OPINION: Questions from users stump Web editors

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Part of being a news organization is answering questions from users. And in this industry, where everyone is still trying to figure it out, we get some real doozies.

There was the e-mail from a grad student in Helsinki who wanted to know everything we could tell him about the Internet. We referred him to the Internet. Our online editor Matt Carmichael got a request from an L.A. poet who wanted him to critique a poem he'd written about his dog. Matt does CyberCritique, not PoetryCritique.

Last week I heard two really good questions. One was from a PR person for the American Dairy Association, which just launched a Web site at www.ilovecheese.com. They wanted to know if we keep a list of food companies that advertise their URLs in TV commercials. We keep a database of URLs for advertisers, but don't match it with TV spots. If anyone out there has a reply, please let us know. This is a great example of how one industry segment is trying to leverage the power of the Internet through cross-media.

The other good question came from my 5-year-old son, Max. I just got a new laptop so the family was checking it out. Max went to www.warnerbros.com to download a Bozlo Beaver episode (an animated character Warner Bros. licensed from ToggleThis that interacts with you on your desktop). While the software was downloading, my son said, "Hey, how come it doesn't say, `Hi, Max. I know you like Bozlo Beaver, so I've sent you an e-mail with a picture of him?' ."

That's actually a better question for Warner Bros. Online, which does in fact send e-mails with Bozlo episodes if you sign up. But Max had never received one (only animated greeting cards from Grandpa and Grandma). The idea that a 5-year-old is expecting a one-to-one marketing experience with an online brand is kind of scary, if you ask me.

Keep those questions coming. As the industry grows from toddler to school kid to cocky teen-ager, it needs a place for its members to share what they're learning. One place to do that is online discussion lists. Another is chat rooms on Web sites.

Ad Age Monday launches a community site with The Globe, which provides a place for industry execs to discuss hot topics as well as participate in online surveys. So if you need to know the name of a good Web developer in Timbuktu or what new technologies work best, someone just might have an answer for you.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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