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An Interview with John by Perseus Publishing

What is a “Net Attitude,” and how do you get it if you don’t already have it?
A “Net Attitude” is a new way of thinking-based on the culture of the Internet-that’s based on grass roots. It’s very people oriented and collaborative in spirit. To get it, spend more time with teenagers. Ask them what they do on the Net and ask them what they think things will be like in five years. Spend an hour a week, minimum, on the Net yourself. Explore new web sites. Pick a product or a service or a subject of interest to you. Go to Google or other search engines and enter a query. Follow the links and learn what’s out there. Over time you’ll get the Attitude.

You’ve helped IBM develop a “Net Attitude.” What’s your advice for other companies?
First and foremost, think Outside-in. Outside is where all the people are. They have the power. Walk in their shoes. Listen hard to what they want and exceed their expectations. Think big but start simple and grow fast. Iterate often to improve your e-business and integrate it completely with your “bricks and mortar” business.

How have e-companies changed traditional companies?
The flood of Internet companies served as a “wake up” call for existing companies. It scared many of them-forced them to get their Net acts together and become e-businesses. However, becoming an e-business doesn’t mean you “get it.” It just means you’ve been able to build a web site. The real proof comes when the e-business becomes totally integrated with the existing business-seamlessly. Buy on the Net and return at the store. Buy at the store and get customer service on the Net.

Why have so many e-companies gone bankrupt lately? Do you think it means that net businesses don’t work?
The number of business bankruptcies in America has averaged a fairly steady 5,000 per month for the last twenty years. There have been a few hundred Internet companies that have gone bankrupt in 2000. There will be more in 2001. It has nothing to do with the Internet. Companies succeed or fail for very basic reasons- segmenting their market and understanding the wants and needs of customers, setting the right prices, managing their cost of doing business, having good distribution of their products or services, and most importantly, having great customer service. Those are the tried and true methods to succeed. The Internet provides a new medium for doing business. It enables a business to be global and it provides a way to enhance the pre-buying, buying, and post sale service experience.

So this isn’t the end of business on the Internet?
Hardly. In fact, we’re just at the beginning of the impact of the Net. Less than 5% of the world is using it, and for those who are using it less than 5% of their needs are being met. There may not be the rush of “pure” Internet companies that we saw in 1995-2000, but existing companies are rushing to the Net to improve their ability to meet the rapidly rising expectations of their customers.

Why do so many people leave websites unsatisfied?
The focus of many e-businesses is “click here to buy.” Consumers want more than that. They’re looking for an “end to end” experience-something that meets all of their needs. They don’t want to see “click here for more info” and then be led to a web page that tells them to call an 800 number during the hours of 9-5 Monday through Friday.

Why do some websites seem to be broken or non-responsive at times?
Building a highly responsive and reliable e-business takes good planning and rock-solid infrastructure. It has to be built on a framework that provides for scalability, manageability, availability, reliability, and great security. These things are easy to say but harder to do. E-businesses need to pick a reliable technology partner to plan, build, and run an infrastructure that they won’t outgrow and which can respond to spikes in demand.

What about business to business e-business?
While business to consumer e-business will flourish, business to business will be five to ten times bigger. It’s not as visible to us in our daily lives, but behind the scenes b-to-b will streamline processes, create e-marketplaces for trading efficiency, and reduce the cost and delivery times for products and services.

You talk about the seven characteristics of the next generation of the Internet. What are they?
Fast, Always on, Everywhere, Natural, Intelligent, Easy, and Trusted. The cumulative effect of these characteristics results in not just a new medium but the new medium. The next generation of the Internet (NGi) will provide a different experience and one that will enable us to connect to vast information resources to learn, buy, communicate, collaborate, and be entertained. It has no arrival date but each day we get a step closer as today’s Internet morphs itself into the NGi.

In your book, you say that the Internet is transferring power. From whom, and to whom?
The transfer is occurring from institutions of all kinds-companies, governments, universities, non-profits-to people. It’s not anarchy or people marching in the streets. It’s simply that the power of a mouse click or a mobile phone button enables people to express their desires. Institutions who pay close attention to this trend will be winners and those who think they still have the power to decide for us will be imperiled.

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