In-Depth

The Direct Stock Market uses Lotus Notes for E-commerce

When it comes to the World-Wide Web, updating content is key to getting customers to return. But updating static pages with data from disparate sources, converting to HTML and posting online can be a daunting and repetitive task.

The Direct Stock Market of Santa Monica, Calif., faced this problem daily. Their site -- www.direct-stock-market.com -- advertises small companies seeking investors for an initial public offering of stock. Stock offering announcements, company information and financials data for each company is accessible via the 'Net so prospective investors can see where their money will be invested.

"These smaller companies [which don't qualify for the Nasdaq Small Capital market] don't have access to money used to raise capital," explained Kevin McCall, marketing coordinator for The Direct Stock Market. "We use the Internet as an avenue to reach investors; that is much more cost efficient."

Inefficient was the process of keeping listed company information up-to-date: Companies who wanted to be listed or needed to update information had to send the proper data on a disk to The Direct Stock Market's Web person. The data on the disk, such as a word processing document or spreadsheet, had to be converted to HTML using editors or hand-coding, then placed online. Eight to nine static HTML pages had to be created or changed for each company listing. Information listed on the Web sites was also duplicated in an IBM Lotus Notes database, which the company had been using for years, accessible only from within The Direct Stock Market network via a Notes client.

In May of this year, The Direct Stock Market used Lotus' Domino to integrate the two data-entry processes into a single process that cuts out the Web programmer middleman and gives listed companies direct access to their own information using Netscape Navigator 3.0 from Netscape Communications Corp., Mountain View, Calif. Now companies can enter data directly into the Domino database and have it appear on the The Direct Stock Market's site almost instantaneously.

"We've eliminated the duplication of creating, E-mailing and us putting the information up," said Cynthia Copsey, The Direct Stock Market's vice president of marketing. "It saves time and lets our customers' information be put directly into our work flow."

Fuel Creative, an Internet-based software developer and Web design firm also located in Santa Monica, designed the Domino back end and created what it calls an Intranet/Internet Application (Web site) Editor through Netscape. Brian Holmes and Michelangelo Capraro, Fuel's founders, built the site in approximately three-and-a-half months after extensive planning involving The Direct Stock Market.

"We talked to The Direct Stock Market a lot, getting background and opinions on their current site, then finding out how they would like to see it improved," said Capraro.

Based on the talks with The Direct Stock Market, Fuel created a system where corporate information pages are dynamically generated out of the Domino database. However, Domino-generated pages are typically bland and sterile-looking, according to Capraro and Holmes. One of the hurdles Fuel faced was making the information the user sees in their browser more eye-pleasing.

Using Lotus Script, JavaScript and Shockwave Director, a multimedia plug-in for Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer from San Francisco-based Macromedia Inc., Fuel created agents that intercept the data coming out of the Domino server and reformat the data based on specific "preference pages" before the user sees the information appear in their browser. This method allows The Direct Stock Market to change the look of their site by modifying just the preferences page, rather than hundreds of individual pages.

"Our new site is so much more user-friendly and navigable," said Copsey. She added that since companies enter their information themselves, it gives them a sense of ownership when they put things on The Direct Stock Market site.

Currently, The Direct Stock Market and Fuel are working on upgrades and improvements to the site. Internal users at The Direct Stock Market must still use a Notes client to do much of the database administration. Fuel is working on a Web-based desktop that will let internal users modify and administer the site with only Navigator.

"With only one tool required to administer the site, a new person [starting at The Direct Stock Market] only needs to learn how to click on "Netscape" to administer the site [rather than learning Notes]," said Fuel's Holmes. "We're pushing the limits of Notes with this technology."

The Direct Stock Market is also planning to build a "trading floor" on its site that will enable investors to trade these small companies online. Copsey said the proposed trading floor is awaiting the approval of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

-- Jason J. Meserve

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