If you surf the Web at all, you probably know about C-Net. With over 1,400,000 registered users on eleven Websites, it’s the recognized leader in content delivery about everything related to Web. Maybe you’ve seen their TV programs on the Sci-Fi channel or USA Network. Come on, any Sofie Formica fans out there?
If you haven’t hit any of the C-Net family of sites, you are missing a great information source that can help you out with questions about games, site design, multimedia, or whatever else you are looking for. C-Net also boasts search.com, probably the best metasearch tool around. And if you need shareware, the size and speed of Shareware.com will get you to what you need with time to spare.
C-Net has been in the news lately, and not just for its award-winning design or editorial coverage. On Monday, June 23rd, C-Net launched the prototype for Snap! Online. CEO Halsey Minor touts Snap! as a Web-based, platform-independent online service. Translation: If you have a computer with Web access and a CD-ROM drive, you can get Snap! With C-Net’s expertise in computer tutorials, it will have thousands of newbies jacking in and surfing it up. Probably the best part about this service is the price. Snap! is free for the user. You still have to pay to connect to the Net, but if you’re reading this, you already do that.
In addition, Snap! will use a team of 30 editors to make sure that users can link to whatever interests them. C-Net says that it is building “the next generation in online services”.
Snap! is another way to expand the Internet audience, right? It seems like an idea that could really take off. Not everyone thinks that C-Net can pull this off, however. Kaitlin Quistgaard of Wired News has it right when she says that Snap! might just be another button on a Web page. Even the usually Web-bullish Wall Streeters have looked the other way, sending the stock of C-Net tumbling on the news of Snap!’s launch.
So why doesn’t everyone think this is the next best thing?
Well, for one thing, Minor has gambled that his service will be the only CD-ROM/Web hybrid in town. C-Net is betting that others won’t take the same path, or if they do, they will be too far behind to catch him. All it would take was one well-financed competitor to make C-Net’s reported 9 million-dollar investment just another speed bump on the information superhighway.
And, I admit it – it looks like C-Net may have taken a bigger bite than they can handle. Just look at the competition Minor is up against: AOL and Yahoo!
Going up against AOL isn’t easy these days, regardless of what you may have heard. Chairman Steve Case has gotten AOL back up and running. He pledges continued expansion of AOL’s network. And if he gets some help from German media giant Bertelsmann, he may even be able to grab up Compuserve. This would put the number of AOL’ers at around 13 million strong. Given the fact that over 55% of all time spent in cyberspace is already spent at AOL (PC Meter), you are looking at a powerhouse that isn’t going to look on Snap! too kindly.
Snap! is trying to go up against the one thing that AOL does better than anyone else: content aggregation. Taking its cue from Prodigy, AOL found out that if you can intelligently organize content, people will come. The online homes of many major magazines and newspapers are within the friendly confines of the service. AOL has gone out of its way to leverage these brand names. That way, consumers can feel at home in AOL.
Recently, AOL has been able to ink deals with membership powerhouse CompUCard (50 million bucks) and Amazon.com and 1-800 Flowers (almost 44 million combined) that give the service some capital to really go after C-Net.
The other competitors to the Snap! project are no less threatening. Yahoo! is one of the only true brand names in cyberspace. Yahoo! knows a bit about Internet start-ups itself. Once the pet project of two grad students, it has grown into a huge Web directory that boasts over 1 billion in total page views. This month alone, Yahoo! saw 38 million users on its pages. Yahoo! doesn’t seem to be too worried about Snap!, however. With solid marketing partners like Amazon and Microsoft, Yahoo! is among the lucky few sites that can support itself though advertising dollars.
Founder Jerry Yang told Wired News that C-Net had better have “a really solid business metric to make it work.”Yang is right. Halsey Minor better have a good idea what he’s doing here or he is going to get crushed. “Minor’s going up against some pretty serious competitors, and if it doesn’t work, it could be dangerous for the company,” warns Yang.
Even though some of the Web pundits are scratching their heads at Minor’s latest move, I think that C-Net is on the right track. By the end of the year, I think that Snap! will be a major success. Let’s take a look at why Snap! will become a big time winner in the online world.
First of all, it comes from C-Net. Even though C-Net is going up against two of the biggest names in cyberspace, it has quite a following itself. Minor is counting on his 1,400,000 members to use Snap! as a jumping off point in their trips to the Web. If even half of those registered sign up, Snap will be banging on Prodigy’s door as the fourth largest Online Service.
Another thing that C-Net has in its favor is the central marketing theme behind Snap!. Instead of throwing millions of dollars trying to send CD-ROMs out to prospective users, C-Net has figured out a new way to distribute their product. Minor has rounded up major ISPs like Mindspring and AT&T WorldNet and announced co-branded Snap! versions. These versions will have messages from the ISPs to their customers, local advertisements and content and other goodies. In this way, Minor won’t have to pay the postage and he makes sure that the ISPs will think of Snap as part of their services-and promote it as such. Although Snap! isn’t going to be much more than a button on some of these ISP pages, in the Web game any link is a good link, and no one understands this better than C-Net. By making these ISPs partners, Minor makes sure that he has the local avenues of distribution covered. This is an important step in the evolution of the online service.
Another way that Snap beats AOL and Yahoo! at their own games is that the staff of 30 editors that will write and approve limited content will also seek out and link to quality information about that content. This is a new form of content aggregation that may draw users to the site as an information resource. To do the same job at AOL, Steve Case has hired 400 (count ’em!) writers and editors. Minor is using the Web to do the work it was meant to – provide information trails – and like Yahoo! using manpower to make sure that the links provide value.
Snap! is also being offered as a primary channel on the new Netscape and Microsoft browsers. Look for Microsoft to partner more closely with the service as MSN slowly fades out of the picture. As Snap! gains support from Bill Gates (Hiss!) it should really pick up steam. The CD-ROM/Web hybrid is closer to what Gates had in mind than today’s Internet anyway. In fact, most of the services that Microsoft offers on the Web were once thought of as CD-ROM projects.
To the casual user the speed and multimedia functionality will be impressive. Because most of us still connect to the Net at speeds less than 28.8 (I crawl along at 14.4), the CD-ROM hybrid is especially exciting. Using links off the Snap! homepage at your local ISP, Snap! can connect directly into your CD drive. Music and movie clips will instantly play, the worldwide wait is no more!
And best of all, since this is a Web-based product, it doesn’t care what platform you are operating. That means Mac’ers like us will be free to browse about and use the Mac to check out the movies, music and content that Snap will send our way. Look for the service to land at your ISP in early September of 1997.
Keep on Surfin’!
Brian Harniman (firstname.lastname@example.org)