Mortgages over the Internet.
WITHOUT THEM YOU CAN'T DELIVER LOANS TO FREDDIE Mac or Fannie Mae, yet they have no access to MIDANET[TM] or MORNET[TM]. Their data is involved in every loan transaction, but they have no plans to participate in CPI's Interchange[TM] or other private value-added networks.
Who are these mysterious yet integral players? They are borrowers, of course.
The mortgage lending process always starts with a borrower. More than ever in today's leaner times, as mortgage bankers look for ways to speed loan processing and cut costs, it makes sense to look for a network that provides a direct link to borrowers. This is why some forward-thinking mortgage bankers already have started doing business on the Internet, the worldwide network that links computers at businesses and universities and, increasingly, in people's homes.
Like the laptop and application-by-phone, marketing on-line represents the next step forward in using technology to deliver faster, better and cheaper service to customers.
Some lenders already have received leads through the Homebuyer's Fair[SM]-an Internet service set up like a county fair except that consumers visit via their computers. The service was developed by ASK Real Estate Information Services, Silver Spring, Maryland, and Electric Press of Reston, Virginia. The major booths on the Homebuyer's Fair are a home-buyer's information booth carrying articles and pamphlets explaining the homebuying process; a booth listing houses for sale; and a mortgage booth where borrowers can learn about choosing a mortgage, view displays from lenders and send inquiries to lenders for rate and general information.
"The information superhighway is going to lower the costs associated with the loan," predicts James Noack, president of Monument Mortgage, Walnut Creek, California, one of the first lenders to display information on the Homebuyer's Fair. Monument and other lenders are trying to get a head start in what they expect will be an important technology in the latter half of this decade.
The Internet already has the potential to do more than just furnish leads. The technology is here to allow borrowers to qualify themselves for loans and fill out mortgage applications on-line. However, lenders are not sure whether the consumer wants that capability. As an alternative, American Finance and Investment of Fairfax, Virginia, has an application form that can be printed out or downloaded to the borrower's computer. "The efficient delivery of the mortgage from the consumer to the secondary market is the way things are going," says Jack Rodgers, president of American Finance.
Contour Software Inc., Campbell, California, developed a prequalification calculator to put on the Homebuyer's Fair. Contour President Scott Cooley describes it as "a very simple capability to give the borrower a general idea of what they could get for financing. We encourage them to go on to get the help of a professional."
Contour passes its leads on to its lender customers. "Developing a home page on the Internet is beyond the capability of most of our customers," explains Cooley. "We want to provide a way for our customers to access the millions of users on the Internet without their having to go through R&D."
Mortgage opportunities on the Net
For lenders, the Internet offers these opportunities:
* The ability to reach a large user base at a cost of a few dollars a day;
* An opportunity to receive feedback from borrowers about how well a lender is meeting their needs;
* A forum to provide fast turnaround on borrower inquiries and loan application processing;
* A chance to take advantage of advanced communications and software without having to use in-house technical support;
* The ability to transfer information more cheaply, efficiently and reliably than with fax transmission.
At the same time, the Internet poses a number of challenges for mortgage lenders seeking to use it to market loans to borrowers. First, there is no proven formula for marketing on the Internet. And second, very few mortgage bankers have experience on the Internet.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the commercial Internet is still in the early stages of development. We are not yet at the point where the Internet can contribute anything close to a significant share of mortgage originations. For that reason, many mortgage bankers will want to wait and see how the market develops.
"We think it's part of the future," says lames Cassinelli, vice president of operations for the telemarketing arm of North American Mortgage Company, Santa Rosa, California. He says that while his company's Internet presence has generated only a handful of leads thus far, the related costs have been low because the subscription to the lead-generating service costs only $110 a month and "we didn't need to have any Internet expertise in-house."
This article addresses some common questions mortgage bankers may have about the Internet and about Mosaic, the software that has been the catalyst for bringing the business community to the Internet.
Why all the hype, all of a sudden?
The Internet has been good copy for the media, in part, because of the sound bites various experts are offering. Here are some examples:
"To be technologically vital these days, you have to be on the Internet."
