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    Back Issues, Weekly
    Week Ending: May 18, 1996
    May 18, 1996

    The business plan failed, but the site was a dramatic success. With that bit of profound naivete, the Route 66 Webstations announced the closing of their doors.

    Web Review, an interesting experiment financed through the success of Global Network Navigator, is whining its way out of existence even more painfully. As a part of their reorganization, the Net Daily News was suspended with this note:
    NDN has been led by Senior Editor xxx xxxx, who was on vacation in Italy when the changes were announced and could not be reached for comment. (emphasis added)

    And so it begins. We've noticed a decided uptick in the email from modestly interesting free newsletters declaring that they must have a voluntary contribution or they will go away. Since we never quite figured out how to get off their mailing lists, we prayed that it was true. Expect more whining from over-financed / under-managed enterprises who spent all of their money before turning a profit

    We were set out on this latest tangent by one of our favorite readers, Mike Manning, the Webmaster at Recycler Classifieds who wrote:

    I'd say it's a pretty big deal for an icon like WR to shut down. What does this mean for free content on the web? If a VERY popular site can't support itself on ad revenues, how will any of the medium- to smaller-sized sites? Will WR's demise accelerate the move toward charging for content?

    I'm guessing that only the big, multi-platform company sites (Pathfinder, Microsoft, cnet, ESPNnet, etc.) will be able to continue to offer totally free content on the Web; their other revenue streams will allow them to float their minor (or major) losses on the Web. Every other "Web only" venture will have to start charging (if people will pay...). Maybe niche sites, like IBN, that provide quality information to a very focused market will be able to survive free, as the free content draws traffic that drives business. Comments?

    Our reply:

    A lot of sites are going to fold.

    There's no such thing as "free content" and many folks don't recognize this. Someone, somehow always pays for it (even if it's by cost deferral in, say, a hobby site) It's one of the toughest lessons on the web.

    Like the Renaissance artisans, we're all (except the super rich) stuck with having to serve someone. The trick is in picking who you're going to serve and solving their problems better than your competitors do. You'd be tempted to think that this somewhat ironic aspect of client-server technology would be more visible.

    Just getting traffic doesn't hack it...traffic is easy. Creating economically sustainable traffic is much much harder because you have to actively decide to channel your creativity in a focused way. And you have to show quantifiable benefits to your clients.

    The big players won't be able to master this faster than the smaller outfits but our recent looks at the TV industry have given us a deeper respect for the adaptibility of large organizations.

    Clusters of boutiques will begin emerging as a way of minimizing the overheads. After all, another way of framing the WR demise is that they couldn't sustain their overhead. We're terribly overworked because we won't buy in to long term overheads on principle. It makes us a little burnt and very viable. Meanwhile, we're establishing brand equity that will last a long time.

    So, we'd take a more "republican" view of WR. They overspent early. It's an easy trap to fall into. No one realized that running a website costs 15x the initial development costs.

    Rather than the end of free content on the web, we imagine that it's the end of Italian vacations for a while. The world, on the web and off has plenty of disappointed inventors who had an ideal product but couldn't find a market. With any luck, these early shutdowns will pave the way for larger firms to admit their embarassing, money wasting, mistakes.

    We hope that Web Review has the decency to close the doors with dignity. We'd hate to see the web become a home for beggars. In the meantime, prepare yourself for an onslaught of charitable contribution solicitations.

    May 17, 1996
    The competition on the Web is ferocious. With ongoing races in technology advances, alliances, links and "circulation", the battle for "mindshare" is a tough daily grind. It's normal to lose sight of the fact that the marketplace is changing simultaneously.

    We're starting to see a factor we call native market position that we've been overlooking. Native market position is a characteristic of existing, non-Web businesses that is exploitable on the Web. An example or two should illustrate the point.

    We haven't ever expected much from television stations, networks or the publishing industry that surrounds them. Imagine, though, being in the television business over the last decade. Virtual monopolies (at the local, national and international levels) have been shattered by the dramatic increase in mindshare competition. The sheer number of competitiors grew by an order of magnitude in a decade.

    Yet, yesterday, we ended up looking closely at three television related sites: Discovery (from the Discovery Channel), KRON (a local station) and i-guide (an outgrowth of TVGuide). Each of these enterprises is simultaneously using a piece of their existing capabilities and the power of the Web medium. The common thread is that they have expanded the definition of "What business they're in" by focusing on their existing expertise.

