NET.COLUMNS: The Internet for Small Business – II

In last week’s column, we saw how e-mail can play a vital role for communications. This week, we look at how the Internet
can be used as an information resource.

The information that companies look for can be broken down into three categories: news (broad business news, as well as trade-specific, from India and abroad), directories (to identify companies in different countries, given a product), and finally trade enquiries (what are the business opportunities for import/export).

1. News

Most Indian and international publications now have a website. For business news from India, the three major business dailies are on the Net:
The Economic Times
The Financial Express and
Business Line. You can also create your own customised newspaper at
SAMACHAR, a sister site of IndiaLine. For international business news, recommended sites are
International Business Week,
Fortune, and

2. Directories

Numerous Web sites are geared towards business directories in a particular category, country or region. Yahoo has country-specific directories (eg. for Canada, Britain, Japan) as well as sub-directories for most countries of the world.
Altavista and
InfoSeek, among others, are useful search engines which allow you to search for Web sites by company category or product; these require some skill and experience in handling due to the large volumes of hit rates. Traders may find more value in Web sites of trade information companies like Kompass and Dun Bradstreet.

Asian Web sites are well-catalogued on a Web site called
Access Asia. For a more India-focused search, khoj and
123India offer useful business directories.

3. Trade Enquiries

There are some services which go beyond listing potential trade partners, to actually allowing traders to post information about current import and export leads. In India, the
Federation of Indian Export Organisations, the National Centre for Trade Information, and the
Electronics and Computer Software Promotion Council are planning to launch trade promotion activities via e-mail and the Web. The Tata Donnelly exporters’ directory is also on the Web.

The European Business Information Centre already reports some successful trade enquiries between India and Belgium conducted via its Web site. Other useful sites include
TradePort, the
U.N. Trade Point Network, and
Trade Compass.

In next week’s column, we examine how small businesses can use the Web
for marketing, with their Website as a starting point.

NET.COLUMNS: An Internet Strategy for Small Businesses

The Internet is not just a luxury or an entertainment medium, it is a
business necessity, and more so, for small businesses. Bigger
organisations have many alternate ways of reaching out internationally
(trade shows, liaison offices, international trips,
tie-ups/collaborations), but for small businesses looking to grow and
expand, there aren’t too many choices. With limited resources and
pressures on time, small businesses are not just competing with their
bigger brothers locally but also with international
organisations. Today, as barriers between countries come down,
geography is increasingly irrelevant in doing business. In this
environment, the Internet offers an excellent medium for both
communications and commerce.

In this three-part series, we examine how small businesses in India
can successfully leverage the Internet for:

  1. Communications
  2. Information Access
  3. Marketing
  4. Electronic Commerce

The Humble Email: More than meets the Eye

Electronic Mail is the third major revolution in communications in the
last 20 years, following the fax machine and the revolution brought
about by the courier industry (overnight delivery). Email allows
near-instant communications with people anywhere: in that sense it is
just like a phone or fax. The differences lie in two areas: the cost
of communications (email, like the Net, is insensitive to distance
between the two endpoints) and the ability to multicast (send the same
message to multiple recipients, akin to a conference call).

One of the best things that VSNL has done in India is not charging
separately for email. Get an Internet account, and you are only paying
for connectivity, and not for sending or receiving emails
separately. Today’s email packages allow you to send complex documents
(MS-Word or MS-Excel files) as attachments via just
point-and-click. Most organisations internationally have email
access. So, by using the Net as the distributor, you can not only
dramatically cut down your communications costs, and also send
documents electronically much more rapidly. It will still be necessary
to use fax/courier where a hard copy is needed, of course, but that
will probably be only at the final stage.

Getting your own domain is a good idea. It gives your organisation a
unique identity. So, instead of being rajesh@a.b.c.d.e. , you can have
an email id of the form or In the absence of UUCP/POP, you can use
email forwarding by the ISP to have email routed into your mailbox (on
VSNL, Sprint, aXcess or Wipro BT). This way, the email address is much
easier to remember — for you and for your business partners.

