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October 2001: Volume 43, Number 10

Traveling in Bottles or Through Pipes -- Water Comes Clean Over the Net
by Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Senior Editor

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Ladies and gentlemen, the lines are getting blurred. Signs are everywhere. Coke and Pepsi have entered the fray full-bore on the bottled water market. Major water utilities around the globe are buying up water treatment dealerships like some of us pick up Powerball tickets on the way home on Fridays. I’m waiting for Texaco to start selling bottled water at their locations. And why not? I bet their R&D department is working overtime right now finding ways to turn unused oil into bottled water gold. Besides, they have to make up for all the money lost by not requiring Americans to pay $2.25 a gallon for gasoline this summer. Gotta balance the books, folks.

Then there are those who perhaps go too far. Reportedly, the Chinese have taken to drinking their own urine. They’re calling it a health craze (see just-drinks.com). What happened to simple activities like jogging, lifting weights and swimming? Plans are being made in China for a monument and everything. Recycling, as everyone in the bottled water business would agree, is important but this may be taking things too literally. So, as an ode to bottled water as well as the plumbing industry, we embark on yet another trip down the Internet lane and see what websites are piquing (or losing) the interest of this particular visitor.

Alright, all you food lovers. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Just kidding. All of us have been invited to this text-heavy site. Most sites that seem to run scroll after scroll usually wear out their welcome once the research component has been usurped. Surprisingly, this one from the United Kingdom captivates almost immediately. Hey, any site with a resident columnist that goes by “Musty Bunches” is fine by me. And it’s here that we find the juicy (perhaps bad choice in words) tidbit on the Chinese fad—one can only hope—regarding, uh, human waste. Unfortunately, you must be registered with the site first before viewing the complete story. This requires a 50 pound (the currency, not the weight measurement) or $75 commitment on your part. The urine story by itself might be worth it. Our accounting department, however, thought otherwise.

But we all can’t live on Musty alone. Not when there’s so much more to explore. With so much on our plate, we will concentrate on a few highlights. The easiest starting point is the home page. Across the top, you are greeted with six main buttons—News, Features, Brands, Members, Forums and Research. By this time, you’ve already perused the entire home page and perhaps feel overwhelmed. Not to worry, the search button has been placed near the top for your convenience. But let’s move further down.

On the left third of the page is an area dedicated to research topics on virtually any topic that’s beverage related. To assist in this venture, a search finder is provided. I type in “bottled water” and I am greeted with 118 different reports, which range in price from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Below, “Latest discussions” lists some editorial topics as well as feedback from various readers. Similar to a chat room, this can prove to be informative and entertaining.

In the middle of the home page, news headlines are provided. Article summaries serve as teasers for people to sign up with the site. A big plus here is that punches don’t seem to be pulled. This can make for lively reading. Under the top headlines for the day is a search box where requests for soft drinks market research may be obtained. Finally, the right third of the page contains the day’s editorial topic and an attempt to drum up interest in surveys. Following that is the aforementioned Musty Bunches. Lastly, “Future events” in the industry are listed.

OK, for those “food” people who felt slighted before, c’mon back. If you don’t get the Food Network, this will do for now (minus the recipes). I have one urgent suggestion for you—visit this site before Martha Stewart or Wolfgang Puck buy it. A note at the top of the home page proclaims, “This domain is for sale.” By the time you read this, who knows what this site could become. We aren’t responsible for what you may find here after August 31.

But let’s deal with the here and now. Basically, we have three main areas of interest including Industry Events, Associations and News Links. The first one is self-explanatory and deals more with food retail shows. Associations gives an alphabetical list of organizations within the food and drink service industries, along with links to their websites. Of course, the International Bottled Water Association is listed as well as something called the Eastern Perishable Products Association, among others. News Links produces a nice selection of stories for the day. In addition, an extensive list of industry publications is given with hyperlinks to their websites. Sadly, most of the site ends up as a huge link to other industry sites.

Unless you are a plumber or at least fancy yourself as a jack-of-all-trades like my father (pretty good one, too), this site may come off as overwhelming. No need for that. Don’t let the disclaimer—"PlumbingWeb.com is dedicated strictly to the plumbing industry"—throw you off. Take it from someone who doesn’t know a PEX ring from an onion ring, this site is useful if you don’t try to outsmart yourself. First, concentrate on only those buttons that suit your needs. A quick overview will give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

Highlighted in blue, nine topics are listed on the home page. They include names of contractors, manufacturers, manufacturers representatives, associations and organizations, and related sites and publications (where I learn there’s a magazine out of the United Kingdom called Distance Learning for Plumbers… is that for near-sighted people?), as well as advice and even an invitation to post your own website. You might want to forget about the search function for plumbing supply products near the bottom of the page. I tried several very generic terms and was given nothing.

OK, let’s go over the more practical features of the site. The contractors’ button works well, if you know the name of the company. But let’s say you’re looking for a certain city or state. Good luck going over the hundreds of names. Each alphabetical listing, though, has a hyperlink for more information. Same goes for the manufacturers representatives’ button. But the funniest button of them all may be the related sites’ one. One site is called The Bathroom Diaries that has to do with (you guessed it) public bathrooms and where to find them. I hear this is a must for nomads. There are a couple more—besttoilets.com and Poop and Fecal Matters (promising a “fun page”)—that really need no further comment. But the most important function is the advice button. In all, 514 pages are provided. Looking for something more specific, try the search button and type in a key word(s). Who said you needed to be a plumber to navigate this baby?

With the increasing popularity of bottled water and plumbers becoming more aware of the waterborne aspects of water treatment (Legionella, Cryptosporidium, etc.), it’s only natural that we focus on related websites. In addition, some plumbers are seeing water treatment as an area worth exploring in their everyday business dealings since both industries often intersect. On the other hand, those consumers looking for unique waters or the easy access of bottled water will always have their options. And if you should be find yourself in China, you may want to read the label carefully.

Bottles & Pipes—
Cutting to the chase

Quirky but informative. It’s nice to see a site that can report as well as editorialize on topics close to the industry. If you want your just desserts from just-drinks.com, though, part with $50 and let me know about that Chinese health craze.

Gee, another dot.com up for sale. At least it hasn’t tanked…yet. Looking at this site, I know that a ton of money was saved on graphics. This is a middle-man type of source—use it to get to other, more stable websites.

Take a ride off the beaten path. The search for products could be made a lot easier, though. If you ever had a question that you were afraid (or perhaps too embarrassed) to ask, this site will cure you of any inhibitions.

For earlier columns in this category, click on the link below or hit the 'List All' button.
The World is a Stage and Water is All the Rage
Dealers Needn’t Fear Additional Market Niches; They May have the Appropriate Software In-House to Manage IT
Net Fun in the Summertime -- Something for Everybody
When You Want Something Done Right -- Do-It-Yourself with the Help of the Net
The Great Website of China -- Tackling a Monstrous Market with www.h2ochina.com
Swimming Pool and Spa Websites -- Safety First Where the Water is Deep
Security Revisited -- Ensuring a Safe Ride on the E-Commerce Highway
The Little Search Engine that Could -- Making It about the Water Industry, http://waterquality.about.com
Scoring One for the Environment -- Water Website Recruits Online, www.water-marketplace.com
The New Marketplace for Water -- A Feel-Good Approach to a B2B Site, www.watersurplus.com
Handhelds for Your Route Deliveries -- Is It Time to Make Your Move?
The Fight Beyond Midnight -- Government Regulations on the Radar, www.RegRadar.com