--NICK TRIO, IBM's INTERNET POSTMASTER, ACCORDING TO AN ARTICLE IN FORTUNE, MARCH 7, 1994
"If you're not an active Internet citizen by the mid-1990s, you're likely to be out of business by the year 2000."
--PATRICIA SEYBOLD, PRESIDENT OF PATRICIA SEYBOLD GROUP, A TECHNOLOGY CONSULTING FIRM, FROM AN ARTICLE IN COMPUTERWORLD, MARCH 28, 1994.
"The Internet and the associated Web and Mosaic phenomena are the most significant things to happen in computing since the advent of the personal computer."
--ERIC SCHMIDT, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, SUN MICROSYSTEMS, INC. QUOTED IN OPEN SYSTEMS TODAY, JUNE 6, 1994
"Corporate USA couldn't ignore a growing market of 20 million people,"
--USA TODAY, JULY 7, 1994, AN ARTICLE BY PAUL WISEMAN TITLED "THE INTERNET SNARES MORE BUSINESSES."
"If you don't have a home page [on the Internet] next year, it's going to be like not having a fax."
--DAVID POOL, PRESIDENT, SPRY, INC., QUOTED IN THE WASHINGTON POST, JULY 11, 1994
So, the question is, how much of this is hype and how much of it is true? The mortgage banking industry probably won't know for some time whether the Internet will be a viable long-term marketing medium. But nevertheless, it's an exciting new delivery channel because of the size of the audience it reaches, the demographics of the users and the direct nature of the interaction.
The excitement is driven by: Growth--Measurable indicators of the size of the Internet, such as the number of computers connected or the volume of traffic, show that it is doubling every year. The commercial sector is growing even faster. This year, in every month since March, more than 1,000 companies established Internet connections.
Low cost--Information can be displayed on the Internet for a minuscule fraction of the cost of comparable advertisements in newspapers or other media.
Wired to customers--The Internet is a two-way communications medium that puts you directly in touch with your customers.
Computer networks are the first communications medium to combine advertising with transaction processing. Television, newspapers and other mass media convey advertising but communicate only in one direction. The telephone system is interactive, so that you can take a loan application over the phone, but the telephone is not well suited as a tool for distributing information to a large audience.
What exactly is the Internet?
The Internet is a worldwide network of networks. It consists of computers, communications cables and "routers" that send information between the computers.
Nobody owns the Internet, and the physical capital involved is not terribly significant (one estimate is that the Internet "backbone" costs $2 per user per year to maintain). The challenge in creating the Internet was in setting the standards that allow different computers to talk with one another. With the interstate highway system, the construction of the physical infrastructure was a larger achievement than codifying the rules of the road. With the information superhighway, the reverse is true.
The Internet began in 1969 as a creation of the Department of Defense. Its architecture was designed to enable messages to get through even if part of the network were destroyed. When computers communicate with one another on the Internet, they do not open up dedicated connections, as happens in a phone network. Instead, one computer sends an information "packet" (think of it as an envelope) to another computer on the network, which reads the address on the packet and relays it to the next computer, and so on, until the packet reaches its final destination. If one of the computers in the relay system is not available, the packet gets rerouted to a different path.
This "packet-switching" network solved the Defense Department problem of creating a communications system that could function if part of it were destroyed. However, back when it was developed, it was expensive compared with other communications methods. But during the past 25 years, packet switching has become economical. As a result, the Internet has grown beyond defense and defense-related research. In the 1980s, it spread to academic research in general, and in the 1990s, it has spread to business and individual use.
The Internet changes rapidly, with hundreds of new services added each month. This can make it difficult to keep up with its developments. (See "A Business Person's Guide to the Net" sidebar.)
Making the Internet a business tool
Many businesses use the Internet for electronic mail (e-mail) capability. This has potential application in the mortgage industry. For example, suppose that wholesale lenders sent information to brokers via electronic mail or file transfer rather than by fax. Phone bills would be lower, data would not have to be keyed in again at the broker's office and data could be updated more frequently.
