Tutorial: The Internet for Builders: What is it?

Not so long ago builders may have been struggling with their office computer systems and training their staff in desktop applications. Then, along came the Internet—and the World Wide Web specifically—and businesses were confronted with an entirely ne...

February 01, 2001

Not so long ago builders may have been struggling with their office computer systems and training their staff in desktop applications. Then, along came the Internet - and the World Wide Web specifically - and businesses were confronted with an entirely new way to communicate with their clients, their business associates and their personnel. In a few short years the Internet has gone from being something to set builders apart from their competition to being a necessity. Builders that currently do not have websites are feeling left behind, and, builders that do have websites are struggling with how to make them useful and integrate them into everyday business operations.

The Internet has revolutionized how we communicate and our expectations about how we get our information. The Web has made information available to anyone, anytime, anywhere, in an eye-pleasing format. We now expect to have our sports scores or stock quotes scrolling across our computer all day. We hear a new song on the radio, and can either buy it online or download it onto our computer and play it. No longer do we say, "Fax it," we say, "E-mail it".

The Internet has taken the business world by the hand and spun it in a new direction. There is talk of the "New Economy," the roller coaster of dot-com stocks and new Internet businesses that have come and gone. It is no wonder that many businesses have been left wondering where to go next. The truth is: The Internet is here to stay, it is a crucial business tool, and like any other tool, its successful implementation depends on understanding what it is and what it can do for you, then planning for its integration with your business systems.

Getting Started

The quickest benefit a builder can recognize can be found in e-mail. E-mail allows you to send documents to multiple recipients cheaply and quickly. To set up an e-mail account you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

An ISP is your "onramp to the information highway." There are international, national and local providers, and they come in two main varieties: phone line or cable. The most common service is delivered over your phone line. Your computer will need to have a modem. The current standard is 56K, which means that 56,000 bits of information per second travel to your computer. This is also referred to as Bandwidth, which can be thought of like a pipe. The greater the bandwidth, the larger the pipe, and more information at greater speeds can be handled. However, the speed of your service is still dependent on the quality of the phone lines that the information travels over. All ISPs are seeking the most speed possible and many are moving to technologies such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). These offer much greater speed but may require a different modem. Another option that has gained in popularity is cable service. Many local cable TV services offer Internet access at speeds that exceed the fastest services over the phone lines. Cable Internet access will require a separate modem.

Having an Internet account means that now along with e-mail you can browse the World Wide Web. To view the graphics-rich Web your computer will need a browser. The browser software now comes bundled in most new computers in the form of Microsoft Explorer. Netscape is another option and was arguably the software responsible for the initial growth of the Web.

The next step is to get a website for your business. To start with you will need a domain name and an Internet Presence Provider (IPP). The domain name is your Internet address. The IPP is the company that will rent you space for your website and provide the phone lines to get the public to your site.

Unless you want to put your site on your own computer with a continuous open phone connection (i.e.: your own server), you will need to rent space on someoneÆs server. These IPPs are companies that specialize in providing the large bandwidth (T-1 and greater), secure servers (if you plan on doing any e-commerce) and support in getting your site online. The costs are usually based on how much memory your site will take up and you will be charged monthly. There will also probably be initial set-up fees.

You will need to register your website. Network Solutions, Inc. is an agency that works under a government "sanction" to register websites. Your IPP can guide you through the simple process of getting your site registered. In selecting a domain name, or Internet address, you may need to submit a few choices. Look for a name that quickly identifies your company in a unique manner that the public and the search engines will be able to find and remember. You are allowed 26 characters, but try to pick a name that is short and easily identifiable with you, your business and your product.

In the old days of the Internet a website was allowed only a few extensions such as .com, .org, .net, .edu or .gov. Unless you were an organization, a network or an educational or government institution, you were assigned a .com address. With the vast number of sites and in the interest of having more succinct addresses, more extensions are now available.

There are literally millions of websites on the Web and the benefits of having a website will be lost if it is not visited. Search engines are the "card catalogs" of the Internet and each one has its own criteria for cataloging your site along with the many others. For this reason, it is extremely important that your name and your site be carefully designed before you start. We will explore search engines and site design in subsequent columns, but for now suffice it to say that some preliminary planning will create a much more successful site. Look at it like building a home: you want to present your best work and you would no more start a new home without blueprints than you should start a website without a plan.

John Barrows is currently the v.p. of operations for Telemark Construction, Inc. of Bridgehampton, N.Y, a full-service construction firm. He has also served as president of Integrated Network Development Group, Inc., a company dedicated to bringing computer and communication technologies into the builderÆs business.

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