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Big changes are afoot at CompuServe, the pioneering online service that in recent years found itself falling ever further behind online leader AOL. The biggest change: Last fall, AOL bought CompuServe, insisting it plans to maintain the service as a separate name. Along the way, CompuServe surrendered to Net economics and announced a flat-rate, unlimited usage plan--$24.95 monthly. (Some areas, especially research archives, continue to have a la carte pricing where members pay extra for what they use.)
But the biggest news for nonmembers is that CompuServe is putting most of its prized interactive discussion and information forums on the Web, including information-rich bulletin boards filled with savvy tips and insights posted by users. About 1,400 CompuServe forums--on everything from marketing and running a home business to technical, computer-oriented topics--are slated to open to viewing by nonmembers in early 1998. Reading the boards is free; posting messages requires a CompuServe membership.
This is good news because most Usenet newsgroups have been made unreadable by tidal waves of spam. So CompuServe's forums will likely emerge as the Net's best venue for ongoing dialogue, while the membership requirement for posting should keep spammers at bay. For current information and directions to the Web-based version of CompuServe's forums, head to http://c.compuserve.com
Getting information abroad.
For generations, the global business traveler's trusted source for news has been the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), which maintains an army of reporters from Indonesia to the Arctic Circle. But tapping into BBC radio outside the United Kingdom has traditionally meant wrestling with balky shortwave transmissions. But no more: The BBC has put a site on the Web called BBC Online that blends text-based reporting with audio clips from BBC's World Service. Coverage of U.S. news is thin--CNN (http://www.cnn.com) does that much better--but for up-to-date reporting of international events, the BBC is tops. It's a must-stop for anybody doing business abroad.
Finding errors in your web site.
When bugs and glitches attack your Web site, the surest, fastest way to locate the errors and insert fixes isn't with a Web-page-authoring program but with a specialty tool. Authoring programs, such as Microsoft's FrontPage, are made for creating and don't excel at debugging or fine-tuning. What does? Best of breed of the Web-page-editing programs continues to be Luckman's WebEdit Pro. It's a plain, nonglitzy application, but the tools that let Webmasters shine are built-in, including a syntax validation wizard (for checking raw code) and a link validation wizard (for making sure your links work as intended). Priced at $89.95, a trial download is available at the Web site.
A great convenience for Netizens are the ever-growing numbers of mailing lists that deliver news right to your e-mail box on topics ranging from new shareware releases and Web marketing to tips on operating a small business. One hitch: Many lists are low- or no-budget operations that do little self-promotion. How can you find mailing lists that suit you? Go to The Liszt, an online compendium of about 85,000 mailing lists, where a quick search tool is available. The Liszt doesn't rate lists, so good ones are mixed in with the less useful. A tip: Never sign up for any mailing list that doesn't provide easy-to-follow instructions for getting your name off the list in case it doesn't measure up to your expectations.
To contact Robert McGarvey, visit his Web site at http://members.aol.com/rjmcgarvey/