January 1997
s m u g
net worth
by Leslie Harpold

Make Money On the Web!

I have always contended that the real key to commercial success on the world wide web will boil down to one of two things. Irresistible content, which can go a number of different ways, or, and this is the one I have the most confidence in as a lucrative endeavor, applications which will help users spend more time off the net. That's right, sites designed to keep people there just long enough to accomplish something, and look at an ad so they can sign off and get the hell out of the house.

Online grocery shopping is a great thing, and I'm lucky enough to live in New York where I can do that. Admittedly, after I typed in my order and clicked send I felt a little dirty, like I cheated on a test I knew the answers to. Thirty minutes later though, there was about a weeks worth of rations at my door, and even though I tipped the kid a couple extra bucks for climbing up four flights of stairs, I had time to take an extra long shower and make a phone call before my dinner guest arrived. That felt like progress.

Advertising Works

Now, advertisers will be glad to know I found "American Directory Assistance - People Find" through a banner ad. I clicked through on some teaser about finding residential phone numbers on the Internet. It sounds convenient, but I felt a sudden sense of panic. As my friend Wendy, who always screens her calls says when the phone rings "it could be anyone," and having my number on the Internet would only serve to make that more true. I had to look for myself.

I wasn't there, mercifully, and I felt a great sense of relief. Not because I'm running away from anything, but I pay NYNEX good money every month to be unlisted. It would have been a pointless expense if all my pertinent data turned up on the Internet. People Find is based on the listed numbers of all the white pages in the USA and Canada. So I looked up my parents. Before you go bothering all the Harpolds in America, telling them that I'm swearing on the Internet, know this - like most Americans - I have a different last name than they do.

And there they were - they have an unusual last name, so the six listings that came back were all relatives, complete with addresses and zip codes. Now, I actually thought this was pretty cool, it is Christmas card season, after all. This could help me update the rolodex, without having to make those pesky, not to mention tacky phone calls to my less paranoid friends. "Hi, I know I only contact you once a year, and it's that time again, where do you live?" Strange, but the people I keep in closer touch with are also unlisted.

Then it got stranger still, I clicked on the "locate" icon, half afraid it would zoom in to a picture of Mom and John shoveling the driveway or out snowmobiling on the lake they live on, but it took me to a map of the area with a big red X where their house was. Better than any party invitation map I've ever seen.

My first thought - "it's one stop shopping for stalkers." I have lived in Manhattan too long. The maps are dynamic and you can zoom in and out to get a better look at the neighborhood or the surrounding area. Practically, it is a valuable resource, although - it seems to serve a cross purpose for the folks at American Business Index since what they sell is a CD-ROM with the same information they're giving away right there on the web. I'm assuming they make their real money from the "business" side of the venture, where - for a fee, one can get pertinent financial data on a company. I can wait the extra three seconds for the web version of the personal directory, and I don't need to buy the CD. I dont have enough money to need to check up on businesses, so I'm guessing I'm not who they were hoping would stop by.

You can play with this toy yourself at People Search. Let me know if you get the same creepy feeling I did. I know why it's good, but it feels so wrong. Public information is public information, but it seemed a little too easy to get.


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