    Of the three, i-guide impresses us the most. The basic TV Guide model includes articles that interest the audience and listings. i-guide just expands that definition to include web based services and listings of the Web rather than simply focusing on TV. Their fantastic services include instant resume generators, portfolio managers and lots of reviews, ratings and articles. They've managed to stay true to their core competencies while expanding their reach.

    Discovery trods similar turf with different results. It's Search and Knapsack tools delightfully expand the idea of discovery to include the Web.

    It was the KRON site that really turned our thinking around, though. Led to the website by an evening news-story on job hunting, we found an incomplete development project that was definitely on the right track. Television stations have many natural advantages in the web marketplace:

    • An existing audience
    • Deep ties into the local community
    • Experience with information delivery
    • An advertising sales team with existing accounts
    • Brand Name recognition
    KRON is well on its way to turning these assets to real competitive advantage on the web. Assets like these are a part of KRON's native market position.

    What's the relevance to non-television businesses? As the competition intensifies, we expect to see an expansion of odd-bedfellows partnerships. While the rest of the pack focuses on infrastructure players like Netscape, Microsoft and the search / directory utilities, you might think about who has a real native market position.

    May 16, 1996
    Fear Sells.
    Are you on the Home Page Press mailing list? Their emailed newsletter (Online Business Today) usually sits unread in an inbox until flush time. Recently, they began covering a story with mail headers that guaranteed that we'd read the mail.

    Deadly Black Widow on The Web and Her Name is JAVA said the first release. Today's mail was titled Java: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. We don't know the truth of the situation but want to point out two things:

    • Who's marketing Online has weighed in with a well researched expose of the story. Their conclusion?
      • If nothing else, the HPP Black Widow release emphasizes the need for online marketers to develop and live by a higher electronic investigative ethic. One that looks before it jumps to inaccurate conclusions or that siezes on the sensational simply to gain notoriety. And one that freely provides solutions to perceived flaws and shortcomings on the Iway's electronic frontier as a matter of professional courtesy.
    • The Home Page Press releases seem to always end with a pitch for their report on the subject. It's a sleazy sales technique even if there's validity to the report.

    Interestingly, and accuracy notwithstanding, Home Page Press seems to have significantly raised their profile using this technique.

    Home Page Press has added a Java consultant to their package. Hear his side of the story and see the HPP Demo of "Hostile Java Applets". The story gets murkier!!!

    May 15, 1996
    How Many Visitors Do You Want?
    A solid marketing plan is essential to web success. We really think that this applies to all websites, large or small. The difference between large and small is the degree of detail.

    Like any communications project, the central question in a marketing plan is: Who are you trying to reach, who is your audience?. On the web, audience demographics are more easily defined in terms of shared interests than the traditional age, gender, geography and income factors used in other media. (You can, to a degree, infer the traditional factors from shared interest.)

    If you've been following this newsletter for a while, you'll remember that we try to have our clients do the following thought experiment as a part of initial design and traffic planning. Imagine a website that only needs one visitor to succeed. Initially, we used this process to help with audience definition, these days we also use it to help our clients come to grips with the realities of traffic planning.

    Here's why.

    If you're so inclined, designing, building and promoting a website as a part of selling your house makes a fair amount of sense (assuming that you're acting as your own real estate agent). While you absolutely only need one visitor (a buyer) to succeed, you probably have to have 100 or so prospects. You definitely don't want 10,000 visitors (unless you're using the project to start an online Real Estate Business). It would be a tragedy to have too much traffic in this case as the Website "overheads" of email and relationship development would distract you from the ultimate goal...selling the house.

    So, the design and promotion of a simple site requires a kind of marketing precision that limits the incoming traffic.

    The point of this example is that when planning for traffic, you want the right traffic, not a lot of traffic.

    May 14, 1996
    How not To Do It
  • We recently received email from the webmaster for Euro-Snickers (the continental home for the American Candybar). The site is clearly well financed and full of interesting sports and travel information. We take it that "Snickers bars" are health food in Europe.

    From the admittedly narrow perspective of a Northern Californian, the idea that Snickers could provide credible "sports nutrition information" is more than a little mind boggling. The email was part of a bulk distribution (as you know, we think bulk mail is okay if targeted with precision) but no attempt was made to even vaguely understand the niches we serve. Heck, we'd have gotten a real laugh out of email that suggested that Snickers were the "breakfast of marketing champions".

