Bulletin board goes paid

Magic, a popular electronic bulletin board located in Toronto, will make the leap from a free service to a commercial online system later this month.Bell Canada is in the process of connecting a bank of new phone lines to the three-year-old...

Magic, a popular electronic bulletin board located in Toronto, will make the leap from a free service to a commercial online system later this month.

Bell Canada is in the process of connecting a bank of new phone lines to the three-year-old online service, which is being renamed Magic Online Services.

Company President Mark Windrim says the paid service will become operational around Sept. 15.

Magic will enable advertisers to use sound, text and graphics to reach a core group of users, who have built an intimate town on the outskirts of the information highway, Windrim says.

Magic’s technology has the capability to offer an order entry system to their vendors, which will enable the user to ask for information on a product, see it on-screen, and order through credit card.

Among other categories, Magic is talking with marketers in the music industry to facilitate advertising that will let the user listen to a song while seeing pictures and reading text of a particular musician or group.

Bulletin boards have been used quite frequently by advertisers of high technology and computer-related products that require text-heavy advertising.

But Windrim says the advertising potential of online services remains largely untapped.

As an experiment, three jewellers recently used Magic to market their products.

Windrim says that not only did Magic users, who number about 6,000, call the stores, but they used the system to engage in a computer dialogue with the merchants.

The only products the system may not be suited for are those such as digital sound systems, which the buyer must hear and experiment with in order to appreciate, Windrim says.

Advertisers need to respect the privacy of the online users who are protective of their private, computer-generated world, while at the same time taking advantage of the medium’s quick access, graphic capabilities, and one-on-one communications.

Windrim says users are comfortable with new technology, but uncomfortable having their cyberspace invaded by commercial advertisers.

They detest being bombarded by ads on-screen, preferring to get access to information on products and services by asking for information through a search function, or by finding sales and promotions ads in a designated commercial section of the online service.

Advertising that is accepted by the community is often integrated in the various services offered on the system, says Cameron Johnson, vice-president of Magic.

Advertising on Magic will be customized for the client.

A basic on-line conference begins at about $50 a month. Customized packages will vary in price.

Magic may have big name competition in the Canadian market as u.s.-based Prodigy Services is making plans to bring its commercial online service north of the border.

Commercial service

And last month, it was revealed Microsoft plans to launch a commercial service, tentatively called Marvel.

Prodigy has teamed up with Southam Information and Technology Group to test its service in the Canadian market.

Although some of Prodigy’s u.s. advertisers target Canadian users, the service does not house any uniquely Canadian advertisers yet because there have not been enough Canadians online, says Peggy Miller, executive director, new business ventures for Prodigy.

But Miller says a successful test-run may facilitate a Canadian service that uses Canadian content and advertisers, adding that Prodigy is still reviewing consumer and business research to determine what the cost and revenue of the service might be.

Microsoft says it will include its online service with its Windows 4.0 software package, code-named Chicago, which is set for release in early 1995.

David Carter, product manager at Microsoft Canada, confirms that a free online service will be available with Chicago and that the service will include Canadian content.