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Unseen Influence: The Web Makes Its Mark

We began this year with an Internet primer (Internet 101: What, Where, How) just as the “information superhighway” hoopla was hitting high gear. This issue we pause to take stock once again of the Internet, which is a very different place than it was just nine months ago.

From reading the daily press, one might think that this year’s big cyberstories are the scarcity of commerce and the abundance of smut. But these are trivial issues. The Internet’s growing influence on our economy and our society lies elsewhere.

First of all, the graphical, easy-to-navigate World Wide Web has come to dominate the network. The past year has brought thousands of new Web “publishers,” ranging from huge government agencies and multinational corporations to sole proprietors and schoolchildren. By linking their Web “home pages” to those of other publishers, and in turn having those other publishers link pages to theirs, these providers gain an opportunity to spread their message to the world. That does not mean the world will pay any attention, of course, but in many cases it has and it will.

The Web is influencing your life in ways you might never guess. For example, some people received this issue of Sentinel as a free sample because they live in areas whose demographics correspond closely to many of my firm’s clients. How were they selected? In large part, through data that we downloaded via the Web from the Census Bureau. Also, in, “A Tattered Welcome Mat For Investors”, Sentinel, December 1995, I cite figures for non-U.S. sales by five large corporations. The figures were obtained from the companies’ Securities and Exchange Commission filings, again obtained via the Web.

You can also see the Web’s influence on prime-time network television. Look at a few advertisements this evening, especially for cars. Near the end of many commercials you can now spot the advertiser’s Web home page address. (The addresses always begin with “http://”). If a viewer wants to learn more about the product, he or she can dial into the Web site and, usually, obtain reams of information, far more than could be made available in any conventional print or broadcast advertisement. The tie-in between the TV commercial and the Web site lets the advertiser leverage his investment in network air time, at virtually no additional cost. Such tie-ins are common today and will soon be standard; at the start of the year they were practically unknown.

The Web can give an individual or small business a much higher profile as well. A recent search on trademark law brought me to the Web page established by Jeffrey Kuester, a patent, copyright and trademark attorney with the Atlanta firm of Louis T. Isaf, P.C. Kuester set an ambitious goal for himself: to create “the most comprehensive resource available on the Internet for information related to technology law.” He has probably succeeded and, in the process, he has undoubtedly made himself known to thousands of professionals with an interest in this area, including the general counsel at leading technology companies. If those general counsel are not aware of this resource, they aren’t doing their jobs. Kuester’s home page [http://www.kuesterlaw.com] provides summaries on patent and trademark issues, full texts of existing and proposed statutes, selected case law, Patent and Trademark Office publications, and an enormous array of other information on technology as well as more general legal issues. In all, I counted 265 links from Kuester’s page to other Web sites, including a section in which he generously provides data on technology law firms other than his own.

Some other Web sites of interest to Sentinel readers include Cap Web, a guide to the U.S. Congress that includes Congressional biographies, home pages and e-mail addresses, as well as information on the 1996 political campaigns [http://policy.net/capweb/congress.html]; Federal Web Locator, a master list of U.S. Government resources on the Web maintained by the Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy [www.law.vill.edu/.html]; and World News Connection, a subscription-based compilation of worldwide press and broadcast articles, political speeches and other documents, translated into English and provided by the National Technical Information Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce [http://wnc.fedworld.gov].

The lesson here is that while actual sales of goods and services over the Internet are still minuscule, information—especially the information that is typically given away without charge, such as government data—is being distributed wholesale. As we predicted last winter, this has emerged as a threat to some of the companies that traditionally sold this government information to users at steep prices. The Information Industry Association, a trade group, reportedly has lobbied recently to end the availability of SEC filings over the Internet.

Though the Web has grown exponentially this year, it is actually easier to find information today thanks to the continuing improvement of various search tools. My current favorite in InfoSeek Net Search, which can be reached at http://www.infoseek.com. Still, the Internet is still a jungle of unorganized data, leaving plenty of opportunity for private vendors to add value by distilling and organizing information for customers for whom speed and thoroughness are more important concerns than cost.

Besides hosting the Web’s broadcast-style services, the Internet continues to be an important vehicle for two-way communication through e-mail, bulletin-board-style news groups (Usenet) and live Internet Relay Chat. There are now an estimated 14,000 Usenet news groups. I find it more productive, however, to participate in so-called moderated discussion groups, which are generally conducted via e-mail.

Tax Analysts, the respected publisher of Tax Notes Today and other professional tax journals, recently launched a set of 21 moderated discussion groups on various topics. You can find the entire list at the Tax Analysts Web home page [www.tax.org/notes/default.htm]. To subscribe via e-mail, send a message with your e-mail address and the word “subscribe” in the body to @tax.com. Groups of interest to our readers include estates, gifts and trusts (estate.group); individual income taxes (individual.group); partnership taxation (partnership.group); S corporations (scorps.group) and state and local taxes (statetax.group).

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.