The Net Results

By Peter L DeHaan

I first heard about the Net over 25 years ago from one of my college buddies. He landed a job with a computer mainframe manufacturer and was assigned to work at a university. He regaled me with tales of instantaneously sending text messages across the country and doing so at no cost. “That is fantastic,” I enthused. “How can I get in on this?”

“You can’t,” he replied matter-of-factly, “not unless you’re at a major university or work for a defense contractor.”  I was disappointed. My visions of fast and free communications faded as quickly as they had formed. With little more thought or contemplation, I quickly dismissed the Internet as a non-issue, one with limited utility and no future.

That was in 1981. Fast-forward 15 years. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone was talking about the Internet. I was perplexed. How could something so limited be treated like the next big thing? Had something changed to make the Internet a practical reality for the masses? Indeed, things had changed.

I soon obtained a dial-up Internet account. Back then, using the Internet seemed to me to be a waste of time. It took eons to be connected, a bit of luck to stay connected, and patience to accomplish anything useful – not that there was much to do from a business standpoint. When a colleague would get email I would excitedly make note of the address, but would invariably pick up the phone for any communications. As more people became connected, I tried to check email once a day, while checking voicemail multiple times daily. However, it wasn’t long before I was checking email several times a day and voice mail only once or twice. Now I have dedicated Internet access and spend all day connected, receiving and sending hundreds of messages. All too often, I forget to check voicemail!

I recently gave some thought to what my day would be like without email. Indeed, over 95 percent of my work on this magazine is accomplished via email. Articles are submitted electronically, then routed to our proofreaders, passed back to me, and forwarded to production. Design proofs are sent as PDF attachments and most progress reports and requests from our printer are sent via email. Without email, we would be forced to rely on snail mail and overnight delivery services, adding to our costs and lengthening our production cycle. In fact, if I only had the phone and delivery services for communications, I would likely need to hire an assistant just to accomplish the same amount of work. Plus, I would not be nearly as effective or efficient. In short, the Net results are great!

Email is just one aspect of the Internet; the World Wide Web is another part. Once the realm of large companies with big budgets, websites are now common for organizations of all sizes. In many cases, divisions, departments, and even projects within organizations boast their own website. Nowadays, an organization without a website is perceived as second rate or as a non-player. Websites are also a great equalizer, leveling the playing field between major corporations, smaller competitors, and start-ups.

One seemingly obvious feature of websites is to provide a means for further communication. Therefore, a “contact us” page is a common element. As such, it is surprising when contact information cannot be found; this is confounding. These organizations should want to interact with customers and prospects, but visitors to these sites can’t call, can’t write, and in some cases can’t even find an email link.

Of course sending a message to an email address found on a website isn’t any guarantee of dialogue. In researching a recent article, I used a search engine and contacted the first 10 companies listed via email. The results were appalling. One site responded within five minutes with a personal response. Two more followed later that day, and a fourth, three days later. But six never responded or even acknowledged receipt of my message. Now it could be that a message or two got lost in cyberspace. That does happen, but certainly not 60% of the time.

In another instance, I sent out a targeted email to over 100 addresses gleaned from printed directories and listings. Again, the results were disconcerting. Six percent were returned because the mailbox was full, eight percent were rejected because the domain name was “unknown,” 14% were refused because the user name “could not be found” and 61% did not respond; only 11% replied.

This suggests some steps to take to achieve the best Net results. The first is basic, but often overlooked: periodically verify that your website is up and running. True, there are software programs that can do this, but who is checking to make sure the programs are actually running? Plus, who is watching for error messages?  

A second critical task is to periodically send out test email messages to important email addresses. If it bounces back or there is an error, the recipient or technical staff can be contacted to correct the problem. This is especially needed for generic email addresses, such as info@..., sales@..., customerservice@..., and so forth.

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