Top 10 Electronic Business Web Sites

Not since "plastics" in the movie The Graduate has one word come to symbolize opportunity quite like the word "Internet." (It's the future, soon everyone will be wired -- you've heard the hype.) But let's cut to the chase. For a businessperson who's already got more calls to return, more memos to write, and more meetings to sit through than hours in a day, is it really worth the time and trouble to go on-line? YES!Now, before you read further, you should know that I'm not a wired high-tech junkie. Until a few months ago I was convinced that my computer, fax machine, and cell phone were all the business toys I needed. But once I realized that millions of people are wired -- and buying everything from $30 books to $30,000 cars on-line -- I changed my mind.Unlike some Net-aholics, I don't think that all business will eventually be done on the Net. But I do think that the convenience of the Net will continue to win it converts. And that means business. One estimate is that Internet-related business will grow from 1993's approximate $100,000 to an estimated $500 million in 1995.A quick Internet primer. The Internet is a computer network that up until a few years ago was used primarily by the military and academics to communicate. You can think of the Internet as a highway and World Wide Web sites (or home pages) as billboards along it. The Web moved the Internet from a world of mostly text to a universe of pictures, sound, and video. The Web also made it possible to travel the Net without having to master complex computer code. If you can handle an automatic teller machine, you know enough about computers to "surf" the Net.The list below is a quick tour of what I think are the 10 best business sites on the World Wide Web -- places where people who want to work smarter, not harder, can glean some useful (or at least entertaining) information. It's a list for people who are experienced Net surfers as well for those who still have that "10 FREE hours" offer unopened on their desk. It's even for folks who don't have access to a computer: You holdouts can go on-line at the library and explore these sites for free. (Many local libraries also have free Internet classes.)So turn on the voice mail, unplug the fax, and come along for a tour of the best of business on the Web. It'll be a bumpy ride -- for all the talk of an information superhighway, the Internet is really more of a dirt road. It's got trails that veer off in odd directions, potholes you can get lost in, and a whale of a lot of dust to drive through. But with a little patience and the following map, it's a dirt road well worth exploring.smallbizNet (http://www.lowe.org/)Best site for general business information The father of Kitty Litter, Ed Lowe, created this site to bring small business owners "in from the cold" and offer them access to all the information needed to start and run a business. You'll purr with satisfaction at its "fax on demand" service, which for a nominal fee will speed you information on any of 1,400 topics. (The subject list goes from "accident prevention" to "zoning," passing through "fruits," "intuition," and "American Samoa" along the way.)I learned a lot in the business etiquette section. There was a great article on table manners, where I learned that I was using the wrong fork for dessert in my business meetings. Could that be the reason that I lost that big job a few weeks ago? There's also a digital library and a variety of databases that let you conduct your own customized searches of business-related topics. smallbizNet isn't the sexiest site in the world, but it is full of valuable information, and it's all available free or at low cost.Our honorable mention in this category goes to Yahoo Small Business Information (http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Small_Business_Information/). This is the grandfather of "search engines" that can link you to just about any other source of business information on the Web.CNNFinancial (http://cnnfn.com/)Best site for business news Have you seen CNN's all-business cable TV channel? This is the companion Web site. In addition to late-breaking business news and stock market reports, it offers stories on managing your money and managing your business, and has transcripts from all of CNN's business-related TV programs. The story titles are clearly displayed and can be easily accessed, and most have links that send you with a click of the mouse to related stories and Web sites. (An innocuous news story on Barbie, for example, led me to two Web sites devoted to the doll, and I've been competing with my daughter for my own computer ever since.) Barbie aside, CNNFinancial is a site that justifies multiple visits each week. Honorable mention in this category goes to New York Times Fax (http:// www.nytimesfax.com). The "other" Times publishes an eight-page free daily Internet edition that is all the news that's fit to fax. Caution: