A new-media publishing company is setting up ad-supported shop on the Internet and trying hard not to get burned in the process.
The new service, called MecklerWeb, will serve up information and soft-sell advertising from a variety of companies.
By requiring users to voluntarily access the messages, MecklerWeb hopes to avoid drawing the ire of Internet purists who have been known to respond to unwanted ads by "flaming" violators with angry electronic mail messages.
MecklerWeb will be unveiled this week at the Internet World trade show in San Jose, Calif., and will make its official debut Sept. 1. It is the brainchild of Alan Meckler, chairman-CEO of Mecklermedia, and Christopher Locke, general manager of the Internet project for the Westport, Conn.-based company.
Mecklermedia currently publishes three magazines: Internet World, CD-ROM World and Virtual Reality World, and sponsors several conferences, including Internet World.
MecklerWeb is the latest in a string of services providing commercial information via the Internet. Internet Co. and Electronic Newsstand earlier this month announced a similar offering, while several high-tech companies are backing CommerceNet, considered by some to be the first major transaction service on the Internet.
"What we want to do is create a place in cyberspace where commerce can be conducted both legitimately and effectively," said MecklerWeb's Mr. Locke, "kind of like the old village square in medieval times."
Ogilvy & Mather Direct, New York, will design MecklerWeb's "look and feel," its on-screen graphics and navigation.
Andrew Frank, director of software services at the agency, likened MecklerWeb to a "Yellow Pages approach to marketing goods and services. It helps users who know their interests to navigate the Internet and find companies that can fulfill their needs."
It's also possible that O&M clients, including the newest, IBM Corp., could find their way to MecklerWeb as time goes on.
For $25,000 a year, a sponsor company will be granted 10 to 15 megabytes of memory. Each sponsor will be grouped into a category or domain with similarly positioned sponsors, Mr. Meckler said.
Companies will be able to provide white papers, annual reports, product brochures, catalogs and other materials via MecklerWeb. Sponsor messages could be all-text or could include color graphics and video.
"It's multimedia," said O&M Direct's Mr. Frank. "The message does not have to be just text; it can be fun, engaging and creative."
To kick off the service and attract users, MecklerWeb has signed up 43 non-paying content providers ranging from the Cornell Legal Information Institute to the Pharmaceutical Information Associates. Users are not charged to access the system but have to pay the phone charges for the hook-up time.
MecklerWeb has established four product categories for advertisers: law, educational computing, arts and pharmaceuticals. Future areas include finance/investing, the environment, sports and medicine.
"Basically, this will enable organizations and companies to distribute information at a low cost to a worldwide audience," Mr. Meckler said.
Four business partners will help manage MecklerWeb: public relations agency Edelman Worldwide, O&M Direct, Electronic Data Systems and Dun & Bradstreet. Digital Equipment Corp. is providing hardware needs.
Mr. Locke believes MecklerWeb will be able to avoid problems such as those encountered recently by a Phoenix-based law firm that got flamed after posting unsolicited ads on the Internet.
"There's no potential of that here," Mr. Locke said. "Our audience comes into MecklerWeb voluntarily. It is not unwanted, unsolicited e-mail."
J.C. Herz, author of an article in the June issue of Playboy titled, "The Sordid Confessions of an Internet Addict," thinks the MecklerWeb approach holds promise.
"If they don't blitz the net with ads for their service, I don't think they will have a problem," Ms. Herz said. "Basically, they are setting up their own site, their own little tree house, and saying it is open."
Mr. Locke does not think the commercial link will damage the credibility of MecklerWeb's information.
"With everything you read, it is caveat emptor," he said. "And if the information is not credible, users are not going to return to the MecklerWeb. In that sense, it is self-policing. Companies that try to hustle the users are going to get their heads handed to them."
Of the commercialization of the Internet, Mr. Locke said, "We think it will be very Darwinian. Some will do pratfalls and fail, others will do it right, attract new business and they will be emulated."