If email is going to be so important, then how do multiple people in
an organisation get access to email? This is where there are no easy
solutions in India. If you want all addresses within your company to
have a .com or a ending, you need technologies like UUCP or
POP. UUCP ensures that if you have a mail server set-up in the
company, you can give personal mailboxes to everyone. This way, email
can be routed to the individual person — automatically. If you
already have ccMail or Exchange installed, then you need an SMTP
gateway with UUCP. POP accounts ensure that even if you are
travelling, your email box is accessible from anywhere. The TCP/IP
account of VSNL is one such example (combined with the roaming
facility). A POP account works with your domain. UUCP is not yet
offered by VSNL in India.

An alternate mechanism to get multiple mailboxes is to use the free
email services offered by organisations like
HotMail. You still need the Web
access (via the VSNL TCP/IP account) to connect to them, but you can
set-up additional mailboxes within minutes.

Email also offers you a good way to stay in touch. There are mailing
lists and newsletters which send you — “push” — regular updates on
different topics. For example, c|Net’s offers a daily update of
developments in the computer/Internet world. The message comes into
your mailbox, with links to the Web for more details.

How much will email access cost? VSNL’s charges are Rs 15,000 for 500
hours, a domain name costs USD 100 (service providers in India charge
about Rs 5,000 for a .com address, along with limited number of

So, the first step in leveraging the Net is to use email smartly: for
sending messages, for receiving updates, by having easy-to-remember
addresses and by ensuring that messages that come in are replied to
rapidly. Email is not just an alternate form of communications: it is
becoming the primary channel. For small businesses, it allows rapid
and cost-effective international communications.

The next step: finding people to communicate with. We will examine how
to get business and trade information, and organisations, via the Net
in next week’s column.

NET.COLUMNS: Extranets: Making Connections Across Companies

An Extranet enables communications across organisations using the Web and other Internet technologies as the common interface. It allows for the creation of a closed-user group between an organisation and its clients/suppliers. In India, since the domestic data network is still a missing component, the Extranet is what will come first.

A company can set up a Web site with restricted access (via logins and passwords, for example) on the Net. Its clients and/or suppliers need only have an Internet account to access the company’s information and interact with it. This distributed onus ensures that the set-up time can be much more rapid and the benefits immediate. In a way, companies like Microsoft and Netscape are already using the Net for distribution of some of their products: you make the call (and pay for it), and can download software and get access to technical information.

GE has built its own Extranet to take orders. Its Trading Process Network allows organisations to bid for GE’s contracts, irrespective of where they are located. Dell sells US$ 1 million of computers daily via the Internet. Who do you think is buying? Cisco expects to get 20% of its orders via the Net. Business-to-business commerce is a natural extension of integrating the information on the Extranet with the ordering system.

India’s first Extranet has been set up by
NFDC for Doordarshan. The system, termed NFDC Net, allows advertising agencies to book orders for Doordarshan programmes online. This is a process which is traditionally done by phone or fax. Now, the interactive system allows an agency to check various Doordarshan programmes and their television rating points (TRPs), make queries for programmes fulfilling specific criteria (category, broadcast time, TRP ratings), and finally complete the transaction by making a booking. It doesn’t matter where the agency is, as long as it has access to the system and an Internet account. NFDC has taken a leased line to VSNL in Mumbai, and unlike its brick-and-mortar offices, the Internet office can take orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Elbee is about to unveil a parcel tracking system for Indian customers: a first among the domestic courier companies. Go to Elbee’s site on the Internet, type in your Airway Bill number, and within seconds, you have all the information about your package. This is something for which Elbee has so far employed dozens of people in its various offices. Now, by moving it to the Net, Elbee allows us to make the queries and feel happy doing it. This is how information is transforming an industry: with all courier companies employing similar transportation techniques and subject to identical weather conditions, the business is not just about delivering the package but getting the information about the package on time to the end-user. In future, Elbee expects to also take orders through the Net, and provide customer-specific information pushed on to corporate networks.

These are just two examples of how Indian companies are leveraging the Internet to reach out. Air-India‘s recently launched Web site offers real-time information about its flights. Very soon, the Times of India group will be extending its Intranet to take online orders for classifieds and other ads. Many information service companies are already exploring the possibility of offering their bits-and-bytes via the Net. As electronic payment systems fall into place, the logical extension of an Extranet will be electronic commerce.

The Internet is not just for surfing. It can serve as a very useful business tool to communicate between organisations. Today, geographical and trade barriers amount to little in a world linked via the Net. The Internet knows no borders; why should your business?

