There are lots of different levels of interest in the Internet - from Luddite rejection through to real enthusiasm for the potential of new media. Electronic business for architects, even in the us, is in its infancy and so there are few income streams and therefore not a large number of architects on the web. A recent report estimated that world- wide there were some 1000 architects with a web presence, and my own research has identified just over 30 uk architects on-line.
This series of articles has looked at some of the elements of building a web business strategy. In this final article I'd like to address those who are not yet convinced and go back to basics by looking at one of the easiest and most useful aspects of the Internet - the ability to send electronic messages instantly to anywhere in the world - or just around the corner, for that matter. This is a facility that every practice should now have.
Think of how essential a fax machine has now become, and what would you think of a business that did not have one? Yet just 10 years ago, few people had heard of them, let alone used one.
Faxes have become very useful and are in everyday use in all our offices, but they have some real limitations. The quality of reproduction is poor, even with plain-paper faxes, and once you have received a fax you cannot really do anything with the text content - you cannot incorporate it into your own documents, for instance. Faxes can also be expensive - try sending a 30-page document that is needed urgently in Edinburgh.
E-mail is a huge advance on faxes and is already one of the major tools for business communication. If you do not yet have an e-mail facility, or if you do not use it, then you are missing out on a real business benefit.
For architects, e-mail will give access to ribanet, as part of the benefits of membership of the riba. John Edwards at ribanet reports that there are now close to 1000 architects who regularly use the service.
So what is e-mail? Put simply, it is just the electronic version of ordinary mail - you have a sender, a recipient and a way of passing a message from one to the other. Both sender and recipient have their own unique address, just as with your physical address.
To get an e-mail facility, you need to subscribe to an Internet service provider for between £10 and £15 per month or, even better, talk to ribanet.
The process of sending an e-mail message is not complicated - you just type in the e-mail address, fill in the subject box, write the body of the message and then press send. It really is as simple as that.
There are many benefits of email including:
e-mail is immediate and e-mail messages can be sent and received at any time of day or night
e-mail is very inexpensive - sending a message to Australia costs only a local phone call
e-mails are easy to respond to - just hit the reply button and type your message.
e-mail messages are automatically stored on your computer so that you can easily refer to them in future
the content of an e-mail message can be cut and pasted to any document you care to choose
you can attach any computer file you like - this could be a Word document, a Powerpoint presentation, a photograph, even an audio clip or a piece of video.
you can send an e-mail to multiple addresses - so you can keep a list of, say, committee members and send them all the minutes of a meeting with just a single click.
An e-mail facility is built into your web browser software, but you will find that there are dedicated e-mail software packages that have very useful additional features. You can download free copies of e-mail software from two of the dominant companies, Eudora and Pegasus Mail. You can get the software at their web sites, www.eudora.com and www.pegasus.usa.com respectively.
There are also a number of free tutorials on using e-mail available on-line - you'll find one at www.businessworld.co.uk/guide/netwww/email.html, and more experienced users will find many useful tips on using Eudora at www.cnet.com/Content/Features/ How to/Eudora/ss06.html
The world of the Internet is rich and varied and there is so much to discover and explore. For the hard-pressed architect, however, the services provided by ribanet are ideal. It is a community of architects, it is full of relevant and useful material and, most importantly, the staff are friendly, enthusiastic and eager to help.
Ken McGaffin can be contacted at Active Multimedia, tel: 0181 802 2203, e-mail: Ken@connectionking.prestel.co.uk, web site www.activemultimedia.co.uk