Many businesses may not realize that what the Internet, alternately described as the "information superhighway," or a data-seeking joyride that is "legal and no less addictive than hard drugs," is a lot more than just "real time" conversations and an electronic version of the New York Times' front page. What the Internet means is access to a global supply of information and a communications linkup that can save businesses time and money.
The Internet hooks up computers across the world. Once a user has access to that link, he or she can send and receive information that has been produced anywhere and put on the Internet. The user can also "download" information onto the user's own computer to be printed and copied. Most information on the Internet is public and therefore available to all.
There is a catch: It's not free; like with a country club, the user must pay a membership fee. Once those dues are paid, however, all privileges are gratis. The advantages to businesses hooked up to the Internet are many First, it provides a cost-effective means to send messages, briefs, memoranda - basically, communicate - with a firms' branches or clients domestically or abroad. The program that allows this to happen is electronic mail, or "e-mail."
What makes e-mail so advantageous to businesses is that information can be sent without the annoying hindrance of crackling phone lines or tied-up fax machines and the convenience of reading that information when one has the time. Also, this communication can be done at the cost of dialing into one's Internet access point, (called "points of presence," or POP's in Internet jargon) which in many cases amounts to a local phone call.
Secondly, businesses can gather and store information in their field of interest, thus keeping tabs on their competition and making more informed business decisions. Thirdly, the Internet provides a marketplace by which businesses can promote their products and services to a target audience. The Slovak media have seized on this innovation, with several daily newspapers and a radio station displaying their content online to consumers.
But other businesses, such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia, see the advantages as well. "It's great way for people who don't even know about us to find about us and get in touch," said AmCham's assistant executive director Deb Dioguardi.
According to many, the Internet is so addictive that it should carry a warning. "Once you're on," said Kimmberely Lau from the Entrepreneurship Center in Bratislava, "you're using the line and the clock's ticking. There are no discounts."