Internet Council to act as all-inclusive interest group

Saul Rothbart has a laundry list of things he’d like to fix for Canada’s community of Internet professionals.

The first item on that agenda is the proposed tax on recordable CDs. But that and all the others are covered by the mandate of the Internet

Council of Canada, an association founded recently by Rothbart and two of his colleagues.

Last week Rothbart launched the council’s Web site — the engine through which he aims to drive membership. Those members could include developers, content providers, marketers, ISPs, or anyone for whom the Internet is an integral part of their job. The council will act as a point of contact for members, a tool to educate clients of Web firms about the industry, a lobby group for Internet standards, and anything else that falls under the purview of “”advancing the interests of Internet professionals,”” he says.

Rothbart has been an independent Internet consultant since 1997. He says there are numerous Canadian organizations representing Internet and technology professionals, but they’re fragmented.

“”As a result, there’s absolutely no effective lobby. You have this discord between what marketing is thinking and what technology is thinking. . . . The Internet, per se, is not just a technology issue . . . a content issue . . . a design issue, but really a collective of the three.””

Rothbart has three members so far, but he’s aiming for 20,000 within the next two years. One of those first members is Mark Surman, president of Toronto-based Internet strategy firm the Commons Group. He says he joined the council because it focuses on smaller Canadian companies, unlike some of the other Canadian technology associations.

“”I think the associations that tend to exist, especially in the Internet space, are focused on providing a lobbying voice to the bigger companies,”” Surman says. “”There’s a need for a more grassroots association representing people who work in the industry.””

Rothbart describes the council as an “”umbrella organization,”” but a lack of focus is what sunk similar organizations in the past, says another Internet professional.

Carolyn Burke is the president of Toronto-based FSC Internet Corp. and co-president of the Toronto Internet Developers Association. “”The idea that they’ll become an umbrella organization — that will fail,”” she says.

Burke says she’s seen similar organizations come and go because “”their scope is usually too broad. Once you go for breadth, then people don’t have a focus on what they can get out the organization.””

Surman admits he isn’t quite sure what he’ll get for his membership fee ($48.75 for professionals, $125.00 for small companies) beyond access to other member listings. “”I think they’re still trying to work that out,”” he says. But he was attracted to the notion of a peer community “”as opposed to a bunch of boring conferences where people go and sit and drink coffee from styrofoam cups and feel like they wasted a day.””

Rothbart says he would like to collaborate with other industry associations in order to meet his goals. One such organization, the Association of Internet and Marketing Sales, doesn’t do any lobbying or advocacy, but puts its 4,500 members in touch with one another so they can share industry experiences. “”We feel that the professionals that are in the trenches can teach each other a lot,”” explains AIMS president and CEO Ken Schafer.

Schafer wouldn’t comment directly on the Internet Council of Canada, but said AIMS is open to collaboration with like-minded organizations. AIMS has expanded beyond its original mandate of catering to marketing and sales professionals, he adds, and has attracted membership from other segments of the Internet community.

Burke isn’t optimistic that the council will survive in its current form, but sees the rise of the association and others like it as an important step for the industry. “”Everybody’s been paying attention to the economy and layoffs and things like that,”” she says. “”Something like this popping up is a great sign that the economy for Internet is starting to become healthier again.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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