With such clearly appealing functionality, why is it only now that we are starting to hear about it? The explanation lies in the fact that the Internet was not designed for commercial purposes. Turning it into a business tool required both regulatory and technical changes.
As recently as five years ago, commercial traffic was officially forbidden on the Internet, because of the government subsidy involved in providing the Internet backbone. The subsidy has been largely phased out. Moreover, with the "information superhighway" metaphor, there has come a realization that commercial traffic on the Internet is legitimate, just as commercial traffic is legitimate on the taxpayer-funded interstate highway system.
Up until the latter part of 1993, the Internet lacked the software interfaces needed to display complex business information. The older interfaces relied on menus and text, which is like dealing with a telephone response system. ("If you are interested in an ARM, press 1. For our 30-year fixed-rate, press 2.") These work fine as long as every consumer needs exactly the same type of information to make a decision. However, they can't accommodate an environment where one borrower's decision depends on the rate quote, another's depends on whether the borrower qualifies for enough financing to purchase a particular house, and a third borrower's decision depends on an assessment of the historical behavior of two different ARM indexes.
To provide consumers with customized information, going beyond the capability of a telephone response system, the Internet required a more advanced software tool. That need was filled by Mosaic.
Mosaic is software developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), a government-funded facility based at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Mosaic, which is in the public domain, was first released late in 1993. An estimated 1 million copies are in use today.
Mosaic is "client" software designed to work with "servers" that are part of something called the World Wide Web. Imagine the Web servers as 3-D movies, and think of Mosaic as glasses you need to wear to be able to see the movies in 3-D. People often use Mosaic to refer to both the software itself and to the Web servers that are available throughout the world.
The Web server concept was developed by CERN, a European collective of high-energy physics researchers. One of its distinguishing characteristics is hypertext, which means that when a particular phrase is highlighted on a screen, the user can click on that phrase and jump to a new screen pertaining to that phrase. Unlike a menu system, a Web server can be laid out like a modern newspaper, with jump pages, sidebars and related stories. When users see an opportunity to jump to a sidebar, some will jump to a sidebar first, some will read it last and some will skip it altogether.
The Mosaic interface communicates with the user in sentences and pictures. It allows the user to probe and explore freely. Using Mosaic is like browsing through a magazine or product catalog. It can accommodate real-world complexity, such as the example cited earlier in which different borrowers need different information before making a decision to select an ARM, for example, or another type of mortgage.
Another distinguishing feature of Mosaic and the Web is the ability to carry multimedia. It supports drawings, photos, sound and video. These capabilities are not promises for the future--they are here today. The Homebuyer's Fair has an example of a floor plan, on which you can click on any room to see a clear interior picture of that room. (Currently, the houses depicted are not for sale, but prototypes to illustrate how this function works.) Another example is the on-line version of the Washington, D.C., New Homes Guide, a subsidiary of Housing Data Reports, Inc. The on-line version allows the homebuyer to click on a region of a map to see the list of new home communities available in that area.
Yet another important feature of Mosaic is called forms, which a user can fill out while on-line. Parts of the form may involve text or numerical input, parts may involve checking boxes, and parts may involve making a selection from a multiple choice set. When the form is filled out, the user can click on a "submit" button, and the form is sent to the server. The server might return information, for example, on the monthly payment amount on a mortgage based on what the borrower filled in for the loan balance, term and interest rate. Or the form might contain information that is sent to a business for processing, for example, to obtain a magazine subscription. In still another application, the form might be an inquiry from a borrower that the server forwards to a lender via fax.
Forms are the lifeblood of commercial activity on the Internet, because they generate leads and transactions. On the Internet, having a customer look at your display without filling out your form is like having someone leave your store without talking to a salesperson.
We expect that by early 1995, lenders will be using the forms capability to walk borrowers through the entire mortgage selection and application process. In the meantime, we expect that lenders will experiment with various approaches, such as allowing the borrower to download application software.
Other on-line service
How do the capabilities offered by the Internet compare with other on-line services, such as Prodigy [TM]? The proprietary on-line services, such as Prodigy, CompuServe[TM] and America Online[TM] are similar to the Internet in that individuals access these services via modems using their computers. However, there are some differences:
* As of this writing, the proprietary on-line services use menu interfaces, whereas Mosaic does not.
