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Lost in Cyberspace

Politics, charity, business all meet on the Web

This column was originally published on June 8, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Admittedly, it sounds old after awhile – but still bears repeating: The Internet is changing the way things get done in this country.

And it never hurts to offer yet more illustrations of how the landscape is changing. From politics to charity to big business, more and more of what gets done is getting done online.

Let's start at the top: We're still 18 months away from the next presidential election, yet the major candidates already have polished, professional Web sites up. It was only in last year's election that the Internet became more than a passing curiosity. Today, it's a necessity of any campaign above city council (and in larger cities, even city council and school board candidates will have Web sites).

From George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole to Al Gore and Bill Bradley, Yahoo lists 18 presidential wannabes who have Web sites up. Not all are as polished as the four front-runners, but anyone who wants to be taken seriously now realizes you simply MUST have a Web presence.

Plus, it's a relatively inexpensive way to reach voters. Even a top-of-the-line Web site is only going to cost a few thousand dollars to set up and host. Compare that to printing up pamphlets or buying television time in a presidential race.

Another organization taking advantage of the cost-effectiveness of the Internet as a way of reaching the public is the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A non-profit charitable organization, the National Trust has started the Save America's Treasures campaign to raise money to preserve historic sites and artifacts.

The Save America's Treasures Web site is as professional a presence as you'll find. With slick graphics and scrolling "news ticker," the site is a comprehensive look at the group's efforts across the country. Again, for the few thousand dollars necessary to start up and host this site, the number of people that can be reached far oustrips those accessible through direct mail or mass media advertisements.

The group's fund-raising CD, "Sing America," is also promoted on its own site: Produced by Warner Bros., the CD's profits will go to the Save America's Treasures project. While Warner Bros. is donating its impressive public relations department to the promotional effort, the 'Net presence has, as in politics, become a necessity. (Interestingly, Warner Bros. Records' own letterhead doesn't list the company's Internet address – no e-mail, no Web site, nothing.)

Finally, entrepreneurs continue to find new ways of organizing merchandise on the Web. One of the most recent entries is Catalog City. Rather than a simple online store a la or, it's a search engine of various existing catalogs.

Organized both by product type and alphabetically, the tens of thousands of catalogs include name brands like The Sharper Image, Hammacher Schlemmer, Hickory Farms and Neiman Marcus. Of course, there are also a ton of smaller specialty outfits like Accoutrements by Liza, but that's the beauty of the Web: Everyone can have a presence.