This can become habit-forming.US Business Advisor (http://www.business.gov)Best site for business information from the government If your job brings you into contact with the government, have I got a site for you! And it's not just resources and information; it's truly a glimpse into the soul of bureaucracy. Who but the government, for example, would devote an entire page to acronyms? (Quick: What does PL stand for? If you guessed Public Law, you can call the government for your prize.) There's a scintillating discussion by "people and institutions commited [sic] to achieving the cultural changes needed for real procurement reform," as well as an entire section devoted to something called the Unified Agenda. (I'm not sure what the Unified Agenda is, but I got a rise out of a militia-prone acquaintance by telling him I knew the government had one and that I knew where to find it.)The highlight of the site, though, lies in the "feedback section" where the same exact information is repeated almost verbatim in two consecutive sentences -- separated only by the phrase "but erring on the side of redundancy." Pardon my redundancy, but I understand bureaucrats better than I ever wanted to after visiting this site.Honorable mention in this category goes to the Small Business Administration (http://www.sbaonline.sba.gov/). The SBA offers information and help on arranging financing and writing a business plan.Internet Marketing (http://www.popco.com/hyper/internet-marketing/)Best site for information about the Internet This is a frank and intelligent discussion about the nitty-gritty of doing business on the Net. Unlike the aforementioned sites, this one is a "mailing list," which means that to contribute to the dialogue you have to subscribe. Subscription is free (the Web page will tell you how), and there are more than 6,500 subscribers who discuss topics such as how to run an on-line contest, how to avoid getting ripped off on the Net, and how to get companies to advertise on your site. Seattle-based Glenn Fleishman moderates and does a good job of keeping the discussion focused and worthwhile. The quality and timeliness of the information is remarkable. Unlike many mailing lists that clog your e-mailbox with conversations you'd rather avoid, if you are interested in marketing on the Net, Internet Marketing could replace your dog as your best friend.Honorable mention in this category goes to Hot Wired (http://www.hot wired.com), the on-line sister publication/counterpart of Wired magazine. If you can get past the annoying colors and graphics, there's a ton of good information about the wired world.Dilbert (http://www.unitedmedia.com/comics/dilbert)Best site for business humor Many Web sites offer ponderous mission statements and lofty aims. Not Dilbert. "This Web project is the most self-indulgent, egotistical thing I have ever done in my life. But the day is young. I can top it," writes Dilbert creator Scott Adams. For those of you who have better things to do than read the comics in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dilbert is a hysterical cartoon strip that perfectly captures the mind and mood of us ordinary working stiffs. If you're already a Dilbert junkie, you'll be in seventh heaven. If not, one visit and you'll want to turn your entire office on to it.The site offers lots of Dilbert strips, the story of how Dilbert was created, and a "store" where you can buy assorted Dilbert or Dogbert paraphernalia. (Since there's currently no way to secure your credit card number from hackers, though, buying things over the Net is about as secure as asking a stranger to watch your wallet. You're taking your chances.) The highlight of the site is the 1994 Dilbert Gripe Index. More than 1,500 people responded to the question "What frustrates you most about the workplace?" The winner, hands down: "idiots promoted to management." On second thought, maybe you don't want to tell your boss about it.Honorable mention in this category goes to the Lateshow with David Letterman (http://www.cbs.com/lateshow/). No more having to stay up for the Top 10 List; now you can get it whenever you want. A favorite example: How do you know when your spouse is having an affair over the computer? No.5: Lipstick on the mouse. No.3: During sex he screams, "A colon backslash enter insert!"Idea Cafe (http://www.ideacafe.com)Best site for business ideas and inspiration Idea Cafe bills itself as the "small business gathering place," done in a greasy-spoon theme by business author and consultant Rhonda Abrams. It features an offbeat discussion of important business topics, interviews with business leaders, and CyberSchmooz, a forum where you get to share your own grisly workplace experiences. However, the highlight of the site is the Techno Gossip section. Here, everyone is invited to contribute, and the rumors do not disappoint. The Idea Cafe doesn't take itself too seriously and that alone makes it unique on today's Internet. It