* Nobody owns the Internet. You do not pay "Internet, Inc." to display on the Internet, whereas the other on-line services are private commercial enterprises.
* Consumers get to the Internet in a variety of ways. Some have access through work. Others use dial-up services that tend to be local entrepreneurs. Because there is no single point of entry, no one can track demographic information, such as how many Internet users there are from a given zip code.
As of this writing, two of the major on-line services, America Online and CompuServe, have stated that they are in the process of developing full Internet access. This would tend to blur the distinction.
How to access the Internet
Thousands of businesses and academic institutions have Internet connections. Many of their employees use these connections to the Internet. Most of the access to the Homebuyer's Fair has come from people at work.
For someone at home, Internet access can cost as little as $7 a month, although most accounts cost at least $20 a month. More dauntingly, they require the user to install a great deal of software "plumbing" in order to use the tools of the Internet. Two Internet providers that have developed complete packages that require no additional "plumbing" are The PipeLine, Inc., New York City, and Netcom On-line Communication Services, San Jose, California.
After consumers manage to find their way onto the Internet, the process of attracting their interest while on-line is tricky. You can't force anyone to visit your display. Nor is there the equivalent of a big neon sign on the information superhighway. To attract attention, it helps to understand how consumers use Mosaic.
Mosaic users find services in three ways:
* By looking in directories, such as the Directory of Commercial Sites on the Web (known to many Internet veterans as the MIT directory because the directory was started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology);
* By using indexes that allow key word searches. For example, the Homebuyer's Fair shows up in several indexes if the user orders a search by the key word "mortgage." Other key words, such as "real estate" or "house," also will call up the Homebuyer's Fair;
* By following links suggested by other services.
This last method is the most subtle and the most important. Mosaic "navigates" by cross-indexing and cross-referencing. Hypertext facilitates links across servers. Most people who use Mosaic will visit several servers in any given work session. The best way to get traffic is to have information that will be referenced by other servers, such as the popular center created by O'Reilly and Associates, Sebastapol, California (see "The Global Network Navigator" sidebar).
Information on user demographics is imprecise because there is no single point of entry for the Internet. One common estimate is that there are between 20 million and 25 million users overall. This sometimes is used in a way that can be misleading to executives who might think there is a consumer market of that size to be tapped.
In fact, because it relies on Mosaic, the commercial sector of the Internet often is estimated to consist of about 1 million users, based on the number of copies of Mosaic outstanding. Until the latter part of this year, the challenge of installing Mosaic skewed the demographics toward young computer sophisticates. A survey conducted early in 1994 by James Pitkow, Georgia Tech University, indicated that 56 percent of Mosaic users were between 21 and 30 years old, and 70 percent are in front of a computer or terminal more than 30 hours a week.
Because this group is so young, many lack the affluence that people typically associate with owners of personal computers. Many Homebuyer's Fair visitors, in fact, are first-time homebuyers and/or buyers interested in affordable housing.
Between August and December of 1994, at least a half a dozen companies will be introducing software to make it easy for individuals to get started using Mosaic and the Internet. They include: Spry, Inc., NOTIS Systems, Inc., Net-Manage, Inc., Mosaic Communications Corporation, Netcom and Pipeline. As the easy-to-install versions of Mosaic roll out, we expect that the user base will broaden to include many of the 15 million households who have computers with modems. In addition, the number of people using Mosaic at work also will continue to grow. With the size of the modem population still growing, it's quite possible that Mosaic could have a user base of 30 million by 1997. The growth in the ranks of Mosaic users will tend to make the demographics of this group more representative of the nation as a whole and less skewed toward young computer users.
In September, Homebuyer's Fair traffic numbered close to 3,000 visitors. If the assumption is correct that the Mosaic user base will grow from 1 million to 30 million in the next several years, then a proportionate increase would imply traffic of 90,000 visitors a month by 1997.
