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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Searching for Information About Web? Try Books!

Christmas in my house has become Electronic Christmas. The flyers for the electronic stores are quickly snatched out of the big advertising bundle in each Sunday's "Courier" and perused with keen interest. Shopping trips to Best Buy and Circuit City are an education due to the sheer diversity and ingenuity of their electronic offerings.

Working in a library, I am inundated every day with a major aspect of the digital revolution – the Internet. One of our primary jobs is to give people access to the World Wide Web and help them find what they want.

This explains why I picked up Google Pocket Guide by Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest, and DJ Adams (O'Reilly, 2003). Google, started five years ago by two Stanford undergrads as a class project, is currently the best Internet search engine. The Google search is based on the basic but revolutionary concepts of popularity and relevance – those pages that have the most links to them rise to the top of the results list.

One of the reasons Google is so successful is that it looks so simple – just a search box on an uncluttered screen. The "Pocket Guide" provides insider tips for maximizing Google results through search syntax and special features such as the Images, Groups, and News tabs and the Advanced Search option.

Another key to Google's success is the perfection of the art of Internet advertising. By clicking on the website's "Advertise With Us" link, advertising clients can learn that "Google AdWords™ enables you to manage your own account, and with cost-per-click (CPC) pricing, you pay only when users click on your ad. You control your costs by setting a daily budget for what you are willing to spend." Niche advertising at its best!

Advertising is, of course, the backbone of the existing Web. For a look at its role in the spectacular rise and embarrassing decline of American Online, read Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner by Alec Klein (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

In 1983, marketer Steve Case hooked up with eccentric inventor William von Meister and businessman James Kimsey in the fledgling modem and online gaming enterprise that eventually became AOL. In the year 2000, AOL and the venerable Time Warner announced the largest merger in U.S. history, a deal that created the world's biggest media company, named AOL Time Warner.

Time Warner's Jerry Levin had wanted to create synergy with the Internet, but unfortunately, he picked the wrong partner. AOL's wildly inflated stock price was largely built on questionable accounting and promised advertising dollars, much of which dissolved when the dot.com bubble burst. In addition to the fact that there just wasn't enough value or revenue in AOL's content to keep it on top, broadband service -- which is so much faster – continues to erode the demand for dial-up service.

By 2003, Time Warner had officially removed "AOL" from its name and logo, Case and Levin were history, and AOL was simply a relatively minor Time Warner division.

For additional coverage of the spectacular and heady adventures of Case and Levin, read There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: the AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for the Digital Future by Kara Swisher (Crown Business, 2003). Swisher, a technology columnist for the "Wall Street Journal" ends with "How to Fix AOL in 13 Easy Steps." She continues to believe that AOL, which has been on the brink of disaster so many times in its history, might once again triumph.

Finally, for insight into another aspect of the electronic age – the media – listen to Clash of the Titans: How the Unbridled Ambition of Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch Has Created Global Empires that Control What We Read and Watch by Richard Hack (New Millennium Audio, 2003, Unabridged on 14 CDs). These two billionaires built their empires from scratch, starting with a billboard business (Turner) and one newspaper (Murdoch).

Most astonishing tidbits: the ultra-liberal Turner lost ownership of both CNN and the Atlanta Braves to Time Warner when he sold them his empire in the mid-nineties, and arch-conservative Murdoch owns FOX, including FOX News. I must have been tuned out when all this happened!

If you're getting a computer for Christmas and need a quick lesson on how to navigate the Web, call Central Library at (812) 428-8218 or Red Bank Branch at (812) 428-8205 to set up a one-on-one help session.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.