NET.COLUMNS: Intranets In India: Where’s The Net And Where’s The Content?

The biggest buzzword in the Indian infotech industry (after, of course,
Y2K) is I-n-t-r-a-n-e-t. Every MIS manager wants to set one up, every
computer/networking company offers Intranet solutions. In the U.S., the
Intranet market has grown spectacularly over the last 12-18 months as
companies look to wire up everyone in sight. But in India, there are
two fundamental problems – not technology related – with respect to
Intranet deployment.

The first is the lack of a robust, cost-effective wide area
network infrastructure. Say, you have offices in Bombay, Delhi,
Bangalore and Madras. How do you inter-connect them? You have
three options: leased lines from the DoT, your own private VSAT
network, using the Internet to build a virtual private network by
taking leased lines to your Intranet.

In the U.S., companies have gravitated towards the third option, thus
saving them significant infrastructure expenses. Piggy-backing on the
Internet makes a lot of sense: you use a public network whose
bandwidth is constantly increasing and you only take leased lines to
the nearest available Internet Service Provider, thus saving you a lot
of network management headaches.

In India, if the costs of taking Internet leased lines can be brought
down along with the lead time to get these lines, many more Indian
organisations will begin to use Intranets. Perhaps, technologies like
frame-relay and ISDN can be explored to offer connectivity to
corporates to VSNL’s local GIAS nodes.

A related issue is the huge difference in local- and wide-area
speeds. According to a Bombay-based networking consultant, while
India is near state-of-the-art in LAN access (100 Mbps Ethernet, ATM
switching), we are still 5-6 years behind in the wide-area
technologies (64 Kbps to 2 Mpbs). Urgent attention needs to be given
to increasing the bandwidth available between cities (a National
Internet Infrastructure Project) to 155 Mbps or more, and permitting
corporate access to this network at speeds of 512 Kbps to 2 Mbps at
down-to-earth prices.

The second problem limiting the deployment of Intranets is the
lack of content. Internal data needs to be digitised – HTMLised – so
that this can be accessed from Web-based front-ends. Also, there needs
to be more Indian content relevant for a local audience which should
be “pushed” onto corporate networks.

There is a lot of content being put out by organisations in India:
more than 600 companies have home pages, and most publishing houses
have put up their own web sites. Today, most of this is being accessed
by non-resident Indians. We need people within this country who can
get access to this- not necessarily via a phone-call,
but right on their local network at high-speeds.

This is not to say that Intranets won’t be deployed in
India. Organisations are already putting in place extensive networks
using Internet technologies: the foremost being The Times of India
group, which has used leased lines to inter-connect its offices
nationwide. But a combination of cheaper and faster Internet access
for corporates along with relevant content for an Indian audience will
help in ensuring that Intranets become more widespread.

Related Stories:

  • On IndiaLine: Subra Venkat, Digital Asia Pacific Intranet Marketing Manager’s views on Indian Intranets
  • On IndiaLine: Madanmohan Rao’s
    editorial on Intranets
  • Osama Manzar on the Times of India Group Intranet and the I.I.M. Intranet

NET.COLUMNS: Do’s and Don’ts of Web Advertising

MUMBAI (June 25): Internet Advertising in India is beginning to take off. Most of the top Indian sites have ad banners animatedly beckoning with their “Click here” messages.

c|Net’s recent booklet on Online Advertising lays things out in perspective by saying “Do the Right Thing. Advertise Online” because: You can reach high quality customers You can place your ad in targeted content environments You can target your ad to specific audiences You can track and measure the effectiveness of your ad program

Make Your Ad Banners Attractive.
After all, they carry the message that will get people in. Be concise in your message (you have limited space, anyway). Use animation (2-3 frames) to make the ad stand out. Use words that initiate action from the surfer (a phrase like “Click Here” can be very effective).

Keep Your Ad Sizes Small.
The smaller the file size, the faster it loads. Not everyone has high-speed lines. Try and keep ad banner sizes to less than 10 KB in size.

Impressions v/s Click-Throughs.
The number of impressions (people who see your ad) does not matter as much the click-through rate (people who click on your ad and come into your page). A site giving you 1,000 impressions with a 2% click-through rate will send 20 people to your site, while a site giving you 200 impressions and a 10% click-through rate also sends 20 people to your site. If you are paying by CPM, you will end up paying 5 times more if you pick the first site.