There are a number of reasons to expect the Internet to contribute relatively little to mortgage origination volume in 1994. First, as noted earlier, the Mosaic user base is only just starting to expand. Also, commercial sites on the Internet take a while to develop. Jeffrey Dearth, president of Electronic Newsstand, a popular service that has been offering magazine subscriptions on the Internet for more than a year, says that "while transactions increase every month, only a very small percentage of the people roaming the Internet do so with the idea of buying something or transacting business--at least in 1994."
Does Internet marketing work?
One nice feature of the Internet is the ability to track the number of visitors to each screen of information. This yields a concrete measure of the relative effectiveness of different displays. For example, on the Homebuyer's Fair, we have seen that borrowers are not terribly interested in qualitative descriptions of loan programs that fail to include any specifics.
Also, providing a form that borrowers can fill out and send immediately is much more effective than just listing your telephone number. Another advantage of on-line forms is that they allow you to track the Internet as a source of business. You will be able to tell when a lead was generated via a fax or electronic mail from the Internet, and you can track how many of these leads convert into mortgage loans.
But successful marketing over the Internet requires the right approach. Many are mislead into treating these initiatives as the domain of technology experts rather than emerging business development and marketing tools. Some of the mistakes we have seen businesses make with the Internet include:
* Treating the Internet as a "systems project"-- The Internet is a communications medium, and any Internet effort ought to be run by people who are savvy in marketing. The Internet has plenty of technology to fascinate and distract systems people. However, there would not appear to be any competitive advantage to be gained by a mortgage banker that develops in-house expertise on these technical matters.
* Expecting and spending too much--The commercial sector of the Internet is not yet as large as some people claim. However, its low cost can make it a profitable tool, provided that companies do not spend tens of thousands of dollars on their Internet marketing efforts.
* Advertising in the wrong places--Electronic mailing lists and discussion groups (called "newsgroups" on the Internet) may appear to be targets of opportunity, but they tend to be hostile toward commercial users. About a year ago, Myers Equity Express, a San Jose, California, mortgage brokerage firm, tried promoting its products on newsgroups. "Some people loved us, but some people hated us," says Warren H. Myer, president. He chose to drop that approach and instead set up a "home page" that can be accessed via Mosaic.
* Poor choice of service provider--According to Ben Barker, chief technology officer at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, a consulting firm in Boston, "Too many Internet access providers are providing service that does not meet the needs of the new wave of incoming users in two key areas: help in getting connected and diagnosing problems once connected." (Barker's comment appeared in an article in Computerworld, October 3, 1994.)
* Using the Internet for one-way communication only--If you put up an interesting ad with an 800 number, a lot of people may read it, but nobody will call. On the other hand, if you give consumers the opportunity to fill out a simple form to get more information, you will start to generate some business.
Overall, where is the mortgage banking industry now in terms of taking advantage of Internet opportunities and where is it headed?
As of this writing, there are eight mortgage lenders known to be taking leads directly from the Internet. Except for Myers Equity Express, all are using the Homebuyer's Fair. Three of the lenders on the Homebuyer's Fair are displaying "infomercials" that describe particular products or services. The Veterans Administration also has an on-line information pamphlet describing its programs. In addition, Contour Software is serving its large customer base as a conduit for leads from the Internet.
These lenders are evaluating the current state of the market before deciding what steps to take next. They are focusing on three key issues: the number of mortgage leads coming from the Internet, the quality of the leads produced and the trend of business activity over the Internet.
For all the lenders participating so far, it is too early to say anything definitive about the promise of this source of business. Most have been using the Internet for less than three months. Warren Myer, whose company has been using the Net the longest, says, "We've been happy with the responses, but lately we've not been as happy with the closing rate." He says that it was easier using the Internet to market during the refinance wave to borrowers who already have been through the lending process. In a first-time homebuyer market, he says, "People want information from you, but they are very hesitant without that personal touch."
Many Homebuyer's Fair visitors are at an early stage in the home-buying process. Most of those who filled out a subscription form for a housing guide publication (23 different housing guides covering markets around the country are available) indicated a time horizon for purchase of either "three to six months" or "six months to one year." Thus, it may take a while for these leads to mature.
