Webthreads Puts Image Into Growing Market

A Netplex spinoff of Image Communications leads to new market opportunities

A new World Wide Web software product is helping Image Communications, Vienna, Va., capture a portion of the small but growing Web-tracking software market.

Webthreads, as the new product's name implies, tracks each user's path through a Web site and then produces a report of individual users and their actions on the client's Web site.

The product also offers interactivity and updating of Web sites in real time. For example, a client can see a detailed report of how many users visited the site during a specific time period, which pages were seen by each user and the most popular path through the site.

The creators and managers of Web sites, often called webmasters, use the product to evaluate their Web sites and update the site according to a user's behavior from the time they log on to the site to the time they log off. For example, Webthreads can be used by financial institutions to create personal, online banking applications.

"The service creates an environment that is more entertaining for the user," said Jeffrey Spillers, vice president of business development for Webthreads.

Spillers, who has 12 years of experience in online marketing, joined Image Communications in October 1995. With the help of Yermo Lamers, the chief technology officer of Webthreads and developer of the product, the company was launched in November 1995.

Jeff Gordon, who previously served as chairman and president of Source Digital Systems in McLean, Va., founded Image Communications in 1987 as a full-service, high-technology marketing and multimedia agency. Webthreads was spun off of Image Communications when Gordon realized that companies wanted more accurate counts of visitors to their World Wide Web sites.

Spillers expects to attract clients with high-traffic sites, organizations that sell online advertising and Web sites that provide customer services.

Web tracking raises some red flags about privacy. But company officials and industry analysts don't think the industry will face any problems.

"The privacy issue is not discovering information that you shouldn't know about. It's what you actually do with the information," said Scott Nelson, a research director for Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn.

Spillers says Webthreads goes to great lengths to remain anonymous when tracking the activity of Web users. The service does not offer user names, and Spillers says the company "does not even know who the user is."

However, security has not stopped the high volume of customer requests for the Webthreads product.

The company plans to patent the product this year and has decided to release it four months ahead of schedule due to customer demand.

Webthreads is pursuing licensing opportunities with Internet service providers and telecommunications companies. Gordon is also pursuing value-added reseller relationships with Web developers and webmasters.

Spillers is unsure of the company's success with the product but "the indication so far is surpassing what we imagined."

Web-based marketing and advertising are growing very quickly with the growth of Web sites.

"The Web-tracking market is good for the short term and very substantial for the long term," said Gartner's Nelson.

According to Nelson, in February 1996 there were 80,000 corporate Web sites that served as another version of corporate marketing. Nelson says the market for Web tracking is driven by companies realizing that the Web serves more than a database of digitized brochures.

"The Web is moving more into later generational Web sites," said Nelson. He says that corporate Web sites are becoming more interactive with users.

According to Nelson, the Web-based advertising and marketing industry is worth $1 billion in 1996 and will grow to $3.5 billion in 1997.

Nelson says Webthreads' success will depend on the company's selling model and partnerships with systems integrators and Web marketing companies.

"Word of mouth in Web communications carries quickly," said Nelson. "Webthreads' product will spread quickly."

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