in the next technology (such as Web-based yellow pages). Old companies often resist change, are tied to old ways of thinking, and end up developing products that try to apply new technologies to old ways of doing things. The classic photograph is of a “steaming sailship,” which was a sailboat that had been retrofitted with steamboat technology. The sailboat industry failed to see that steam power was an entirely new way to solve the problem of marine transportation. In many ways, the NYNEX Interactive Yellow Pages Web site is a steaming sailship, little more than an HTML-ified book. And while there are certainly executives within NYNEX that understand the Internet’s ability to transform the way business is conducted, there are also those who year for the (good old?) days of paper-based yellow pages. It is equally true that there are new, innovative companies that are not hindered by old-fashioned methods of doing business. One such company is BigBook, Inc.
BigBook’s Web site (http://www.bigbook.com/) is also a business directory based on the yellow pages model. The BigBook Web site has fewer listings (11 million) than NYNEX’s, but that’s because NYNEX has a gazillion-year head start on BigBook. I expect that BigBook will close the gap and soon exceed NYNEX. BigBook also has the edge in attitude (saying, for example, “We’re not too fond of monopolies. That’s how consumers end up with just one Yellow Pages directory”), cool technology, and privacy (they won’t sell your info). And you can include your business in BigBook for free; their Web site is 100% advertiser supported. Future BigBook innovations may make you forget that the yellow pages were ever paper-based.
Another information source that is still firmly rooted in paper is classified advertising. Newspapers get the majority of their advertising revenue from the teeny tiny classified ads that they sell to consumers. Because classified ads have a short life span and are usually of interest to those in the local community, no one Web site has been able to dominate the classified market. The key to a successful Web-based classified service is generating traffic on your Web site. One site which has a head-start is FunCity (http://www.funcity.com/), which was named one of the top 100 Web sites by PC Magazine. FunCity offers free classified advertising. And “free” is a model that Internet users love. There are not a great deal of listings there at the moment, but I expect that to change as awareness of the service increases.
How do you remember birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments? Do you have a paper schedule that you carry around with you? Or one of those YAC (yet-another-computer) electronic organizers? I’m not terrible fond of paper. Or of YACs. But I do use the Internet daily. If you’re addicted to the Net, you might want to try a Net-based reminder system called E-Mind Me (http://www.e-mind.com/). The concept behind E-Mind Me is simple. Register your important dates with E-Mind Me, and you’ll get reminders, via e-mail, at 30 days, 14 days, 7 days, the day before, and the day of. Actually, they could extend that to the day after and corner the market on the sorry-I-forgot-your-whatever cards. In exchange for the free e-mail reminders, E-Mind Me asks you to come and shop at their Browz-o-Matic mall for flowers, cards, etc. That’s fair. Last time I checked, the Browz-o-Matic store shelves were empty, but I expect them to be stocked sometime soon.
Yes, Virginia, you can receive faxes via the Web when you’re away from (or at, for that matter) the office. FaxWeb (http://www.faxweb.net/) enables you to retrieve your faxes (and voicemail) from anywhere in the world. You can even configure FaxWeb to notify you via e-mail or alphanumeric pager when faxes and voicemail are received. For example, if you only want to use FaxWeb when you travel, you can simply use call-forwarding to forward your office’s fax to your FaxWeb phone number. FaxWeb’s interface is simple and intuitive. And at $15 month ($20 for the voicemail option), the service is priced reasonably. For more information, check out their Web page or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping Nonprofits Get Connected
If yours is a nonprofit organization, and you feel like all of this cool Web stuff is passing you by, check out Yahoo’s listing of companies that provide Web pages free of charge to various organizations (http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Companies/Internet _Services/Web_Presence_Providers/Free_Web_Pages/). You may also want to consider registering with FreeRide (http://www.freeride.com/), which lets you earn Internet access based on your retail purchases. It’s like earning frequent flier miles for staying in a participating hotel. Only better. As the bumper sticker says, “I’d rather be surfing the Net!”