    If you're into European Soccer, visit Euro-Snickers. We can't imagine what it will do for you if you want to know about Marketing on the web (except show you how to spend a ton of money)

    Writing Guidelines for Targeted Promotional Email

    • Know your audience
    • Show them the relevance of your offering. Emphasize their benefits
    • Use the title of your email to help your audience. (Avoid the overused "Hot Site"; "Check This Out"; or, "Submit")
    • Keep it very short; No more than 10 lines (unless it's clearly marked "Press Release")
    • Be clear about your desired outcome
    • If you want a link, provide the HTML
    • Use a spell checker and proper grammar
    • Be clear about your desired outcome (twice for emphasis)
    • Expect some unpleasant replies
    • Expect a lot of "Thank-You"s if you've targeted well and delivered real value.

    Advertising World is a very solid collection of links, pointers and tools relating to (you guessed it) online advertising.

    May 13, 1996
    Global Media Design is the company behind Roverbot (the hot targeted mailing list spider we reviewed last week). Besides Roverbot, the provide a fantastic suite of Unix tools that inexpensively provide massive interactive capabilities for your website. We were particularly impressed with link trakker, a tool which helps you understand where your visitors are coming from (technically, it takes referer logs, sorts them, verifies them and presents them summarized by URL or it will simulate a referer log if you don't use an advanced server). Rather than try to explain, take a look at the sample report for Roverbot. You'll see web pages that refered visitors to Roverbot and the number of visitors who came from those pages.

    What is most interesting about Global Media Design is their ability to bring Spider technology to the rest of us.

    May 12, 1996
    Lots of ideas are floating around our offices these days.

    We're less and less impressed with hits as a measure of anything. As we evaluate the methods we could use to increase our revenue, we're struck by the elasticity of this delivery vehicle. Because of the way we developed the material in our various newsletters and presentations, it's a simple matter to increase hits by almost an order of magnitude

    That last statement probably bears an explanation.

    Early on in the development of the IBN suite of information offerings, we committed to a simple principle: The Best Website Gets You off the Web The Fastest. So, each of our newsletters has been developed as a destination in and of itself. The result? Each of our nearly 20,000 visitors last week was handed the information that they were looking for, immediately upon arrival. On average, we delivered each visitor 8 files (1 html/text file and 7 graphics files). About 10% (though this is a terrible way to express it) of our visitors looked at more than one page.

    Here's the interesting thing. 20,000 visitors to a site like HotWired, c-net or even Salon would easily generate 10-15 times the number of hits. Why? In part, each of those sites forces the visitor to traverse a number of navigational and introductory screens to finally find the information they seek. Newer visitors traverse more screens, seasoned visitors bookmark the key spots. The result? More opportunities for advertisers to use the sites and more opportunity to explain the various features of the sites themselves.

    So, we could multiply our traffic by adding an introductory navigation screen and sorting the existing archives into slightly more usable information. We're debating the impact on our current readers. It's giving us a fit as we reevaluate the wisdom of The Best Website Gets You off the Web The Fastest. Hits are funny that way. We've always said that Less is More. It's quite a surprise to discover that less can be more in the delivery of content as well.

    We don't imagine that we're the first or the last to wrestle with this editorial question. Rather, we wanted to alert you to the concept as a part of our ongoing public musings about site design.

    If you're running your site on MacIntoshes, you're probably sick of the constant stream of bad news. We are. A bright spot is emerging.

    Dave Winer, publisher of DaveNet has released a new version of his landmark software Frontier. Dave is a "get your fingernails dirty" software developer who has consistently built and delivered extremely useful tools at each stage of the Web's evolution. If one web year = 2.5 months, Dave has managed to bless the webmaster community with a new tool each year of the Web's life. He works by trying to exceed the envolope of his current tools and then developing the solutions based on mistakes he made and hassles he encountered.

    It's the best kind of tool design.

    We're betting that MacIntosh Webmasters will use his new, very scriptable tool in droves. Thanks, Dave.

    Try Freeloader

    Contacting Us
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  • All material on this site is © 1995, 1996 by IBN (The Internet Business Network), Mill Valley, CA 94941