Because people appear to be early in the home shopping process, it is important to give homebuyers a reason to come back to view an Internet exhibit. The Homebuyer's Fair is talking with some lenders about setting up bulletin boards that would allow borrowers to engage in an on-line dialogue in which the lenders would answer borrowers' questions about the mortgage process. This would mean that the displays would change every day, which could stimulate repeat traffic.
For real estate listings on the Internet, there are a number of competing business models. The Homebuyer's Fair started with a focus on new homes, initially setting up the Washington, D.C., market on the system, with plans to add other regions later this year and early in 1995. Other Internet marketing companies are working with Realtors to display homes on-line showing both interior and exterior views. There is also an on-line magazine called "For Sale by Owner." At least two services offer nationwide listings in a bulletin-board style framework. With the exception of the Homebuyer's Fair, none of these services appear to have a display area for mortgage lenders.
The goal of all of these early entrants into the on-line marketplace is to establish a position that attracts a large share of the home-buying traffic on the Internet.
Ben Barker, of Bolt, Baranek and Newman, predicted in a recent article in Computerworld that "in three to five years there will be millions of organizations, mostly small commercial organizations, doing their mainline business over the Internet as naturally as they use the fax today." If he is correct, then many businesses who have hardly heard of the Internet today will be using it regularly within a few years. This could include many mortgage bankers.
The Global Network Navigator
THE GLOBAL NETWORK NAVIGATOR (GNN) IS AN on-line service operated on the Internet by O'Reilly and Associates, publisher of Ed Krol's best-selling The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog. GNN was founded in the fall of 1993 to fill a glaring need for a "home base" on the Internet, a site for both new and experienced users to find out what's happening on the constantly growing and changing Net.
The Global Network Navigator runs on the Internet's World Wide Web (WWW), a powerful "point and click" hypertext environment that supports eye-catching color graphics, such as the hot air balloon masthead visitors find on the GNN directory page (known in WWW parlance as a "home page"). From the GNN home page, users have access to the eight principal departments that make up GNN. Among these departments are NetNews, the weekly Internet community newspaper; the Whole Internet Catalog, a "card catalog" of Internet resources; the Arcade, a collection of links to cartoons and other fun stuff; and three subject-specific "metacenters," a Travel Center, an Internet User's Center and a Personal Finance Center. Metacenters combine original articles and columns with a carefully cultivated and annotated collection of links to resources from around the Internet.
As a free service, GNN depends on revenue from advertisers. At present, more than 25 companies have sponsored corporate resource centers within GNN, among
them Digital Equipment Corporation and the legal publisher Nolo Press. The advantage of the Internet as an advertising medium lies in its flexibility in presenting detailed information to users on an "as needed" basis.
Advertisers, such as Nolo, pay for access to GNN's expanding reader base. As of August 1994, 40,000 users had completed GNN's voluntary registration form. Access logs point to an additional user population of more than 100,000. Demographic research into the GNN readership finds the average GNN user is male in his 30s with an annual household income of more than $50,000.
As the editor of GNN's Personal Finance Center (PEC), I spend a considerable amount of time trying to define the needs of Internet users. In the area of personal finance, the most glaring need among users is for a source of information that will convey what personal finance and investment resources are available on the Net and how to use them. So that users don't have to figure out "where" things are, the PFC features hypertext links to myriad personal finance resources now available on the Net. Among these resources are 15-minute delayed stock quotes, daily mutual fund net asset values, IRS tax forms, mortgage calculators and a vast array of finance-related discussion groups and electronic mail newsletters.
For financial services companies and their customers, maintaining corporate information centers on-line represents a win-win proposition. Customers gain access to the information they need instantly and painlessly over the Net rather than waiting for a packet in the mail or trekking to various sales outlets. For their part, financial services companies save a mint in printing, postage and long-distance costs by generating customers on-line.
Companies may find their competitiveness and profitability enhanced by the flexibility and responsiveness of the Internet, which enables them to provide up-to-the-minute updates on prices and services. Moreover, the global reach of the Internet immediately expands a company's customer base from a local to an international scope.
