October 25, 2006
I grew up thinking that anything viral was bad and necessitated washing your hands a lot. But if you can come up with an idea that can spread through the Internet faster than the bubonic plague on a cruise ship, you stand to make a lot of money. I have just three words for Chad and Steve, the founders of YouTube who just sold their company to Google for $1.65 billion: "Are you single?"
These geeky guys in their twenties had an argument about how to send a video of a dinner party to each other and in less than two years their technological breakthrough has translated to what can only be described as reaching the mother load. About 50 million people seem to want to watch each other do everything from bitch about boyfriends (oops, I guess I do that, too) to feed their Great Danes. MySpace started the trend, infecting millions with the desire to be part of a social networking scene and was bought by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Inc. for $580 million and now FaceBook, a college-based Internet initiative is being considered by Yahoo for a cool billion.
With numbers of viewers that dwarf network television, these sites' value lies literally in the eyes of the beholder and what they can charge for advertisers to get before them. But you have to wonder, who are these 50 million people, and what do they want to buy? Like the lesbian chat rooms in the early days of the Internet that were filled with horny married men, many browsers are not who they seem.
Judging from the pictures, poor grammar and sheer amount of time spent online, most of them are young and probably unemployed (or writers procrastinating like me) and unless they grow up to be like Chad and Steve, don't have a lot of disposable income. Targeting these viewers is not as simple as the word association game Google ads play. Fans of "Kiss & Tell" don't necessarily want to purchase Gene Simmons paraphernalia or, depending on their religious orientation, pull out their VISA to buy God's Way or No Way: Biblical Keys to Dating.
I can't imagine I'm so far away from the starting place of Chad and Steve. I have also been called "a valuable property though she has yet to turn a profit." I keep thinking with a sophisticated, intelligent, affluent reader base in the Hamptons, I should be able to come up with some online social network. I think MyTube is better than YouSpace because that sounds like something you need if you're fighting with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Although I fear all the pop up ads of medical clinics offering the chance to get your tubes tied.
A fan of quality over quantity, I might not be able to produce those 50 million participants but how about like 20 really, really cool people doing really, really cool things. I never embraced MySpace or YouTube for the same reason I have no patience for yard sales or Cracker Jack boxes — I don't want to have to sort through all the junk and sticky stuff to find the gem.
What everyone needs is a little start-up capital. YouTube and Google both had an early infusion of money from Sequoia Capital to fund their dream. Then you have to avoid what I call the panty pyramid scheme. If you're going to try to get two friends to tell two friends to tell two friends the reward back to you has to be something good and not just panties from all over the country.
I would also hope that the message would be more like "Free Hugs" than "Why lonelygirl15 is a c****," because that way, even if no one buys this great viral social network, all I've done is spread a little love instead of those nasty germs.
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