Computer users throughout the world with access to the Internet are now able to retrieve the contents of the Palo Alto Weekly as part of a new Internet publishing project jointly announced this week by the Weekly and Internet Distribution Services, a Palo Alto company.
The project, under development for the last several months, will enable Internet users to gain access to the paper some six hours before it is available in print. Although nearly impossible to verify due to the nature of the Internet, the Palo Alto Weekly is believed to be the first commercial newspaper in the country to be accessible on the world-wide system of computer networks.
Unlike with the commercial on-line services such as Prodigy or America Online, which are available only to people who pay a monthly membership fee and connection charges, the contents of the Palo Alto Weekly will be available, free of charge and for unlimited time periods, to anyone with access to the Internet.
The Internet is a world-wide computer network linking more than 20 million people in commercial, educational and government organizations. With Internet access to individuals now available for as little as $20 or less per month, the current growth rate is more than a million people a month.
In the Silicon Valley area, virtually all high technology companies, educational institutions, government contractors and many government agencies have Internet access, making the region one of the most intensive Internet use areas in the world outside of Washington, D.C.
The Palo Alto Weekly has been testing its Internet "presence" for the last month, and more than 2,000 different Internet computer systems have accessed it, even though no public announcement had been made about its availability. Numerous people have sent electronic messages with comments and suggestions.
In addition to the editorial content of each issue, which includes news, entertainment listings, movie times, movie and restaurant reviews, open house listings and real estate transactions, the text of past issues will be available, although not prior to 1994. Back issues will be searchable by key words. A computer index of back issues, maintained by the Palo Alto Library, will soon be available on the Internet as well.
Readers also may communicate with the newspaper and send letters to the editor via the Palo Alto Weekly's Internet e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Our goal is to extend the usefulness of our content to an audience that is otherwise almost impossible to reach: people interested in what is going on in the Palo Alto area but who do not live in our circulation area," said Palo Alto Weekly Publisher William S. Johnson.
"Eventually, we believe this service will provide immense benefit to both 'readers' and advertisers," Johnson said. He added that with the high number of computer users in Palo Alto, the public may find considerable value in being able to find articles that ran in past issues.
Johnson said the Weekly intends to provide the basic service free of charge, with future market testing determining the additional services for which either readers or advertisers would pay a modest fee. Classified and other advertising in the Weekly is not currently a part of the Internet version of the Weekly, but probably will be added in the future.
Also under development are community-oriented "news groups," which will permit readers to post messages and opinions about community issues and allow local organizations to make information available electronically.
Internet Distribution Services, Inc. assists commercial organizations in using the Internet for marketing communications, electronic publishing, customer service, and product distribution. Among its customers are the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which recently posted information on an upcoming health conference and its health newsletter on the Internet, and Document Center, a Belmont company that makes thousands of documents available electronically.
Marc Fleischmann, president of Internet Distribution Services, operates Unix-based servers from his Palo Alto facility and offers Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS), World Wide Web (WWW), Gopher, Anonymous FTP, and mailing list server capabilities.
The Palo Alto Weekly is on World Wide Web, with a URL address of /weekly/home.html. New users of the Internet may need to ask their service provider for instructions about gaining access to World Wide Web. The Wednesday edition of the Weekly will be available at approximately noon on Tuesday, while the Friday edition will be posted by midnight Thursday.
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