Lessons From An Original

A strange thing happened recently at forkinthehead galactic headquarters .

Each week, we send out a newsletter. And within each newsletter there is a very brief survey – usually just two or three questions.

We include the questions to keep in touch with what our core subscribers are thinking. As you may know, I believe that unfettered feedback is a very good thing.

Our subscribers are almost all people who work on web sites in one capacity or another, and recently we’ve been asking what they need to learn most about this coming year.

By and large, they want to learn more about how to sell stuff from their sites.

Fair ‘nuf. So in our last newsletter, we asked everyone if they would like to hear a lot more about “how to sell stuff” in the forkinthehead newsletter and on our web site.

Over 80 percent of respondents said yes.

At this point, you might expect us to have leapt at this opportunity and made a quick shift in the focus of our site. After all, such overwhelming feedback is like gold dust. Our readers have made their wishes clear and, if we were to fulfill those needs, they’d be very happy with us.

But we’re not going to take that route. In part, thanks to this reply from one of the remaining 20 percent.

In reply to my question, “Where do you go right now for information on ‘selling stuff on the web’?” One reader replied: “Every other newsletter on the web. It is great to not have you among them. Don’t change and join the masses. Your newsletter is an original. There are very few out there.”

That comment stopped me dead in my tracks. How right he is. (And he gets bonus points for writing in short sentences.)

Getting feedback from your community is paramount. You need to know what they’re thinking. But once you have that feedback, you shouldn’t just follow it blindly.

Will our readers be disappointed that we won’t be following their wishes to the letter?

I don’t think so.

So now I’m thinking “originality” and my focus shifts to that very strange animal, the Internet portal.

(My definition of “portal”: Teflon interface in search of stickiness.)

I’ve been looking around the major portal homepages lately because they puzzle me. They’re big. They’re supported by billions of dollars in investment. Yet they appear, to me, to be running off in a very strange direction.

Part of what confuses me is that they are starting to look more and more like each other. The differences, such as they were, are blurring. They’re the same – less the hype.

They look a bit like a bunch of competing Yellow Pages directories.

Really, I think so. Each portal is becoming more and more text-based and comprises a zillion company listings and ads. It’s a directory.

And, like your average telephone directory, portals are becoming a really boring read. When was the last time you curled up in bed with your local Yellow Pages directory? That’s got to be a pretty desperate moment.

How have the portals got to this point? Well, that’s a big question to which I certainly don’t presume to have all the answers. But I bet part of the answer is that they are all trying to be all things to all people. They’re going for volume.

In other words, they listen to the market – but fail to filter the messages. When they get 80 percent of people in favor of one direction – that’s where they go. The result is boring. Each portal loses its points of difference.

They cease to be original.

And I suspect, for their investors, that loss of originality will ultimately prove to be a very bad thing.

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