Two major players entered the Internet marketplace last week: The National Business Review with its Business Centre On-line and Clear Communications with its ClearNet. Both services have raised the stakes considerably. The NBR site (http://www.nbr.co.nz) is quite simply the best site of its kind in New Zealand. Not only does it provide the now commonplace news and views but it provides a focus for access to online data, commerce and customised information.
There are a number of innovations on the NBR site that deserve mentioning. First, there are three levels of access: free, registration and by subscription. Each level provides a more detailed view of the information and access to further data.
Second, the site serves as a clearinghouse for third-party online database vendors. The site not only provides a high volume "click-through" but also serves as a way to add value to the various databases by facilitating the access procedures. Baycorp is the first of many such data vendors.
Third, the site is unabashedly commercial. Many other sites take a dim view of commerce and downplay the need for profitability. The NBR site promotes the sponsors as partners in the enterprise, not just the bankrollers. The site is said to be profitable from day one.
And, lastly, it is well laid out and easy to navigate--no mean feat considering the more than 1600 pages. Design and programming was done by Clearfield Communications.
Business Centre On-line received close to 200,000 "hits" and hundreds of registrations in the first three days of service, completely overwhelming the processors. According to Graeme Colman, the centre manager, NBR was expecting maybe 5000 hits a day at the outset. "We've upgraded twice in the last few days," Colman says. "Our hardware is performing well but we've had to put in more memory to cope with the tremendous response. We are also installing a dual processor. We knew we had the formula right, but we didn't expect the marketplace to be as quick to respond. It just reinforces our decision to offer a business-oriented centre."
The Business Centre On-line, although it contains a wide variety of commercial services, is primed for continued expansion. New sponsors are already climbing on board, with three, according to Colman, signing up in the first few days of service. One of the main challenges for the Internet is the de-centralised focus for users. People have to go to a number of different sites to get information. Hence the proliferation of search engines. The Business Centre On-line provides a one-stop shop for a variety of services, more or less integrated. That in itself is a major advantage. The frosting on the cake is that it does it well.
Clear Communications (http:www.clear.net.nz) has also rolled out its new services for the Internet. Clear is offering the usual home and business access services, but with a strong focus on customer service. Clear's Internet project manager, Andy Lake, is adamant about service: "We will provide robust service, 24 hours a day. Our helpdesk will be manned around the clock. And for our business customers, we will continue the personal service they are already accustomed to from our account managers. We will be leveraging our existing infrastructure to provide what we believe to be the most stable Internet service in the country." Hopefully, CLEAR will provide the trouble-free service that is the number one requirement for the business community.
Clear has also developed an extensive Web site with all sorts of original content, links to other sites and information on Clear services. The site is customisable for Clear subscribers. It is essentially the same concept as Telecom’s Xtra site, only done with a bit more imagination and slightly better execution.
I'm still not sure why the Telcos think they have to become content providers in order to be service providers. The content is already there. Their job should be to provide trouble-free access to the content. Hopefully Clear can do both, but if I had a choice, I would opt to spend the resources making access services robust and responsive, not trying to become the definitive electronic magazine. In any event, the Clear site is worth taking a look at.