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Ecommerce / Web Marketing Ezine
December 2002

Greetings all,

Welcome to our new subscribers - I hope that you are surviving the "silly season"!

2002 - the year that was..

It went so quickly in so many ways, yet dragged on terribly in others. I'm about to jump on my soapbox, so if you'd like to be spared that, please skip this editorial (it's very off-topic) - you have been warned :0). I promise a return to our usual format next month.

--Soapbox session commences

I'd like to say that I'm really looking forward to 2003, but the current status of the world weighs very heavily on me. I consider myself very privileged to be able to spend my entire career online, but that with that privilege and the accompanying global awareness comes a number of responsibilities - one of them being speaking up when 
gross injustice is observed. 

Think about it - is the world a better or safer place now than it was at the end of 2001? The Taliban are gone - is Afghanistan at peace? Do you have more freedom now in your country than you did a year ago? Is life generally easier for you now than it was a year ago? Does your "soul" feel tired? Is the world any less violent than it was in December 2001? 

There are two main motivators in life - love and fear. Is attacking another country an act executed out of love or fear do you think?  It's all well and good to say "but they did this" or "they have that" as a justification, but it just doesn't cut it any more. I hear the same justifications when 4 year olds start fighting between themselves and then go running to their mothers when things get too rough.  The cycle of violence, hatred, suspicion, environmental destruction and injustice must end soon - and since we can't seem to do it, it will be done for us.

With all our amazing technology, satellites that can hear a mouse fart at a distance of 200 miles, tracking devices that can pinpoint anyone on the planet, I find it quite amusing that our Governments find it necessary to bomb the crap out of entire country to hopefully obliterate a few people. The poor people of these countries have no idea what this is all about because of the propaganda that they hear from their own crazy leaders. These peoples, more often than not, do not have the same access to communications as we do - their ignorance should be excused, their fear of us allayed - but we have no excuse.

Never before in my life have I carried out so much research as I have done in the past year. As we cater to people from many different cultural backgrounds, I have wanted to understand more about them - and the Internet has been a brilliant tool (once I'd waded through all the redneck rubbish) for doing so.  The more I understood, the more amazed I became that with all our cutting edge communications abilities, we still can't seem to get along together and live in peace. Basic respect still seems to emerge from the muzzle of a gun as it has done for centuries.

Decades ago, news would take many hours, days or weeks to filter to us - and of course was much changed by the time it reached our ears.  These days, it arrives in my inbox within minutes of a breaking story. Yet the prejudice and bulls**t in the mainstream media now is far worse than it was pre-World Wide Web.  Everyone has an agenda, and so do I in writing this. 

In 2003, I beg all of you to read beyond the headlines and begin digging away at the stories that hit the front page of news sites (if you aren't already doing so). Finding the truth may take some time, but you will find it. The same people wanting to wage war and destroy liberty have left a great trail of dirty linen behind them - and it can be found on the Internet. Not on crackpot paranoid sites, but on their own online representations and on the sites of well known and respected humanitarian organizations. The various current international crises we are experiencing have their roots in events that occurred decades, and in some cases, thousands of years ago. Our generation did not start the problems, but we blindly perpetuate them.

Few of us want war and many of us feel there is nothing we can do. But there is something that we can do. Each of us affects a small space, and millions of these spaces become the whole. By becoming an advocate of peace and demonstrating it in our lives, we can make a difference. People will ask us questions, perhaps in ridicule - we can show others what we have discovered through digging through UN, Amnesty and Government archives and they still may not change their minds. But it may challenge their bloodthirsty, intolerant views and sow seeds of doubt - give them something to think about.

For all of you in the countries under the threat of having war thrust upon you - on both sides of the fence, my thoughts and the thoughts of millions of others go out to you. We don't want war - we don't care if you are black, white or brindle, the clothes you wear or about the name of your God.  We just want peace - don't let the headlines fool you.

The current situation on our planet is so critical that it no longer allows for the finger to be pointed in any particular direction - that won't solve anything. We just need to observe one simple point that a great teacher once stated - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - in life, in business, in our handling of our environment, in everything.  It's such an easy instruction, but we all seem to have a lot of problems in carrying it out - this geek included.

"But here in this graveyard it's still no man's land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
Through man's blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned

Ah, young Willie McBride, I can't help wonder why
Do those that lie here know why did they die
And did they believe when they answered the call
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well, the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For, young Willie McBride, it all happened again
And again and again and again and again!"

(Willie McBride - The Fureys - about World War 1)

Roll on 2003... whoopee :0(

--Soapbox session ends

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Yahoo acquires Inktomi

This is big news in my opinion. There's been a lot of speculation about why Yahoo bought Inktomi and not a lot of answers at present. In case you aren't aware; Inktomi was once the predominant search engine company and supplied search results to Yahoo until 2000 - then Google took over this role. Inktomi's Web search and paid inclusion partners currently include Amazon.com, eBay, HotBot, MSN, Overture and WalMart.com. They still have some big names in their stable. 

