One of the more interesting events I attended at Macworld Expo was a dinner organized by Apple. The goal of the dinner, which was suggested by Chuck Shotton of WebSTAR fame, was to help Apple figure out what to do in terms of Internet marketing. Attendees included a bunch of well-known people in the Internet world, who were matched in number by Apple marketing people and product managers.
After eating, we went around the room and introduced ourselves, each of us raising one or two points for discussion. Needless to say, the time allotted for discussion was nowhere near adequate. A number of attendees were worried about the messages Apple is giving about the Mac as an Internet client and as an Internet server. Others felt that Apple isn't doing enough to push the Mac as the ideal Internet publishing platform, and issues surrounding the marketing of the Mac into companies for internal Internet servers (so-called "intranets") were also raised.
One of my pet peeves is that Internet service providers seldom know anything about the Mac, and related to that issue were concerns that Apple isn't doing much to inform and educate resellers or other Mac professionals (in education, for instance) of the advantages the Mac has on the Internet.
In terms of future technologies, people were worried about Apple explaining Cyberdog well, especially considering the control Netscape exerts on the Internet market and the ascendence of Java. Finally, some discussion centered around the fact that few Apple employees participate on Internet mailing lists or newsgroups, and that in turn clouds any messages Apple tries to send about the company's involvement in the Internet.
I don't know that any issues were resolved in the few hours we had, but I think the meeting was tremendously valuable for a few reasons. First, if nothing else, a great deal of business works on personal contacts, and the dinner ensured that Apple marketing people met some of us who spend our lives using and promoting Macs on the Internet. Second, although I don't think anyone left with the illusion Apple would suddenly understand either the Internet or how to market the Mac in terms of the Internet, most people I spoke with later felt that raising the topics we did would be cause for thought within Apple. Finally, I think one thing that did change at the meeting is that the Apple marketing folks realized the extent to which Apple isn't doing much marketing of the Mac on the Internet itself. Even Mac users on the Internet may not realize that most any Mac makes a decent Web server, or how an array of identically configured Mac Web servers (the so-called RAIC, or rapid array of inexpensive computers) can handle most any load thrown at it.
Although I was but one of the voices at the meeting, I wanted to offer my top five suggestions for Apple in one nice convenient spot - here.
1. Offer and heavily publicize an Internet client Mac. Make it a mid-level Performa, say, with a bundled 28.8 modem and the Apple Internet Connection Kit (or Cyberdog, if this can't be done right away). And, although I'm utterly biased, I think Apple should bundle my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh with it, because the Internet is a world unto itself, and to plop users down into the middle of it without explanation or a sense of historical placement is an injustice to both the user and the Internet community.
2. Immediately offer email and newsgroup based official technical support on the Internet. I've been suggesting this for years, and it will cut costs and improve Apple's image. Along with this, Apple should provide honest pre-sales advice for people interested in buying Macs. I can't tell you how many messages we at TidBITS get asking what sort of Mac someone should buy. TidBITS doesn't sell Macs, Apple does, and Apple should provide that sort of information via email. Such advice would help combat the confusion and misinformation often experienced in superstores and other dealers that don't specialize in the Mac.
3. Find all Mac related mailing lists and newsgroups on the Internet and assign official Apple liaisons to them to track and participate in the discussions. When this is inappropriate (such as a list about a specific third-party program), Apple should strongly evangelize those companies to do the same. When Apple finds a significant topic without a discussion list, someone at Apple should start one. Apple has gotten where it is on customer loyalty - supporting and sponsoring discussions among users on the Internet can only help, and it's an inexpensive way of creating community.
4. Recognize innovative Mac developers in the freeware and shareware worlds, as well as individuals or groups providing quality Mac-related information on the Internet. 1994's Cool Tools Awards are an excellent example of how this sort of recognition can help both Apple and the community (See TidBITS-247). (I should have a followup on the Cool Tools Awards done soon.)
5. Make sure Cyberdog has an OpenDoc part that plays Netscape plug-ins and another that runs Java applets. This move is paramount to Cyberdog's long-term success in the face of Netscape's hegemony in the Web browser world and the potential success of Java. And let's face it: Cyberdog is the killer app for OpenDoc, so for OpenDoc to succeed Cyberdog has to have some impressive new tricks.
Although I'm sure many of you will immediately want to offer your suggestions for Apple, please don't send us your suggestions right now because (a) we can't do anything with most of them, and (b) shortly there will be a way for you to submit them directly to Apple. I'll write more about that when everything's ready.