Checking e-mail from the road can get expensive when every call to your Internet service provider (ISP) is long distance. A frugal alternative is HomeGate, a service that provides subscribers with local access numbers in most major cities around the world. Call that number, and seconds later you're logged on to your home ISP. HomeGate's cost? Eight cents per minute for calls within the United States; 50 cents per minute for international calls. There's also a $5 monthly subscription fee, but it's not assessed during months when you don't use the service. For a free 30-minute trial, sign up at HomeGate's Web site at http://www.homegate.net .
Private forums, high-tech bulletin boards that connect a specific group of people, are terrific tools for staying in touch with key customers and employees. The big obstacle with these forums has been the cost of setting up a dedicated computer to handle the messaging. One solution is a Delphi Custom Forum, which provides plentiful space on Delphi's computers as well as 10MB of additional space for building a Web site, which will easily link to your message board. The setup fee is $70, which includes the first six months; subsequent monthly fees are $5. This buys access for up to 12 participants, who do not have to be Delphi subscribers; your custom forum is available to anyone with Internet access. Entry can be restricted to members of a pre-approved list (employees, for example) or thrown wide open to all comers. Options for a beefed-up forum are priced à la carte and can be added as needed. For instance, to add participants, the charge is $35 monthly per 100 users. Get more details at http://www.delphi.com
Who has time to browse the Web, particularly at peak hours when traffic jams slow the information superhighway to a crawl? Get the information you want when you want it with offline reader software that logs on to Web sites you designate, at times you specify, and downloads the requested information for your later offline review. Fully customizable, these tools go a big step beyond news-gathering software such as PointCast, from PointCast Inc., which is limited to pre-selected Web sites. Top-rated titles for off-line readers are Traveling Software's WebEx ($50, http://www.travsoft.com ) and ForeFront's Web-Whacker ($50, http://www.ffg.com ), both of which can be downloaded from the Web sites. Either is likely to minimize your Web browsing, while maximizing the information benefits you get from the Web.
The internet is a great productivity tool, but a greater productivity killer if workers spend their days surfing for sports scores and playing interactive games. See how employees are using their computers by installing WinWhatWhere from WinWhatWhere Corp. ($495 for 10 users; $99 for a single workstation), software that tracks every keystroke--even mouse clicks. The program reports how much time is spent on individual programs, and where and when network loads are heaviest. For more details, head to http://www.winwhatwhere.com
A hit counter is an essential piece of Web site architecture, but just as critical as knowing how many visitors you're getting is knowing who they are and which of your site's features are most popular with them. Visitor analysis software aims to answer these questions. Reports can get very detailed, including how long a visitor spends on each page in your site, profiles of visitors by origin (their home domains), and details on which sites are referring visitors to yours. Sort through this information, and the upshot will be a revised Web site that's better tailored to users' interests. Top titles are E.g. Software's WebTrends ($299, http://www.webtrends.com ), NetIntellect from WebManage Technologies ($199, http://www.webmanage.com ), and Hit List Standard from Marketwave ($195, http://www.marketwave.com All offer free trial versions that can be downloaded from the Web sites.
Delphi Internet Services Corp., (617) 441-4500, http://www.delphi.com
E.g. Software Inc., (503) 294-7025, http://www.webtrends.com
ForeFront, (800) 653-4933, http://www.ffg.com
HomeGate Corp., (310) 533-3950, http://www.homegate.net
Marketwave LLC, 1415 Western Ave., #488, Seattle, WA 98101, http://www.marketwave.com
Traveling Software Inc., (800) 343-8080, http://www.travsoft.com
WebManage Technologies Inc., 152 Wason Rd., Hudson, NH 03051, http://www.webmanage.com
WinWhatWhere Corp., (509) 585-9293, http://www.winwhatwhere.com
To contact Robert McGarvey, visit his Web site at http://members.aol.com/rjmcgarvey/