The Internet is in the early stages of a revolution in terms of the commercial landscape. The companies that stake out their territory today will have the advantage of being ready when the present stream of customers turns into a torrent. Those that wait may find themselves asking, "Where did everybody go?"
Abbott Chambers is the editor of the Personal Finance Center, an information directory on the Internet.
A BUSINESS PERSON'S GUIDE TO THE NET
BY ANY MEASURE--NUMBER OF USERS, NUMBER OF networks or network of host computers--the Internet is growing exponentially and represents a major opportunity for business. New resources are added hourly by governments, universities, businesses and individual enthusiasts. How do you stay up to date?
You can of course choose from among dozens of books crowding the shelves of your neighborhood superstore. But books on the Internet, especially if they promise you a resource directory, are out of date before they hit the shelves. An exception is Ed Krol's great (but not-for-beginners) Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog, 2nd edition (O'Reilly), which has an on-line version in the Global Network Navigator (http://gnn.interpath.net/gnn/GNNHome.html).
Christine Maxwell's superb Official Yellow Pages (New Riders Publishing) also promises an on-line version, and it is more satisfying than the slicker, thinner and more entertaining Yellow Pages by Harley Hahn and Rick Stout (Osborne McGraw-Hill).
The Internet, itself, is the best way to keep up-to-date about the Internet. Here are a half-dozen resources I use to keep up-to-date about new resources. So much is new on the Net that I'm happy if I can do more than skim these each week. (Note: The following assumes that you have access to the Internet and some of its basic tools.)
The Net-Happenings mailing list, moderated by Gleason Sackman, a North Dakota educator, goes to more than 4,000 people. Each day (and often several times a day) Sackman posts batches of messages to subscribers, with information about new World Wide Web pages, gopher "jewels," mailing lists and newsgroups, newsletters, new products--everything you need to know about what's new on the Internet. To subscribe, send e-mail to listproc "subscribe net-happenings (your name)."
The hot news of the Internet is the World Wide Web, consisting of multimedia "pages" of formatted text and pictures (as well, in theory, as sound and videos), with links to related pages around the world. An excellent and annotated listing of new Web pages is the Mosaic "what's new" page, at University of Illinois-Champaign, which you can reach at http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Mosaic/Docs/whats-new.html. Warning:the page can be big.
For the most recent World Wide Web pages created by business, have a look at the Web page of new commercial sites (http://www.directory.net/dir/whats-new.html). (Note: Both this page and the Mosaic "what's new" page have links to the resources they list.)
Each week Susan Calcari of InterNIC publishes a Scout Report (she has the enviable position of official Info Scout), a digest of the most interesting resources of the week (InterNIC is a consortium of three companies that provides registration, data base and directory services to the Internet community). The simplest way to receive the Scout Report is by sending e-mail to majordomozzis.internic.net. In the body of the message, type "subscribe scout-report."
Washington and Lee University (W&L) in Virginia runs software that daily (it seems) does a sort of census of resources, then compiles listings of previously unlisted resources. This is a fascinating way of staying up-to-date and offers the advantage of near-comprehensiveness (the UIC "what's new' page is more selective and not comprehensive, and you have to read many pages to find resources of interest). The W&L gopher's address is liberty.uc.wlu.edu. In the week ending Monday, September 5, 1994, 112 new Web pages went on-line, together with 43 gopher servers and 18 telnet sites. (Gopher was the most popular Internet navigation tool prior to the advent of Mosaic.) Among the new gophers were Microsoft's and the Small Business Administration's.
New to the Net? The Internet does have something like a central help desk. InternNIC's InfoGuide site is a treasure trove of Internet-related material for users at all levels of expertise (http://www.internic.net/InfoGuide.html). You'll also find here an archive for the Scout Reports.
David Peal is the author of Access the Internet (Sybex Inc.) and the editor of the Commercial User's Guide to the Internet (Thompson Publishing Group).
Arnold Kling is president of ASK Real Estate Information Services of Silver Spring, Maryland. Prior to forming his own company, he spent seven years at Freddie Mac, where his projects included the design of the automated underwriting system.
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