Advertising Campaigns.
If you are planning a long campaign via the Internet across multiple sites, it is a good idea to try out the sites for a short initial period. Do not commit for long durations up-front. Try out for 1-2 weeks initially, measure the responses, and evaluate the feedback received before committing to long-term advertising on the Web.

Choosing the Right Advertiser.
Favour sites which tend to have only one advertiser per page: the last thing you want to do is to start competing with other advertisers on the same page! Also, if there is just a single advertiser, then the size of the banner ad also tends to be larger, giving the advertiser more space to get the message across. Sites like Yahoo! and Excite tend to give pride of place to the lone advertiser: after all that’s where the money comes in.

Change the Ad Frequently.
Ads are like hoardings: if the same hoarding is in the same place, then after a few days, you tend to ignore it. On the Net, it costs very little to change the ad. It is a good idea to change the ad every week (like the Amul topical). Having different messages on your banners and monitoring their responses also gives you information on what people tend to react to.

Evaluate the Site You Want to Advertise On.
What is the editorial content on the site? Do you visit it regularly? Do people you know visit it? Does your target audience visit it? Just because the print medium of a web site (if it has one) does well does not necessarily imply the web site is a success. Also check how often (and when) the site is updated. One approach is to serve the ad from your own site (where your server is) – this will give you statistics on page views and geographical distribution of the audience.

Which Products can be Effectively Targeted via the Net?
As of now, products and services which have an appeal for non-resident Indians (banking and finance-related, real estate, recruitment) tend to do better than ones which do not (export-oriented, joint venture/trade-related). This is likely to change as more business/trade sites come up.

NET.COLUMNS: Advertising on the Internet II: Where to Advertise and How Much to Pay

MUMBAI (June 18): Last week, we discussed the importance of creating attractive banners to ensure that people “click-through” to your home page. This week, we look at where to place these banners and how much you are likely to pay for advertising on the web.

Internationally, pricing of ad banners is based on the notion of CPM (cost per thousand). A CPM of US$ 20 means that you will pay 20 dollars for 1000 exposures of your ad banner. This means, that your ad will be shown 1000 times — it does not mean that these many people will actually visit your page. Click-through ratios being what they they are (typically 2-4 per cent), for a CPM of 20, you are paying about 50 cents to a dollar for each person who visits your page (20-40 visitors). So, by increasing the click-through rates, you effectively lower your cost per person.

The search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and news-oriented publications like c|Net’s are examples of places where you will pay by the exposure. Their CPM rates are typically between US$ 20-40. So, if you are looking for 100,000 exposures, you can expect to pay between US$ 2,000 and US$ 4,000. On Yahoo, the higher rates apply if you want to link your ad to a specific page or a keyword that the user searches for (thus ensuring a higher relevance for your ad). For example, if a person is looking for hotels, then an ad from a hotel, airline or travel service has a greater probability of being clicked on.

The U.S.-based sites have an international readership and very high traffic, so it is not very difficult to achieve a high reach quickly. Remember that this comes at a price. Advertise on these only if your audience is international and you are one of the very best in your business. In general, the more focussed the audience a site has, the higher the CPM.

The popular Indian sites are not yet charging by the CPM. Instead, most tend to have weekly, monthly or even quarterly rates. In the absence of audit reports, it is quite difficult to estimate the real CPM. One way to do this would be to actually serve the ad from your server and then track the exposures on the ad, so at least you know what you are paying for. Rates on Indian sites tend to vary from Rs 10,000 per month to Rs 1,00,000 per month on the most popular ones. The top Indian sites for advertising include IndiaWorld (which publishes IndiaLine), Indian Express, Hindu Online, Rediff-on-the-Net, Deccan Herald and Times of India.

The Indian sites have a very high expatriate (NRI) component in their audience. This is ideal for banks, finance companies, real estate companies, publishers and recruitment. If you are looking for a long-term advertising campaign on the Net, you might want to place short-duration ads on some of the above sites, monitor the response from each site (you can get the click-throughs by checking your server’s referrer log which will tell you from which sites people have come), and then plan out a longer campaign. The leading Indian advertisers include ICICI Bank, Citibank and HLL.

