INTERNET WORLD SHOW SPURS ONLINE COMMERCE DEBATE

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A World Wide Web site is most effective as a marketing vehicle when it provides customer service, said speakers at last week's Spring Internet World show in San Jose, Calif.

"Think customer service, don't think selling," said Jim Sterne, president of Target Marketing, Santa Barbara, Calif. "A Web site is not something people read, it's something they do. This is their experience, it's not your brochure."

The Internet today has some 30 million users worldwide, but growth prospects hyped at the trade show, attended by more than 15,000 people, were staggering. In his keynote address, John Patrick, VP-Internet applications at IBM Corp., estimated 700 million potential customers will be on the 'net by the end of the century.

Internet experts cautioned marketers against rushing in with ill-conceived Web sites, however.

"If you just throw up a Web site and wait for the money to come rolling in, you've got another thing coming," said Jill Ellsworth, senior partner with consultancy Oak Ridge Research, San Marcos, Texas.

The Internet's security systems are close to being in place, paving the way for secure electronic shopping services on the information superhighway. In a key move, IBM, America Online and CompuServe joined with Netscape Communications Corp. in investing in Terisa Systems, a Menlo Park, Calif., company developing an Internet standard for electronic commerce.

Separately, Netscape, which claims about 75% of the market for Web navigation tools, joined with Sun Microsystems to offer a turn-key solution for businesses moving onto the Web. And Apple Computer also introduced the Apple Internet Server Solution, described as "an affordable and easy way to establish a presence on the information superhighway."

In other show news:

Prodigy Services Co. said more than 500,000 members had downloaded its Web browser.

IBM opened a Web page for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games at http://www.atlanta.olympic.org.

Mecklermedia Corp., producer of Internet World, launched World-Wide WebWeek, a newspaper for Web development.

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