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Editorial - Net holds exciting possibilities for readers, businesses

Unless you've had your head in the sand for the past decade, you should know by now that the Internet isn't just a fad. It's also more than a pleasant diversion or entertainment frill. It's an enticing, exciting and still evolving business tool t...

Unless you've had your head in the sand for the past decade, you should know by now that the Internet isn't just a fad.

It's also more than a pleasant diversion or entertainment frill. It's an enticing, exciting and still evolving business tool that's shaping some of the biggest changes that consumers, the business world and news media have seen in decades.

Just how big is it? About $30 billion will be spent on Internet advertising this year, according to Gordon Borrell, CEO of an executive-level research and consulting firm who addressed Forum Communications companies, including the Echo Press, at an online conference in Fargo this week.

People aren't just using the Net for play. It's a huge research tool. Consumers are turning to it to decide which house or car to buy or where to find health care or a job. Eighty percent of new homebuyers reported using the Net at least in the initial stages of their search.

And the amazing thing is, the Net is still in its infancy. Just 10 years ago, there was no "Google" or "MySpace." No one heard of You Tube when it launched just three years ago. Borrell compares the Net now to how TV was in the 1950s - a time when Howdy Doody was the most popular show. Think how much TV has changed since then and one can only imagine what the Net will be doing in the next five or 10 years.

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Borrell predicts that the search and video capabilities of the Net will continue to rise in popularity. He projects that online video ads, which now account for only about 5 percent of the money spent on Net advertising will increase to 35 percent in five years.

Borrell believes more and more local businesses, which had been a little resistant in embracing the new technology, will continue to move their ad dollars into the Net. In fact, he predicted that by 2015 the amount of money advertisers are spending on the Internet will eclipse all other forms of advertising.

All of these profound changes create big challenges - and opportunities - for newspapers. Instead of resisting those changes or ignoring them, the Echo Press and other Forum Communication publications are making a committed effort to keep pace with the evolving technology.

The Echo Press was one of the first weekly newspapers in the state to launch a Web site more than 10 years ago and we keep trying to make improvements, add new features and satisfy readers' thirst for local information.

There are also some exciting new advertising tools becoming available online. One is a "Marketplace" directory on our Web site that allows local businesses to promote their products or services. It's a handy way for consumers to shop, find bargains and even get a Google map visual to the business they're interested in. Soon, the Marketplace businesses will even be able to tailor their advertising directly to readers who are interested in their products. A feature story about camping, for instance, could include a Marketplace link to a local store offering bargains on camping supplies. That's just one of the Web sales tools we're developing.

In short, the Net is creating a whole new world of opportunity for businesses, newspapers and readers. We invite readers to let us know what they like, dislike or want to see on our Web site. Make a post at the end of this editorial or send an e-mail to editor@echopress.com . Local business owners are also encouraged to contact our sales representatives to find out how they can take full advantage of this amazing technology.

The Echo Press remains firmly committed to the print version of the paper but we will continue to explore the exciting possibilities of the Internet. We urge readers and businesses to help guide the journey.

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