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PC World

Build an online neighborhood with Bullwhip Extranet

March 18, 1999
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

by Alexandra Barrett

(IDG) -- Do you belong to a group with members that all have access to the Web? A professional consortium? Softball team? Parenting group? If so, you might consider setting up a private online community site through a new service launched last week.

A new Web site from Bullwhip Solutions offers secure places to store information that can be accessed from anywhere on the Internet: members-only Web sites called Bullwhip Extranets. The company uses a consumer version of the private intranet technology many corporations use, according to Damon Schecter, Bullwhip Solutions founder.

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In addition to offering secure Web sites, Bullwhip provides all the tools needed to make an online community an exciting place to visit. You can include on your Bullwhip Extranet site a calendar of upcoming events, lists of members' names and phone numbers, a closed discussion forum, and even group member surveys. All tools run within Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer.

The Bullwhip Extranet service is free. Bullwhip's Schecter positions the service as a cross between HotOffice, a subscription-based suite of Web productivity tools, and Hotmail, Microsoft's free Web-based e-mail service.

Classrooms could find Bullwhip Extranet to be very useful, Schecter says. For example, a teacher sets up a Team account as an administrator, and distributes the log-in and password to students and parents. The teacher can then post new homework assignments or keep parents apprised of an upcoming field trip. Students can use the Discussion feature to work on projects together, and can retrieve each other's telephone numbers.

An "A" for effort

To put the Bullwhip site through its paces, I set up a Bullwhip Extranet for my large and geographically dispersed family. A community site would let us create a calendar of birthdays and family get-togethers, and we could also share pictures of our children. So I boldly pointed my browser to Bullwhip's site and set up our family account.

I discovered that while the Bullwhip Extranet is a promising idea, the site seems to have been created by someone who lacks Web design experience. The site commits a host of small user interface sins that range from the annoying to the inconvenient. For example, it's hard to figure what those aesthetically pleasing icons at the top of the page are supposed to do. And the subpages do not contain a Home link to get you back to the main menu.

But Bullwhip has some impressive features. For example, the voting tool has a built-in mechanism that ensures team members vote once only. And when you post a message to the Discussion forum, Bullwhip automatically forwards any responses to your personal e-mail address.

I'd give the Bullwhip Extranet site an "A" for effort, but unfortunately only a "C" for interface. The service's useful workgroup tools are embedded within a poor design -- but you can't beat the price.

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Bullwhip Extranet
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