An interesting variation of the CPM and fixed rate models is payment per click-through. Here, you only pay for the number of people who actually click on your ad and come into your page. These rates can be anywhere from Rs 5 to Rs 50 per click-through.

Whatever you do, make sure that you effectively track the ads that you put up. In advertising, they say, half your money is wasted — you don’t know which half. With the Net and its tracking mechanisms, you no longer have to guess!

Next week: Do’s and Dont’s of Web Advertising

NET.COLUMNS: Advertising on the Internet

MUMBAI (June 11): Home pages from India are growing rapidly. Traffic to most of these isn’t. Corporate home pages remain well-kept secrets: few companies tend to put the addressess of their sites on their letterheads, business cards, brochures and print/television advertising. Some notable exceptions: Amul, which has its URL on its India Today ads, and most recently, even its annual report, VIP Bags, and Air-India and Kingfisher, which painted their URLs on outdoor hoardings. It is time that companies started advertising their web sites through multiple channels: how else is traffic going to come in? Search engine registration means little and might account for the occasional visitor, but to ensure a steady flow of traffic, it is necessary to advertise directly on the Internet. How you do make it work?

Net advertising is largely in the form of banners or box ads like the ones below, which are hyperlinked to the company home pages. Internationally, most banners tend to be 468×60 pixels. In India, banners come in all sizes and are dictated by the web site where you advertise. So, be prepared to custom create banners to match the slot available. The ads on the left below are 300×60 pixels, while the one on the right is 100×100 pixels.

These ads have to be designed very attractively. When you put up an ad on a site, the two numbers which are very important are: the number of impressions (page-views), which counts the number of times the page, and therefore your ad, was seen, and the number of click-throughs, which tells you how many of the surfers actually clicked on the ad and came into your page. Typical click-through ratios are 2-4%, which means that 2-4 people out of every 100 actually click on an ad and visit the hyperlinked home page. Not bad if you can get 10,000 impressions, and therefore should get get between 200 and 400 people visiting your page.

Do remember, however, that the assumption made is that yours in the only ad on the page. If, as is the case with many sites, you are also competiting with other ads on the same page, click-through ratios are bound to drop further.

Quiz Time: Which of the following ads attracted the highest click-throughs?

The first ad attracted a click-through ratio of 25% on the first day, while the second ad (which is also a teaser) attracted a click-through of 10%. The third ad, a straight-forward statement, had a click-through ratio of only 3% on its first day. Moral of the story: Not all banner ads are born equal. Invite people to action, make the ad dramatic, topical and exciting; make it worthwhile for the to stop doing what they are doing (reading the article), and click on the ad. After all, if there is no click-through, there is no one one coming into your page, in which case impressions don’t really matter.

Also, give an incentive for the person to click on your ad. For example, the Motorola ad above offers visitors a chance to buy a modem at a discounted price. Monetary benefits are always a good attractor.

Next Week: Where to Advertise, and how much to pay?

NET.COLUMNS: In search of Profits on the Indian Internet

MUMBAI (May 21): If one were to look at the number of companies offering
(or at least claiming to offer) Internet services in India, one would definitely
feel that this is the gold rush of the 1990s. This herd mentality has
meant that the page creation and hosting business is becoming more of
a commodity. Many Indian businesses are getting on the Web. And yet,
the profits aren’t there for most companies. What’s wrong with the

The Internet business, like any other business, requires time to
mature. There is no proven successful business model. With entry
barriers very low to providing services, it is something that every
company (or in many cases, even an individual) feels can be done. So,
many companies get in. Result: falling prices, ineffective services,
confused customer. The same “home page” is offered for Rs 500 by one
organisation, and Rs 5,000 by another. At the low-end, it is almost
impossible to build a sustaining long-term business. And at the
high-end, the volumes are too small since most companies like to “test
out the waters” and therefore start small. Which leads to an obscure
presence, little traffic and disappointment.

