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What is the purpose of the Internet? This innocent-sounding question should probably be included alongside politics, religion and sex as taboo subjects if you want to host a peaceful meal for denizens of the wired world. This is because without much planning or forethought, the Internet has grown into an unprecedented global communications phenomenon.

Radio, telephone and TV networks were all born primarily as commercial services. True, they furthered human development and global communication, but their primary purpose was and remains to make money by selling services or products.

If you were to advance the theory (in, say, one of the alt.newsgroups) that the purpose of the Internet was to make money, you would probably get flamed. Or at least you'd have to answer the question, "Yes, but for whom?"

No one owns the Internet (although someone owns each of its components). There is no single governing body that controls it.

The people who originally designed the military network that became the Internet saw it as a way to decentralize a communications network so it could survive a nuclear war. Then academia staked its claim, students around the world got access and the purpose became to share knowledge.

Next, how-to-books, articles and Internet culture magazines began to proliferate, commercial services started hooking up and the hordes began to arrive. One million new users a month started to pile on.

Consumer interactive services have existed in one form or another for over 15 years in the U.S. In that time, two very different models have competed for public attention. The first, an outgrowth of the telephone and software industries, is based on the premise that consumers are willing to pay for what they use, can ascribe an exact dollar value to it and that advertising subsidization is unnecessary.

The second model is an outgrowth of the media and marketing industries and makes the assumption that the broad base of consumers will be unwilling or unable to pay the entire cost of using an interactive service. Proponents of this school seek to integrate advertising into the creative product in order to offset, either entirely or in part, subscription fees.

To date, these services have succeeded based on the pay-per-use model, not as an advertiser-supported medium. But everywhere there is talk of beginning to incorporate some form of marketing into the mix.

So the stage is now set in the personal computing arena for many forms of interactive marketing to emerge, through commercial online services, fixed media such as CD-ROM and new hybrid forms that will combine both. Now, we have begun to see these activities moving over to the Internet, which has a different raison d'etre and its own history, distinct from the commercial providers.

Everyone would probably like to see the Internet become a financially self-sufficient entity. The question is how.

Higher fees will stifle growth and challenge the notion that the Internet is a "medium for the people." Unbridled commercialization will likely crush what is most precious about the Internet.

As usual, the answer is to think before we leap, to build consensus on what should and shouldn't be done, and to formalize this consensus into a set of open standards that everyone can access and understand.

The following guidelines are offered as a starting point toward the responsible participation of marketers on the Internet:

1) Intrusive e-mail is not welcome.

No one should receive a message they haven't either asked to receive or, more generally, want to receive. If a user requests information from companies that sell ski equipment, the companies within this category should be able to send this user the relevant information. They may offer to add the user's address to their list server, but under no circumstances should an inquiry result in an automatic subscription.

2) Internet consumer data is not for resale without the express permission of the user.

Unlike commercial services, where it is clearly understood that data generated through consumer interaction is being sold to marketers, Internet data should remain the private property of the user.

In the ski example, the fact that I have requested information via the Internet should not de facto allow the ski company to resell my behavioral data to say, Saab-which may be interested in reaching ski enthusiasts.

3) Advertising is allowed only in designated newsgroups and list servers.

The most objectionable form of advertising on the Internet comes in the form of off-topic commercial postings to newsgroups and list server conferences, usually cross-posted to dozens or hundreds of groups. These postings generally draw harsh flames from readers, but such feedback may not be sufficient to stop this type of abuse.

Those who post off-topic commercial solicitations should be warned once, then filtered at the source from any future postings.

4) Promotions and direct selling are

Marketers should be free to offer promotions from their own domains, but users should be given an opportunity to clearly review the rules, guidelines and parameters of the event before they commit. Promotions should be subjected to the same guidelines as above-all promotions should be self-selected.

We suggest the recommendations related to shopping via the Internet be consistent with those developed for analog merchants by the Direct Marketing Association, modified and/or enhanced to reflect the unique attributes of electronic delivery.

5) Consumer research is allowed with the consumer's full consent.

Marketers should be able to conduct consumer research as long as respondents have ready and easy access to information outlining the uses and implications of participating in the market research survey.

6) Internet communications software must never hide concealed functions.

Several years ago, a commercial online service was accused of using its terminal software to scan users' hard discs for text that appeared to be an address. The program would then allegedly collect this data and, unbeknownst to the user, send it to the service for use in compiling mailing lists.

As client/server applications become more prevalent on the Internet, the opportunity for this type of abuse increases.

Whatever purpose you ascribe to the Internet, today it can be useful in connecting customers with companies. From a customer perspective, access to company assets, as well as continued low-cost access to the Internet, is desirable. In turn, companies build customer loyalty, as well as attract new customers.

Mr. Nisenholtz is senior VP-director of the Interactive Marketing Group at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, New York.

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