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Jan 31, 1996

Technofile: Quality Standards for the Web

Empty the ballot box and face the new year

February's gloom app-roaches and we're left, fortification in hand, to keep warm by tallying the results from our first annual IR World Wide Web home page contest.

Meanwhile, more than a few of our readers may still have a New Year's resolution at the top of the 'to-do' list: Get that IR home page up and running.

If you fall into that category, your timing might prove to be impeccable. 1996 is shaping up to be the year that the World Wide Web grows up. That's not just because of the millions of new users who will no doubt log on (24 mn people worldwide now access the Internet, and some 5 mn more will try it this year), but also because of the growing sophistication and diversity of services available through the medium.

All the fun facts about the Internet's explosive growth and penetration in both office and home have become yesterday's news. Yes, we all know that this revolution is well underway. Now comes the hard part: How to make it work best for the folks shelling out the money to create Web services - and that means your boss.

For IR professionals, the task of convincing the decision-makers that you are pursuing the right track on the Web, and that your site won't end up as the Edsel of home pages, might get a little easier in the months ahead. The good news is that commonly accepted standards for Web design are on the horizon. And with them comes the confidence to move forward.

In numerous industries, the push to set quality standards - such as Europe's ISO certification - has fostered a common set of operating procedures and a high level of compatibility among suppliers. That gives buyers confidence that a product made in, say, Leeds will be of the same quality as one from Turin or Bonn.

Chris Williams, for one, is banking on the evolution of quality standards in some industries repeating itself for IROs building a Web-based communications platform. Williams, 37, is the founding president of New York City-based IR Network, a for-profit association which offers a start-up Web service. It is seeking to become an institutional investor's free, one-stop access point for thousands of investment information pages put up by different companies.

IR Network's mission is to bring an audience of institutional investors to your corporate page. Therein lies the new dynamic of the communications model created by the Web. Instead of your constituents paying to access your editorially filtered news - say, through a wire service plugged into their brokerage's mainframe - now you will pay to have the audience brought to you.

For an initiation fee of $5,000, plus annual membership dues of $6,000, traded companies or their IR agencies will have IR home pages linked to the central IR Network page. Asset managers and analysts, for their part, can use a built-in search engine to pinpoint companies with a specific price-earnings ratio, by market capitalisation or various other criteria, all within industry groupings. Once identified, the user can then jump to that company's page.

When IR Network is fully operational in mid-1996, investors will also be able to 'attend' online conferences sponsored by member companies. E-mail alerts will tell analysts and managers when conferences are scheduled.

Here's the quality catch. Besides paying the fees, companies linking to IR Network's service will have to meet strict and uniform requirements. They range from style - the colours used on screen, for example - to having data downloadable in a specified table format. All the IR Network-linked pages also need to have an interactive service for investors to send e-mail back to the sponsoring company, as well as an electronic repository for news releases.

IR Network's parent company, Admaster, will supply Web design and start-up services for companies that lack the in-house expertise. Williams says the 'Quick Start' service - combining design, content development, and strategic planning - affords IROs an 'immediate' presence on the Web 'at a fraction of the cost' of developing a Web site independently. 'We're removing the obstacles currently associated with Internet communications,' he says.

IR Network is aiming to have 500 companies linked by mid-1996, and 1,000 by the end of the year. A marketing push commences when the first 100 companies have joined the association, expected soon. 'There are plenty of sites on the Web for individual investors, but our service will be strictly targeted at the institutional market,' Williams says.

As IR Network gets more widely known, Williams believes analysts and managers will start demanding that companies' home pages be available via IR Network, thus ensuring that they comply with the content requirements.

If so, we can expect to see the same impact that ISO has had for those selling in Europe: Enhanced quality, and with uniform standards understandable to all. Which just might mean that next year's TechnoFile Web Page contest will be all that much more difficult to judge.

While IR Network is not fully operational, you can have a preview by pointing your Web browser to
Or reach Williams via e-mail at
If you must, you can phone him on +1 212 673 8461

The Envelope, Please

Jumping blizzards. We've got a winner.

While the eastern US was paralysed by January's infamous white dump, some of us managed to harness the nifty tools of online access and e-mail to keep up with the workload, even flashing notes across the Atlantic as if the chaos outside was just a mild nuisance. In cyberspace, the weather is always perfect. So forget about the snow.It's time to turn our attention to the much anticipated results from our First Annual IR Home Page Contest, in which we asked you to determine the best IR-oriented company-sponsored site on the Internet's World Wide Web.

The voting is over, and the results tallied. Now pass the envelope, please, and strike up a drum roll. Contestants, your moment has come. The winner is...IBM (http:\\

But unfortunately it's not as simple as that. Being generous souls we've decided that another nomination also deserves a special mention as a close runner-up: that's Silicon Graphics (http:\\ money.html).

There, we've done it. Whew. The anticipation was getting to be too much. Careers are riding on this vote. (Commission on salaries increases can be directed this way.)

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the winner and runner-up are both companies in the technology sector: the recently rejuvenated and ubiquitous IBM; and Silicon Graphics, the fast-growing maker of workstations, servers and other hardware that has pioneered developmet of new powers of visualisation for computer users.

So what turned on our readers about these two IR-oriented sites on the Web? Being a sober and serious lot, you prized the depth of financial information (much of it is downloadable) provided by the two companies'; the corporate background information; and the links to product and marketing information.

But you also remarked on the breezy, accessible formats in which the information is conveyed. IBM even has an opening on-screen teaser headlined: 'Oy, more hardware?'; while Silicon invites viewers to click on and 'Silicon Surf.'

The lesson: As IR moves increasingly to the World Wide Web as a platform for communications, stuffed shirts need not apply. On the Web, we all need to be hip. For the winners at IBM and runners-up at Silicon Graphics, congratulations; your hot meal tickets await you. And to all our readers who took the trouble to vote and send in comments, thank you.

Because of the response, we've decided to make IR Home Page reviews a standard feature of this page. If you have a Home Page you'd like to see analysed, drop us an e-mail at and we'll do our best to cover it. And just as Christmas seems to come around every four months ... before you can say 'the kids have cabin fever and are driving me nuts,' it'll be time for the next Annual Home Page contest. So get those keyboards tapping.