will get even better when the cafe's chef starts heaping on the information in bigger portions.Honorable mention in this category goes to the Louvre (http://www.paris.org/musees/louvre). Where better to draw inspiration than to wander the virtual walls of the world's best museum. Best of all, you can do it without a plane ticket, jet lag, or snooty French people.Entrepreneurial Edge Online (http://www.edgeonline.com)Best site for entrepreneurs It's rare on the Internet to find a site that is updated weekly. (The trend seems to vary from monthly to never.) Edge Online is a companion to the quarterly magazine Entrepreneurial Edge and it offers information for people starting or running a small business. there's a complete archive of old articles (with sections devoted to sales, legal, financial, growth, and technology issues). There are questions designed to help you think about your business in new ways, and good links to other business-related Web sites. The highlight of the site is the "Business Builders" section, which features 48 self-paced training modules that cover all aspects of starting or running a business. (Dilbert would be disappointed to find that working with idiots is not covered, but almost everything else is.) Like CNNFinancial, this site should be visited on a regular basis.Honorable mention in this category goes to Fast Company (http://www.fast company.com), a companion site to a hip new business publication. What entrepreneur could resist a site with links to a toolbox, models and mentors, and neo-leisure?Women's Web (http://www.womweb.com/index.html)Best site for women in business Did you know that 15.5 million people in the US are employed by women-owned businesses, 35 percent more than are employed by the entire Fortune 500? This is just one example of the information available on Women's Web, the home page for Working Women, Working Mother, and Ms. magazines. Unlike most sites run by magazines, Women's Web is not just a rehash of old articles. They have creatively packaged old articles into a series of functional databases. Databases that can be explored include best companies for working mothers, hottest careers for women, and the best women-owned businesses. All you have to do is identify your criteria (for example, salary range, opportunities for advancement, access to child care, family-friendly quotient, and percentage of women employees) and you will receive information customized to your interests.Honorable mention for this category goes to Women's Wire (http://www.women.com/). Links here include: girls' stuff to do on the Web, (unapologetically arbitrary) and Getting There, the path to cool careers (this month's cool career is producing multimedia). Check it out regardless of your, ahem, agender.misc.business, misc.entrepreneur-ing, biz.misc, and alt.businessBest sites for business and the Usenet newsgroupsNote: Netscape, Internet Explorer, and other Internet browsers usually have a newsgroup button to provide quick and easy access. Warning: Not every newsgroup is available on every browser. Usenet could be considered the bazaar of the Internet, and bizarre it often is. Founded by two graduate students at Duke when they decided to link a couple of computers, it has metamorphosed into a Babel of discussions on an overwhelming variety of subjects. The 500-pound gorillas for business are the newsgroups titled misc.business, misc.entrepreneuring, biz.misc, and alt.business. Under each one there is a plethora of topics. Unfortunately, multilevel marketing scams seem to be the messages of choice (example: EARN BIG MONEY LISTENING TO MUSIC IN YOUR OWN HOME!!!). If you come to newsgroups for information you will undoubtedly be disappointed. But if you view them as a kind of electronic anthropology they can be highly entertaining.Honorable mention in this category goes to almost any of the alt. newsgroups ("alt.baldspot," "alt.butthead," and "alt.cyberpunk," to name just a few).Abuse-A-Tron (http://www.xe.com/cgi-bin/nph-abuse)Best site for abuse Abuse? Yes, you read it right. Anyone who works knows that abuse is the only constant in business. And the pros at giving and receiving abuse on the Net are at Abuse-A-Tron.Active surfers will tell you that on the Net your intelligence is insulted about every 10 minutes. So why not get insulted by a pro? You too can get called a "decomposing, hairball-tasting, duck-nibbling, epicurean scion of a flatulent Human Resources Professional. "And in case that's not enough, the site also contains a "mandatory interactive bit" where you get to "add to the world's misery" and contribute insults of your own. It was developed by a Toronto-based communications firm to show what they can do for clients on the Net. This site is especially valuable for people who are planning a business trip to either New York City or Paris.Honorable mention for abuse? E-mail from your parents or your boss.

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