Companies looking to build up content-based, advertiser-driven
businesses are in for a long race. Content is free, advertisers are
few. The domestic audience is not targeted directly by most Indian
sites. And the NRI is not going to easily part with his money, unless
you are a bank or offering him a nice house at a rock-bottom price. To
build up traffic and therefore advertising requires staying power,
implying time and money. Many sites start with a grandiose plan, and
not seeing the business or the traffic come in, get lethargic on the
updates. Which worsens the situation. The surfer today has plenty of
choice. Take newspapers, for example. Most Indian newspapers are up on
the web in the early hours of the morning to target the US
traffic. Are we getting US advertisers to reach out to this audience?
Not yet. Indian readers couldn’t care less: it is far cheaper to read
the hard copy than to spend time on the web.

Worldwide, the web business is one of changing models. 1996 was the
year of Content. 1997 is the year of Community. 1998 is likely to be
the year of Commerce. It is tough to evolve as fast as the Web. What
many companies and investors are realising is that things take time —
as in any normal business. Technology might make many things possible,
but customers are still old-fashioned, and slow to change. In this
scenario, it is very important to have a long-term perspective, with
an ability to look at what’s working on the Web and Indianise
it. Learning to harness the technology within the Indian constraints
is an ability few companies seem to have mastered. Thinking through
the future and challenging it everyday is what will make for
successful and profitable businesses on the Indian Internet.

NET.COLUMNS: Getting 1 million Indians on India’s Internet by 2000

MUMBAI (December 25): As 1996 comes to an end, India’s Internet remains in a state of slow and steady growth. The much-awaited boom is yet to happen — whether it is individuals going in for Internet accounts, corporates going in for web sites or organizations building Intranets. As of now, 1997 does not promise to be much different. India needs more and more of us to be on the Internet. But what are the incentives we need? How can there be 100,000 Indian households and companies on the Net by the end of next year (up from about 20,000 now)? How can this figure go to 1 million by 2000, and 10 million by 2005?


I have said this in the past but nothing seems to change. The entry barrier of Rs 15,000 for a TCP/IP account is extremely high. It is more than what we would pay for a colour TV. Browsing hours should be packaged in lower granularities. Still better, there should be monthly billing for usage. The tariffs for leased lines are also extraordinarily high, and need to come down if companies are going to think seriously about building Intranets on VSNL’s Internet service. Also, if the entry barrier in terms of pricing is reduced, more users will go in for the TCP/IP account, which is good for VSNL and the end-user.

Indian Intranet

We need a cost-effective high-speed network connecting Indian cities. VSATs cannot really be used for bandwidth-hungry Intranet applications, unless one replicates data at each centre. A Rs 15+ lakh investment (for a humble 64 Kbps) for using VSNL’s GIAS service makes it difficult to even think about Intranets in India, when one considers that most of the cost is recurring on an annual basis. I don’t think India is yet in the `golden age’ of networking. Indian companies need to use cost-effective public networks to build their private networks. Then see how the networking business takes off.

Leased Lines

Leased lines also serve one more purpose: of providing Internet connectivity to multiple people at one go. Once this happens, the user base starts multiplying rapidly. There is therefore good reason for the costs to be brought down. It is self-defeating for us to keep costs high, especially when India has more international bandwidth to the Internet than is being used. In addition, organisations wanting leased lines should gets these with 30-45 days. Microwave can be used for the last leg, wherever possible.

Multiple Access Providers

India can definitely do with multiple Internet access providers. But it has to be a level playing field. Even though there has been speculation that the field will be opened up to private players, my fear is that not only will the licence fees be so high that it will be almost unviable, but also that everyone will have to go through VSNL in which case the wholesaler is also in the retail business. It’s a tough competitive battle to win. VSNL’s service has improved tremendously, but it is a game of numbers: we have to get more domestic users online if the Internet industry has to grow and the Internet becomes mainstream in India.


Access providers should bundle free samples with every PC/Modem sold. This way, we can piggyback on the PC boom and the initial trial period comes with no hassle. Consumers need to spend time on the Internet and the process of getting connectivity must be easy and fast.

Internet Kiosks

The few CyberCafes that are open in India seem to be doing good business, but they are still quite expensive. We need the equivalent of Internet Call Offices (perhaps these could be started in the places where the VSNL offices are), where people can walk in, check email on their way home, take print-outs, and do a quick browse for specific information. Indians are not yet sold on the Internet, and yet most people who do actually see it, do decide to go in for it. The problem: actually surfing the Web is a non-trivial exercise if you do not have an Internet account.


