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Darwinian winners

by By Rudy Nadler-Nir

A quick Web history quiz. What do the following sites have in common:
beenz.com, 24-7.com, carefinder.com, discjockey.com, etoys.com, go.com, iguide.com, mobilemoney.com and sportal.com?

They’re dead. These are “ghost sites” – web sites that were left empty, inhabited, neverchanging and quiet. Digital ghost towns. Steve Baldwin – himself a creator of a ghost town left on the ruins of the short lived portal pathfinder.com – started a site dedicated to the collection, tagging and cataloguing of ghost sites
(try – http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/index.shtml)

Collecting such morbidibillia is easy. The collapse of dot.coms and the normal atrophy of millions of web sites that ran out of financial fuel supply Baldwin with fresh binary cadavers every day.

And herein lies the question: if we accept a Darwinian-like law of demise (as in – “the destruction of the unfit Website”), can we stipulate the opposite? Namely: the survival of the fittest web site?

This has nothing to do with financial success. According to this harsh, yet effective formula, we can consider a web site a Darwinian winner if it survived, and if it continues ticking over (in other words – it did not become a ghost-site.)

Our Darwinian winner continues living against all odds. It is maintained by its users, it survives with little-to-no maintenance and programming and it shows stable, continuous, uninterrupted growth. Can this be?

Consider two South African Darwinian winners:
http://www.matchmaker.co.za/s/a/3/tbc – a local matchmaking engine with
both local and global appeal; and
http://www.dine.co.za – a local registry of South African eateries.

The amazing and exciting aspect of these sites is the fact that they survive purely and solely on input from their users. No marketing, no branding, no pushed email, no competitions, freebies and other forms of user bribery. Darwinian winners are run like successful associations – each user invests time and efforts to ensure the system works.

Do we have a successful economic formula here?

Perhaps. Undoubtedly, Darwinian winners are enormously successful models, but will they survive a transition from non-paying users to paid subscribers?

Back to the underlying principles of service-on-demand: if a Free State farmer is looking to marry a pleasant, agreeable Russian woman. He tries matchmaker.co.za and realises that the free options are good – but less detailed, powerful or effective.

What will he do? He can buy a monthly subscription and try his luck over a few months. If the fees are reasonable (say – R25 per month, much less than buying a newspaper for a month), he might try it.

Restaurant owners look for patrons. If they can see clearly that people come to their restaurant after having seen the information online, they may feel that spending a modest amount of money each month to subscribe their business is warranted.

Subscribers will try the sites for a few months (hence the “service-on-demand” model) and, based on the way results answer their requirements and expectations, they will opt to continue – or terminate – their subscription.

Are you a site owner? Consider the following checklist:

I keep my site alive by:
– Paying for traffic from other sites
– Aggregating traffic from other media assets (print, radio, TV)
– Using an e-mail newsletter to “invite” users over to the site
– I pay for the e-mail list
– I own the e-mail list
– Offering competitions, freebies and cash prizes

Assuming you’re using any of the tools above, what will happen to your site should you stop using them?
– Nothing, my site will carry on irrespective of what I do
– My site will probably become a “ghost site”

The amazing thing about Darwinian winners such as matchmaker.co.za (which has just been re-designed and relaunched) and dine.co.za is that they seem to have a life of their own and, as long as the host computer isn’t switched off, they will be open for business.

* Relevant links:

1. http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/
2. http://www.dine.co.za
3. http://www.matchmaker.co.za/s/a/3/tbc

Rudy Nadler-Nir is an independent e-strategist and Brain-for-Rent. Check Rudy’s personal Website, at: http://eclectic.co.za or email him at: mailto:rudyn@eclectic.co.za

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. Glad someone has finally said it. The feeling that the web is ever growing and all you need to show that you are a successful business is, is to put up a website and you would have arrived is now over. With so much competition out there you have to keep changing, be innovative and look after your assets! (web and offline)

    This was a well written article, much thought has gone into it.

    Thanks for that.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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