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Setting Up Shop

Back in olden days, oh, before 1990 or so, there were no markets in the virtual community -- if you wanted to buy a book, you still had to jump in your car and drive to the nearest bookstore.

This was because in those days, the Net consisted mainly of a series of government-funded networks on which explicit commercial activity was forbidden. Today, much of the Net is run by private companies, which generally have no such restrictions, and a number of companies have begun experimenting with online "shops" or other services. Many of these shops are run by booksellers, while the services range from delivery of indexed copies of federal documents to an online newsstand that hopes to entice you to subscribe to any of several publications (of the printed on paper variety). A number of companies also use Usenet newsgroups (in the biz hierarchy) to distribute press releases and product information.

Still, commercial activity on the remains far below that found on other networks, such as CompuServe, with its Electronic Mall, or Prodigy, with its advertisements on almost every screen. In part that's because of the newness and complexity of the Internet as a commercial medium. In part, however, that is because of security concerns. Companies worry about such issues as crackers getting into their system over the network, and many people do not like the idea of sending a credit-card number via the Internet (an e-mail message could be routed through several sites to get to its destination). These concerns could disappear as Net users turn to such means as message encryption and "digital signatures." In the meantime, however, businesses on the Net can still consider themselves something of Internet pioneers.

A couple of public-access sites and a regional network have set up "marketplaces" for online businesses.

The World in Brookline, Mass., currently rents "space" to several bookstores and computer-programming firms, as well as an "adult toy shop." To browse their offerings, use gopher to connect to


At the main menu, select "Shops on the World."

Msen in Ann Arbor provides its "Msen Marketplace," where you'll find a travel agency and an "Online Career Center" offering help-wanted ads from across the country. Msen also provides an "Internet Business Pages," an online directory of companies seeking to reach the Internet community. You can reach Msen through gopher at


At the main menu, select "Msen Marketplace."

The Nova Scotia Technology Network runs a "Cybermarket" on its gopher service at


There, you'll find an online bookstore that lets you order books through e-mail (to which you'll have to trust your credit-card number) and a similar "virtual record store." Both let you search their wares by keyword or by browsing through catalogs.

Other online businesses include:

AnyWare Associates
This Boston company runs an Internet-to-fax gateway that lets you send fax message anywhere in the world via the Internet (for a fee, of course). For more information, write <sales@awa.com>

Bookstacks Unlimited
This Cleveland bookstore offers a keyword-searchable database of thousands of books for sale. Telnet: books.com

Counterpoint Publishing
Based in Cambridge, Mass., this company's main Internet product is indexed versions of federal journals, including the Federal Register (a daily compendium of government contracts, proposed regulations and the like). Internet users can browse through recent copies, but complete access will run several thousand dollars a year. Use gopher to connect to enews.com and select "Counterpoint Publishing"

The national database company can be reached through telnet at dialog.com. To log on, however, you will have first had to set up a Dialog account.

Dow Jones News Retrieval
A wire service run by the information company that owns the Wall Street Journal. Available via telnet at djnr.dowjones.com. As with Dialog, you need an account to log on.

Infinity Link
Browse book, music, software, video-cassette and laser-disk catalogs through this system based in Malvern, Penn. Use gopher to connect to columbia.ilc.com. Log on as: `cas'

The Internet Company
Sort of a service bureau, this company, based in Cambridge, Mass., is working with several publishers on Internet-related products. Its Electronic Newsstand offers snippets and special subscription rates to a number of national magazines, from the New Republic to the New Yorker. Use gopher to connect to enews.com

You can try the classified-ads system developed by this company in Santa Barbara, Calif., by gopher to connect to mb.com.

O'Reilly and Associates
Best known for its "Nutshell" books on Unix, O'Reilly runs three Internet services. The gopher server, at ora.com provides information about the company and its books. It posts similar information in the biz.oreilly.announce Usenet newsgroup. Its Global Network Navigator, accessible through the World-Wide Web, is a sort of online magazine that lets users browse through interesting services and catalogs.

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