Since 2000, Google's popularity has grown at a phenomenal rate, making many online companies, large and small - including Yahoo it seems, very nervous. Sure, it's the best search engine around and I'll heartily attest to that, but any monopoly creates suspicion and fear in the business world.

All three players, Yahoo, Google and Inktomi are relatively tight lipped at the moment as to what's next, and I'm not going to fuel speculation, but I believe it would be very wise to keep an eye on any developing news on the "Yahinkoogle" front - we will definitely see some Inktomi integration on Yahoo over the next 12 months.

Google - the China Syndrome

A couple of months ago, China banned its people from using Google.  Several weeks later as the authorities finally figured out that Google powers so many other search sites it wasn't funny, they relented and permitted access again.

A couple of hours ago, I read a forum post from a China user who said that he hasn't been able to access Google.  It turns out that the most likely cause is that the Chinese authorities have fixed things so that after a user has entered a search term that the government may feel is inappropriate, the person is redirected to a Government approved site and is then blocked from using Google for a couple of hours. According to reports, one of the no-no search terms is "human rights in China".

This is very sad for the Chinese people, but also poses serious problems for those Western businesses wanting to take advantage of the rapidly growing Chinese market. It would be a monumental waste of energy to design a site targeting this demographic only to have it deemed "inappropriate" by the Chinese authorities who may change their opinions one day to the next.

The solution? I don't really know, but it would be a very good idea to hire a cultural consultant who is up to date on these issues before aiming for this market - the few thousand dollars spent may translate into many thousands more in profits gained, especially if your competitors are deemed inappropriate :0).

Ecommerce, Drop Shipping & Shopping Carts

First of all, what is drop shipping?

A growing number of merchants are now using drop-shipping as a means of minimizing stock on hand, decreasing overall shipping costs and cutting down on delivery times to customers.

Drop shipping methods are utilized by web site owners to send single unit orders for goods gathered on their web sites to manufacturers, or major warehouses, who in turn "drop ship" the products directly to the customers of the web site owner.

The shopping cart/shipping plugin challenge

It makes perfect sense and it's a great business model, yet it's still a difficult area when using traditional shopping carts to gather the orders. The problems all boil down to shipping charges - most plugin shipping calculators and carts aren't compatible at this point in time in dealing with orders that contain products with varying point-of-origin zip codes.

Due to the increasing popularity of this kind of business, it is very important if you develop ecommerce web sites for others to ask prospective clients the question about drop-shipping. Drop shipping will significantly blow out the price and development time of these kinds of ecommerce projects as special software must be used and extra coding is required for each "buy" button. 

I made the mistake recently of not asking a client about shipping methods while running through proposal stages - such a simple question to ask, but I totally forgot to - not the clients fault. When the issue came to light, the entire ecommerce component of the project had to be begun again - basically from scratch. A new cart had to be found and modified, a special UPS plugin needed to be implemented in order to calculate live shipping rates based on different zip code origins of different products within a single order, the server the site was hosted on needed to have specific modules installed on it to deal with the new shipping calculation technology - etc. etc.

If you do intend to use drop shipping, or are developing an ecommerce site that will use this method - research shopping cart applications very carefully before purchasing as this technology is fairly new and many software packages may not perform as claimed by their programmers. Be aware also that you will be fairly limited (for the time being) as to what shipping companies you'll be able to use and site owners in many countries may not be able to take advantage of drop-shipping applications as yet.

Learn more about drop shipping.

Thinking drop shipping? Plan ahead..

I'll be writing a review of carts that are compatible with drop shipping applications shortly, plus you'll also be able to see this business model in action on a site we are due to launch soon. After that site is launched, my client and I will be undertaking some serious psychological counseling for post-traumatic stress. :0)

If you are considering moving towards a drop shipping business model in the future and already have a cart in use, it's wise to start putting pressure on the programmers or cart service providers to implement the technology required now - believe me, it will take most of them some time to make it happen.

Recently added/updated articles & tutorials

Creating special characters in web pages
Looking to put the é back in café? This useful listing of special character codes, plus a tutorial for using the Windows Charmap function will show you how.
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles2/special-characters.htm
   

Safety in numbers...and letters... 
Is your password long enough? View some frightening statistics on password recovery speed in this updated article
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/safetyinnumbers.htm
 

Avoiding Xenophobia - Virtual Office Solutions.
Want to set up an office in America or England without outlaying huge amounts of capital? - here's some solutions!
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ tools/virtual-office.htm
 

Affiliate Marketing Survival Strategies 
You may be generating sales for merchants without ever being paid - these strategies will help you identify problems with some affiliate programs.
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles2/affiliate-strategies.htm
 

That's about it for this edition of our ezine. We appreciate your feedback and ideas so be sure to drop us a line if there's a subject you would like to see us cover or another feature that you would like to see on our site!

May you have a safe New Years Eve and we wish all peoples of the world peace and prosperity in 2003.

Regards,

Michael Bloch 
Taming the Beast - Established 1995
michael@tamingthebeast.net  
Tutorials, web content, tools and software
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