One of the bigger barriers that we will need to surmount in India is that of language. We must have Indian companies providing support via the Web front-end in languages other than English. No one else is going to do this for us.


This Christmas, one of the hottest selling items in the US is a WebTV, which makes the Web just another channel on the TV, and makes surfing a breeze. This service is not available nationally yet, but it has the potential of bring in a huge audience once it is rolled out. In India, cable is available in more than 12 million households. Perhaps the cable companies might be interested in exploring this option.

Content and Services

Digital content from India is slowly becoming available: most of the leading Indian dailies now have a web presence. But this has to be grown to get more and more companies offering useful services through the Internet also. Why cannot I check airline and railway timetables, why cannot I get a live stock feed (maybe, delayed 15 minutes to protect the huge investments made by the brokers), why cannot I search for newspaper archives? Why can’t more Indian companies offer their balance sheets as Excel or Lotus spreadsheets through the Internet? Useful Indian content is still quite limited.

Electronic Payments

For services, one needs the ability to collect money digitally. Indian banks and credit card companies need to form a task force to ensure that by mid next-year, we will be able to do credit card transactions via the Internet. Contrary to opinion, this will be a lot safer than handing the card to a waiter in a restaurant who disappears with it for a few minutes. We need to be able to make and pay for purchases online. This is going to be one of the bigger barriers to surmount if electronic commerce is to take off in India.


The ideas described above are just a few to speed up the deployment in India and get more consumers online. Companies need to think through the impact of the Internet. Intranets and Extranets can be used for a wide variety of applications. A project which my company did recently for NFDC is one such example. NFDCNet, which is expected to go online in January, will allow advertising agencies to book ads on Doordarshan programmes via the Internet. NFDC is taking a leased line to the Internet. Agencies can use their Web browser to do queries and book ads, from anywhere in the country. Applications like this, which link an organisation with its suppliers/customers, help is widening the reach of the Net as well as saving considerable costs for the organisation.

NET.COLUMNS: Web Site Creation and Management

MUMBAI (December 11): One of the better kept secrets of the Indian corporate world: more than 100 of them are on the Web. With little publicity surrounding the presence of most Indian companies on the Web, it is little surprise that only a handful of these sites attract a reasonable level of traffic. The first steps taken by Indian companies on the Net have been slow, and silent. This is bound to change in the next year as the domestic audience on the Net grows, and the Internet emerges as a more mainstream medium.

There are three types of web sites: those on the Internet, directed at marketing, external communications and down the line, electronic commerce; those on the Intranets, aimed at the audience within the organisation; and those on Extranets, which seek to connect an organisation with its suppliers and customers. The first category is the most common, but real business applications start happening with Extranets.

A 7-point checklist for setting up Web sites is presented here. Ensure that when you think about creating web sites, you give it as much importance as you would to setting up a new office or a new business. Creating a successful online presence is as challenging as making sure that a business is profitable, and equally important.


You need to clearly identify the objectives of the web presence. Some questions you need to answer: who is the target audience, what products and services are you going to offer the visitors, can you sell to the visitors, which departments will be involved in setting up the web site, who is going to handle the responses that come in, what is the update plan. Too many companies get into creating the web site just because it seems a good idea, or because “everyone else seems to be doing it”. That will not go far on the web.

Some tips: get an Internet TCP/IP connection and spend time browsing on the web before you decide, have the Marketing and Corporate Communications (and not Engineering and Finance) handle the project — the web site is not a technology statement, remember that the main audience as of now is outside India, get top management involved in the process, and look for a 6-12 month timeframe for returns.


You need to identify an Internet Services Provider as a partner in your Web project. The Internet site is likely to be hosted from the US: hosting from India is not yet economical, but this is likely to change soon. Anyway, on the Internet, geography is irrelevant. Examine carefully the capabilities of the ISP from the point of view of the computers and communications resources that it has, the level of support it will be able to provide you in the exercise, and the understanding that it has of the Net and how it can help your business.

It is a good idea to get your domain registered: if the site is hosted from abroad, you will get a .com domain; if it is hosted from India, you will get a domain (this is for commercial organisations). The .com domains are registered with InterNIC (check Ensure that the domain is in your name. Internic charges USD 100 for the first two years, and USD 50 each year thereafter. You can register the domain yourself — it is an entirely automated process. The domains are currently provided by NCST (you can apply through VSNL for these). There are two requirements: that you have a company in the name that you are applying for, and that you have a server in India. There is no charge as of now for domain registration in India.


