The Internet is a wonderful creation. But, is it too much? It permits you to find all sorts of interesting information at no cost.

But it might be too much of a good thing. Dr. Thomas E. Glavinich of the University of Kansas has suggested the Internet must be taken skeptically because all information is not created equal. He observed four levels ascending from raw data, compiled into information, striving for knowledge, and capped by wisdom. The Internet is mostly data compiled into information. Converting that information into usable knowledge and applying wisdom to its application is up to you. If you have done much “Web surfing,” then you know that one site can lead you into a maze of others via “links.” Links are jumps from where you are to unlimited options, some of which lead to dead ends and branches with useless information. You can literally spend a lifetime exploring all the links that branch off from practically any site from which you begin. So it is with lighting and e-commerce. What you get out of it depends a lot on where you begin and where you go. Here are some examples.

Entering the key word “lighting” for a search of Internet sites resulted in 12,367 listings, not in alphabetical order. With 15 sites per page (12,367/15) this equals 825 pages of listings. Would you search all of them? I didn’t either. So, I went back to the dot.com companies that participated in the EC-sponsored dot.com conference in Phoenix last November and started my search by reviewing www.litemarket.com’s presentation. We will come back to that later, but links provided at its site quickly pointed me to www.lightsearch.com. This site is commonly called an information portal. It permits you to search for directories of “4,000 + manufacturers, 150 e-commerce sites, and hundreds of product categories.” Optional search categories include fixtures (including 22 different types of interior fixtures), lamps, ballasts, controls, parts, software, instruments/meters, day lighting, lighting design firms, and lighting service companies. No contractors, sorry. When you “click” on (read “select”) lighting service companies, you get another slew of options according to type of service offered, one of which is “installation and maintenance.”

Then, you must choose a state, and finally a listing of firms pops up, except for those states that come up empty handed, so to speak. Perhaps the Web master just has not compiled firms in those states yet. Just how anyone looking for some firm for lighting installation and maintenance is supposed to know about this listing is not specified. I assume that the Web master must be advertising in some user magazines.

Other features of this site include industry news, a link to the “LightNow E-News,” job classifieds, and new product releases. In addition, you can select the “buy-on-line” feature. In this mode, you can link to “GE Lighting’s puck lights,” “Lutron spacer dimmers,” “Soluc MR-16 high CRI lamps,” “RAB’s cutoff glare shielded wall packs,” “Juno Trak 12 track lighting,” and “Q-Tran transformers 150W-600W.) There are still more product links, not to mention that directory of 4,000-plus manufacturers.

But, wait, there is more. Clicking on the “Lighting Resource Center” will open up such additional options as “Light Guides,” “Glossary,” “Projects,” “Articles,” “Books,” “Discussions,” “Standards,” “Magazines,” “Awards,” “Trade Shows,” “Associations,” “Government Programs,” “International,” and an “Event Calendar.” And still more links are available.

The link to “LightNow E-News” leads to a sample newsletter with such hot topics as “Elliptipar’s Asymmetric Wall Lighting,” “Contrast Lighting’s Directional Slot Downlight,” “Artemide’s Suspended Indirect Modular System,” “Lexalite’s New Light Control Film,” “mcPhilben Outdoor Lighting’s Up/Down Performance Cylinders,” “B-K Lighting’s Landscape Floods Metal Halide Lamping,” “Original Cast Lighting’s New Decorative Bowl Pendant,” “Juno Lighting’s New 24-volt Track System,” and “Focus Industries’ BBQ Lights.” Each of these items includes a direct link to the manufacturer’s home page, of course.

This e-newsletter is sponsored by Incon Lighting (www.inconlighting.com). This company makes wall sconces, wall packs, surface mount, ceiling pendants, vanity lights, linear and high-intensity discharge (HID) products “for the multi-family, industrial and hospitality market.” They encourage you to visit their home page for a complete catalog and to sign on to the newsletter. So I did.

