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The MetaNet: User-Centric Relationships

  |  November 8, 2000   |  Comments

The use of client-side software, or the "MetaNet," represents a fundamental shift from publisher-centric relationship models toward user-centric ones. This tool lets users define their individual content space, then content and relevant offers come to them.

One of the more interesting developments in recent web history is the rise of so-called "client-side" software. When I was with Comet Systems, we used to call it the "MetaNet." The MetaNet, as a concept and as a marketing vehicle, represents a fundamental shift away from a publisher-centric Internet relationship model toward a more user-centric one.

The current Internet relationship model is between the individual as client and the web site as destination -- a repository of content. I, as the client, go to a destination that sits out there in the ether somewhere, waiting for me to discover it. Like Christopher Columbus sailing out for the West Indies, we log on to the Internet with a particular destination in mind, but we usually end up finding something very different instead.

The MetaNet, on the other hand, represents an attempt to make the user the center of the Internet universe, even to the point of changing the way a site looks, acts, and feels. In this model, users' relationship with the Internet is reversed, with users designing and defining their individual content space and then letting the content come to them.

The precursor to the MetaNet paradigm is ThirdVoice. ThirdVoice gained infamy a year or so ago by raising gobs of money for a technology that allowed users to put "Post-it. Notes" on any web site. As long as you had previously downloaded its client-side software, you could read the notes that others had posted on web sites, as well as post your own.

The real revolution, though, came with a lesser-known product from Lycos called "Lycos SeeMore." Lycos SeeMore allowed users to right-click on any word on any web page in order to perform a contextual search. The first of its kind (and inexplicably buried by Lycos), this tool spawned a whole series of similar products including GuruNet (which changed its name to Atomica and also changed its focus), flyswat, and even ThirdVoice 2.0. All of these tools provide contextual search and e-commerce functionality beyond the scope of the web publisher.

Click on any word on any web page (or, in the case of GuruNet, any word in any document) and up pops a menu of information related to that word, with relevant links for more data. A standard set of functions, including dictionary definitions, a thesaurus, and encyclopedic data are generally included with each product.

The revenue stream for most of these products is derived from "sponsored" links: money paid on a per-click basis for traffic driven to the advertiser's site. For instance, take stock quotes. There are tons of sites where you can find stock quotes. Let's say you are using one of these MetaNet products and you click on a company name. The options that come up might include "Go to the Home Page," "Buy Products," or "Find Stock Quotes." These products ensure that the traffic driven by them goes to the sites with which they have an established business relationship.

MetaNet products have been a boon to companies such as Britannica.com. A quick look at the Britannica.com Download page reveals a number of client-side software products that have incorporated Britannica.com data into their offerings, including my former employer, Comet Systems, and its MetaNet product, "myCometLinks."

Ideally, these MetaNet products provide a unique opportunity for web publishers to drive traffic to their sites by enabling keyword links across the entire web. The idea is potentially enormous. The major problem is getting surfers to embrace these products and use them. Since the business model is generally based on performance, there is no lack of business partners stepping up to the plate to be included in the offerings.

The Funky Monks Syndicate is currently developing another approach to the MetaNet philosophy. It's a tool called the Web Scrivener, which is designed for people to mark up pages for collaboration purposes. The tool, currently in beta test, allows users to highlight, circle, annotate, or just plain write graffiti on any web page, and it's perfect for lawyers or web-design teams working virtually. Although the business model isn't completely fleshed out yet, Funky Monks represents some of the best thinking in the MetaNet space.

@d:tech Time

It's @d:tech time in New York again, which means I get to eat well. Last night, I had a fantastic meal at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Grill with Russ Gillam, CEO of Dynamics Direct (the rich media email company). I asked Russ his thoughts on a statement from Michelle Feit, president of direct marketing email company e7PostDirect, who claims that rich media is too expensive for an email acquisition campaign. Russ agreed: "Rich media is not appropriate for acquisition. I want to work with clients who already have a relationship with their customers. We're about customer retention, not acquisition." Russ very passionately went on to predicate the end of email and, hence, spam as an acquisition vehicle in the near future.

Until next week, keep it rich.

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Bill McCloskey

Bill McCloskey is the founder and chief evangelist for Email Data Source, a competitive intelligence resource for e-mail marketers. He was named one of online advertising's 50 most influential people by "Media" magazine and one of the 100 people to know by "BtoB Magazine." He's been a recognized pioneer in interactive advertising for over 10 years.

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