The following text is copyright 1996 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Can URLs be justified?

URLs are popping up everywhere, from Network World to Good Housekeeping and TV Guide. One regularly sees URLs in daily newspapers, weekly newsmagazines and on TV. They show up in news and information stories and, in increasing numbers, in advertisements.

Movie ads (,, ads for cars (, help wanted ads (average 3 per page in the Sunday Boston Globe), cable channels (, TV stations (, well hyped sports events (, and even food (

The above set of URLs indicates quite clearly some of the problems & promise of using the web for business. Making a business case for some of the URLs could be quite easy. Customer surveys could tell Disney and Magmua if people who visited their web pages then went off to see the movies and tell Chrysler if people trying out the 'select your own options and see what the sticker shock will be' service then went off to purchase Chrysler cars. (I tried it out and found that to get the Caravan that I wanted would set me back about $22K, rather more than I paid for my 1st Caravan in 1984.)

Questionnaires given to perspective employees could indicate if putting a companies' open job list on a web page produced a better class of applicant. (In quite a few cases the URL dominates the ad.) Finally, since the Santa Clara CA Pizzahut takes orders directly from its web page it is very easy to tell if they are getting their moneys' worth.

But how does a business guage the return on a web server that primarily gives away information? What does CNN get from visitors to its web page, or WHDH TV or the Super Bowl? The Super Bowl web site is littered with ads but not so the other two. Don't get me wrong, I find the CNN site very useful and don't mind getting a weather snapshot from a local TV station (even if it is a day out of date) to get an idea if I should take an umbrella to lunch, but I don't know what they get out of providing the service that will make them keep doing it.

The other thing that became very clear during the Super Bowl was that the scaling issue had not yet been solved. Trying to reach the server just after one of the on-air promos was hopeless, it must have been way overloaded since it was rejecting connection attempts and, even when one got in, the data often came back as a null set. It took repeated attempts to get something real. I got the same problem with the server right after an ad giving the URL.

So how does a company decide just how big and well connected a server it is going to need to put up when its not a direct retail site? Don't ask me, I don't see the rationale for much of the promotional activity some companies engage in, like trying to convince me to buy breakfast cereal by using actors dumber than the product in their ads.

Oh yeah, on the radio this morning Paul Harvey told his not-known-to-be-geeks listeners that Wallmart was setting up a web site so that users can buy Wallmart merchandise over the 'Net. This is getting all too mainstream for this old bit pusher.

disclaimer: An indication of Harvard's activity in this area is that belongs to a Harvard Square bookstore not to the Business School, so the above are my ramblings and not Harvard's.