The “Virtual Designer” option on the home page allows you to “select a room from the list above, select types of lighting you would like to see in the room, and then ‘Light It.’ You can compare the options side-by-side and scroll within the room in panoramic 360 mode.” This experience was truly amazing. I chose a schoolroom and was delighted to see how it actually looked under different lighting options. The changes were swift, optically enthralling, and in full color. This feature alone renewed my enthusiasm for the Internet.

Moving on, I found another link to www.lightingforum.com. This site is sponsored by the Architectural Lighting magazine, LightFair International, the International Association of Lighting Designers, Lighting Research Center, National Lighting Bureau, The Lighting Design Lab, and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. This is another information portal that is clear in its legal disclaimer to take no responsibility for the content of any of its information suppliers. Its links include: The Marketplace: “See new products, search the world’s largest database, talk to manufacturers, use our product showcase system”; Architectural Lighting: “Subscription, advertising, and editorial information”; The Resource Library: “More than 170 articles including interviews, glossaries, and information about lighting design, technique, & technology”; and Projects: “More than 90 lighting projects in all types of applications from today’s hottest designers.”

Related Links includes: “dozens of organizations, associations, and sources of information.” These include: Lighting News: “Late-breaking lighting news”; Ask a Lighting Question: “Ask questions and share information with colleagues on our message board”; Career Opportunities: “Discover new job opportunities”; and Books and Software: “Purchase design books and download free software.”

A subtle link on this site connects to the National Lighting Bureau (NLB)’s Web site at www.nlb.org. This organization was formed by NECA in cooperation with lighting manufacturers in 1976 to help educate users about the benefits of better-quality lighting. Sponsors now include professional societies, trade associations, manufacturers, and agencies of the federal government agencies.

Having helped organize the NLB, this author can recommend its materials both for self-education and for helping you convince customers of the value of your lighting services.

The www.elights.com site welcomes you to “the largest outdoor and indoor lighting store. Find thousands of home, commercial, and industrial lighting fixtures, accessories from top lighting manufacturers. We are the first online lighting fixture super store dedicated to making it easy for you to buy lighting products online 24x7. We provide instant lighting specifications and offer special contractor prices.” Each of those phrases underlined is a link to another branch of information. Unbelievable. Some product categories available include home lighting, low-voltage lighting, outdoor lighting, Kichler Lighting, (sic) lighting fixtures, commercial lighting, industrial lighting, lighting controls, lamps/bulbs, and more.

Among the benefits of online shopping are stated, “no more traveling to a lighting distributor or home center, waiting on line, or waiting for them to open. We provide instant specifications and prices that are equal or comparable with top lighting manufacturers. ... Everything we sell is guaranteed.” Purchasing from this site will require that you register and establish a credit line. Then you will sign in each time to obtain these benefits. The site is www.elights.com.

A unique feature of the site I described at the beginning, www.litemarket.com, is that all orders are placed through the electrical distributor of your choice. Money and time can be saved because you’ll have: “no more faxes to suppliers, no more unnecessary telephone calls, no more lost time on projects, and reduced time spent with sales representatives.”

Other benefits mentioned include: “most effective and efficient sealed bid purchasing system, industry expertise and verification process, most comprehensive customer service, total lighting design service, and a personnel staffing service,” should that be needed.

I hope that you will take this tongue-in-cheek approach to lighting dot.coms in the spirit of contextual education I intended. The Internet may prove to be one of the most significant inventions of homo-sapiens, right up there with anesthesia and concrete. (Pick your own favorites.) But it takes a lot of motivation and time to filter through all the noise to get to the music buried underneath. I read someplace that it takes upwards of 40 tons of ore to harvest one ounce of gold. The nuggets in the Internet may not be buried quite that deep, but they certainly are not lying on the surface for the taking. Still, with considerable effort and desire, there is no doubt that future methods of transacting the business of electrical contracting will include, if not depend on, Internet purchasing. Right?

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group in Springfield, Va. He may be contacted by telephone at (703) 321-9268 or by email at lewtag@aol.com.