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The Net effect.

The woodworking industry keeps pace with the Internet explosion. Where do you fit in?

In a relatively short time the Internet has captured the attention of consumers, businesses, and investors in a way not seen since, perhaps, the advent of television or computers themselves. Suddenly, wherever you look the initials http://www.whatever.com are appearing on grocery store products, ESPN broadcasts and advertisements within the pages of this venerable woodworking magazine.

Making sense of where to get onto the Information Superhighway is a new priority for many companies. Internet technology and its potential are largely unknown variables to the masses of managers and marketers in the woodworking industry who earned their keep in the pre-Internet Hype era. Comments like, "We don't know where this Internet thing is headed but we want to do something," are very common.

Indeed, the woodworking industry is witnessing a dramatic growth in Web activity. There are hundreds of wood-related Web sites currently on line and new ones logging on every day. Whereas the bulk of the initial activity on the Web has been hobbyist woodworker oriented, nowadays the industrial side is flexing its muscles.

Witness the web site of Holz-Her U.S. (http://holzher.com/machines). Holz-Her was one of the first industrial woodworking machinery companies to launch its own web site and now offers a variety of services and options on-line.

Holz-Her's site can also be accessed via WOODWEB, the industrial woodworking industry's first and only on-line publication. Selected articles from Wood & Wood Products and its sister publication, Custom Woodworking Business, can be found on WOODWEB, which is updated every two weeks. WOODWEB was founded by two Pennsylvania cabinet manufacturers, Michael Poster and Carl Hagstrom. WOODWEB has a listing of more than 80 companies presented in its Industry Index section (see list, pg. 43).

There are other companies, as well as several woodworking industry associations which also have Web sites. Domtar can be accessed at http://www.domtar.com. The Laminating Materials Assn. offers important laminating information on its site (http://soho.ios.com/~Imainfo). "Our complete Glossary of Terms is available on-line and we are currently updating our Source of Supply Directory on the Net," said George Carter, LMA executive director.

Getting started

On-line services such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy offer relatively easy access to the Internet, although you must sift through their captive network to make your way into the Net's great expanses.

"Getting connected to the Web is far easier than it was a short time ago," said Hagstrom, WOODWEB's editor. "Software vendors and Internet service providers are striving to make Web access painless for the novice as well as the computer literate. We often recommend starting out with one of the large on-line services such as America Online or Compuserve, which further simplifies the process. In any case, the most important consideration is the availability of good technical support and easy to understand software," he said.

Logging on

Depending on the traffic, it can take anywhere from one minute to more than 10 minutes to log onto the Internet with America Online. A remedy for this problem would be to have direct Internet access via an Internet service provider. America Online charges $10 for 10 hours of access time per month while an ISP may charge as little as $19 per month for unlimited access to the Internet.

Let's assume that you have learned how to successfully surf the Net and you have become your company's in-house Internet expert. The boss asks you to fill him in on properties of a particular type of adhesive. There are various "search engines" set up on the Web to help find information.

WebCrawler is a popular search engine that allows you to search for topics in a fashion similar to one you would find in a computer "search" at your local library.

Other similar search engines include Yahoo, Lycos and Infoseek. The user types a keyword or two and the engine finds Web sites that contain those words. "Unfortunately the Web is growing so quickly that a search may find too many less than useful sites," said Hagstrom. "This is why we feel that industry specific information centers, such as WOODWEB, will become more important as the Internet grows."

Hagstrom said WOODWEB is striving to stimulate communication in the woodworking industry by maintaining a free electronic mail forum called WOODnetWORK. It is a moderated discussion group that is open only to people engaged in the business of woodworking.

In addition to professional woodworkers, subscribers include: educators, researchers, suppliers and manufacturers. Discussion topics cover a wide variety of issues from architectural millwork and cabinetmaking through computer-aided manufacturing and business issues. All of WOODWEB's services are sponsored by woodworking industry suppliers and manufacturers and are free to the end user.

Establishing a Web site

Woodworking sites currently on the Internet's World Wide Web vary greatly in terms of size, content, interactivity and graphic appeal. Experts interviewed by W& WP recommend that individuals and companies planning to establish their own web sites take plenty of time surfing the Net to see what looks good and might work for them.

"The World Wide Web is a good place to accomplish a lot of self-teaching," said Arthur Zards, vice president, marketing director for X Net Information Systems, Lisle, Ill., whose company specializes in Web Site development and maintenance. "The main thing is to determine what your needs are."

Some companies, for example, may be looking for instant feedback on a new product. It's also common for companies to develop Web sites for internal or proprietary use - using private sites to publish employee manuals or sites dedicated specifically to active customers, for example.

In any case, new thinking is required to develop an effective web site. "It's a brand new medium and the old rules of print and other traditional media get thrown out the window," said Eric Gautschi, a representative for InterAccess, and Internet Service Provider in Northbrook, Ill.

"The first thing companies looking to develop a Web site should do is get a feel for the medium by surfing the Web," said Gautschi. From there, he said it is best to work with a consultant to determine how best to accomplish what you want to do.

What are the costs?

Individuals can develop and maintain a Web site for well under $100 a month, but to "put up" a site that looks good and receives and efficiently handles a lot of traffic, the price is much higher.

Just like anything else, the costs of creating and maintaining a Web site vary greatly. Some companies elect to allow their in-house personnel to handle the project, while others go the opposite route and farm out the work to specialists that work on a soup-to-nuts basis. In any case once a site is created it has to be put up on a server, which basically is a computer that transmits your information to those requesting it. Here again, the options vary greatly and costs depend on the speed and power of the server, the amount of "hits" you receive, and how your "hits" are tracked by the server.

Hits are actually a measure of file transfers at a Web site. Each time someone selects a link on a particular Web page, a file is transferred to their computer and this registers as a hit on the server.

Where is the Internet headed?

Experts agreed on two things when the regarding Internet's future: It's here to stay, but nobody knows where it's headed.

Zards said the Internet is not going to go away anytime soon because it is becoming more and more vital to businesses as a means to distribute information and market their products. While companies currently using the Net may not be making any money through their efforts, many are saving money. Federal Express, for example, has implemented a tracking program on the Net that allows its customers to trace their shipments thereby reducing the reliance on its operators.

Nevertheless, slow access times and heavy traffic have called into question whether or not the Internet can handle the Icad in the future. "The Internet is not without it's problems, but these are things that can be solved with time," said Zards. He pointed to new technologies like cable and fiber optics to illustrate his point.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:High-Tech How-To; includes WOODWEB's industry index; Internet
Author:Urban, Harry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Feb 1, 1996
Words:1389
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