Nov 7, 2003
Comments Off on get in your users clickstream (and a walk down memory lane)

get in your users clickstream (and a walk down memory lane)

I want to poke at the issue of what is usually called an “ISP Portal”. I am referring to a start page that a service provider gives or directs their customers to use. This marketspace used to be quite robust (if not profitable), but my brief review shows it to now be essentially dead.

First some history. This space really kicked off in the Summer of 1997 with the launch of Snap and Planet Direct (which became MyWay and, like so many other CMGI companies became dead (although they did sell the url)). Does anyone else still have the t-shirt from ISPCon from Fall '97 with “Hello Snap” on the front and “Goodbye AOL” on the back? No? Just me? OK, Check out the third item in this time capsule. I would be remiss if I didn't highlight my favorite paragraph in the piece (although it has little relevance to this post):

“Some would ask, “But what about smaller local ISPs?” Forgive me. [ed. note: you should be asking history to forgive you although the site looks dead since Fall 200 so….] While the predictions that such services would die have not yet come to fruition, I believe the small local services are not long for the world. Once the big guns have infrastructure in place, they'll go after the market in an aggressive way.”

HA. I would also add here that this is about the time I first started talking to Cnet about them, um, “working with” Tucows. My views on the small service provider were always something that Halsey and others there did not share (thanks to all of you for helping me be right). Anyway, back to the story.

This is also the space that Looksmart started out trying to occupy. They, and others, all eventually either abandoned the space or failed or a combination of both. As the above article highlights, NONE of them understood the small service provider (SSP, or what I referred to as competitive service provider or CSP here and yes I should just define a term and stick with it!) market or headspace. I spoke to all of them in the late '90s and they were all varying degrees of clueless in this respect (with Looksmart being the best of the three and Planet Direct the worst).

So why is this important now? Well, I have recently bumped into three separate situations where creators and distributors of media are interested in potentially pushing content through SSPs. There are different reasons in all three cases, but there is some commonality. They all accept that the SSP has a place in the Internet services distribution chain and they all want to avoid, again for different reasons, traditional online distribution channels. Usually folks from big companies, or with big company backgrounds who want to reach SSPs eventually find Tucows because we kinda sorta look like a big company and they have some comfort level dealing with us rather than trying to herd you cats (pun painfully intended).

As I listened to their various plans and schemes I realized three things. One, they were quite smart and perceptive to realize that SSPs could provide them real, significant, distribution (yes that's right, if you agree with me I will call you both smart and perceptive. just ask anyone who works here). Two, that finally, after nearly ten years, some folks recognized that SSPs were not going to shrivel up and die or be bought up and disappear. Three, that if SSPs ever hoped to recognize these opportunities they better have some control of their users clickstream, which means they need a start page of some kind.

So now the idea was rumbling around in my head (where it had lots of room) and luckily I was at the beginning of two ISP-related conferences. This meant I could ask a lot of service providers a lot of questions. The most important bit of learning for me was that the right business model here was “free with rev share” not “fee-per-user”. The second was that most SSPs had given up on the space, but almost all were interested in talking about it.

Now there are are two further little bits that I won't go into here in great detail but I will get them on the table. First, is that there are REALLY cool things one can do with RSS in this regard and as many of you know I am a huge believer in the power of blogs and RSS in the way that they change the web and how it is created and consumed. Unfortunately almost no one uses aggregators so it is merely (very useful) infrastructure in this regard. Second, while ISPs have obvious means of distributing a start page, web hosts do not. There are some ways I can think of for them to do this, but I would love to hear creative suggestions in this regard.

Anyways, I am looking at this space and would really love to have something “cheap and cheerful” to start playing with at some point. Thoughts?

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