GeoCities vies for personal Websites

Mark Bernstein wants each and everyone of us to create our own Website, and he will even give us the tools and free Webspace to do it.

The catch? He wants to own and sell all the ad space on it. Not a conventional publishing strategy, but it is a business model which has so far attracted 2.6 million enthusiasts whose personal Websites sit on servers kindly donated by Bernstein’s employer, GeoCities.

These Website “homesteaders”, largely US-based, attract traffic of 1.2 billion page views a month to GeoCities (www.geocities.com), making it a top five Web destination, and have helped build the fortunes of what is now a $1.6bn (1bn) publicly-quoted company.

Last week, GeoCities set up a London office, headed by Bernstein, to capture the new frontier for the sector – Europe.

Competition will be tough. Internet search brand Lycos has just moved ahead with the “soft” roll out its rival service Tripod aimed at UK and other European consumers. Meanwhile, other online brands, such as Yahoo!, have recently pushed ahead with launching their own “community” areas, allowing users to post up their own online content, which will be accessed through Yahoo! sites.

As the Web “authoring” tools become easier to operate, Bernstein is acutely aware that GeoCities must maintain a competitive edge, as more online publishers and Internet service providers vie for market share.

But the GeoCities business model will work in Europe and the US, he believes. “We believe all Europeans will eventually have their own Web pages,” he says. “Our job is to find a way of making personal homepages a ‘must-have’.”

The company is about to embark on a TV ad campaign to promote its service in the US – a strategy which remains some way off in Europe.

In the meantime, Bernstein accepts that GeoCities’ fortunes in Europe depend not just in driving up consumer and business interest in publishing Web pages – but also on translating the resultant page views into revenue.

“We will be building up an advertising sales presence in Europe, to offer targeted audiences to European advertisers .”

Bernstein has still to decide whether to operate an in-house salesforce or contract out to a sales house.

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