Content is king on the web. It is the primary reason people will keep visiting your site. The goal is to get the visitor to “bookmark” you site so that he keeps coming back — the challenge lies in not just getting the first visit, but ensuring that a person comes back for the second time. And the third time.

Tips: Do not take content straight out of the corporate brochure: the Net is an interactive medium, and this should be made use of. Present a mix of text and multimedia (images, animation, audio, video — depending upon the objectives of the site). Have a “What’s New” section so that a regular visitor can easily identify what has changed since the last visit. Look at having a section which talks about the industry your company is involved in: it helps broaden the profile of the visitors and can serve as a good attractor. Think about conducting occasional Question-and-Answer sessions with top management on the Web. Be careful about offering hyperlinks to other web sites: you do not want to lead a person out of your electronic shop!


Your site needs to be attractive. It is important to understand the limitations of the Web as a publishing medium, besides knowing its strengths. You do not have the same control over the way information is displayed as you have over the print medium. A reader can change the size of the browser window and even the font, thus dramatically altering the look of the page.

There is a trade-off between visual grandeur and the downloading time: as a rough thumbrule, on a 14.4 Kbps dial-up link (the slowest possible link for most people), about 60 KB can be downloaded in a minute. Use multimedia judiciously: audio and video will take a fair amount of time to download, and not everyone will have the patience. Either way, mention the file type and size for audio and video files so that the user can gauge the download time. For images, by using the HEIGHT and WIDTH tags in the HTML source, you can ensure that the page is streamed (the text comes up rapidly, so that the visitor has something to read while the images show up). Interactive forms should be used to present information dynamically.

There are a number of design packages which can assist in the creation of HTML pages: Adobe’s PageMill, Softquad’s HoTMetaL Pro, Netscape’s Navigator Gold and Microsoft’s FrontPage are among the best.


A very small percentage of sites on the Web are updated regularly. This is ironical considering the ease of the update process. The problem in most cases is that there is no update plan which has been thought out. You need to ensure that there is a reason for people to come back into your shop: they will not necessarily do business with you the first time they come in. Also, you do not see the visitors as they come in, but for them, your site is a mirror of your organisation. Prepare an update plan before you launch the site.

Aim for adding something new to your web site on daily. Some examples of the periodic updates that can be done: press releases, stock prices, company news, press clippings about your company, an industry-specific newsletter, industry reports and surveys, speeches, financials, commodity prices. Think about building an email-list of the visitors: ask them to give their email address, so that you can send out a periodic email informing them about the changes on the web site, and keeping them posted about the new developments in your company.


The Net is emerging as a critical medium for business. The Web is not just a one-way broadcast medium: its interactive nature means that is the only medium which supports the complete transaction cycle. Transactions on the Web are more secure than most other media. In India, the absence of electronic payment systems means you still cannot pay by credit card over the web. This will, hopefully, change in the next few months. Many companies are also working on digital cash systems to support microtransactions.

Think about moving bytes rather than atoms. If you do need to sell atoms, the courier company will serve as your distributor for the global market. Best-sellers on the Web in the US include books (check Amazon books at, for an excellent example of how a community has been built), music CDs, airline tickets, and computer products. Business on the Web is expected to grow to USD 6.6 billion by the year 2000, from about USD 500 million in 1996. The future of the Web lies in electronic commerce: the content is an attractor, but money is made only when transactions are done.


Do not launch an incomplete site. Do not put a “Site under construction” page. If the site is not ready, it should not be accessible to anyone. When you are ready for launching it, make sure you publicise it well: send out press releases in India and internationally, let all your staff and clients know that you are now on the Web, advertise your site on the web and off the web (business cards, letterheads, brochures, print/TV ads). Go ahead and get the free listings in the various electronic directories and search engines. Also browse other sites and encourage potential business partners to visit your web site. Look at spending an equivalent amount of what you have spent on the site creation on advertising on the Web in the first 6 months: if you can ensure that the content and design can pull in the repeat traffic, you will probably not need to spend a lot after that. Also, ensure that you keep track of the access statistics so that you know the impact of the specific promotions that you do.