Seeking the Online Golden Snitch

You know Quidditch, that wild game Harry Potter plays? What an amazing bit of invention. It is sort of like rugby in the air, with a few exceptions, most notably the Golden Snitch. The Golden Snitch is a ball about the size of a walnut that zips about the playing field, independent of the rest of the game. A player from each side (the Seeker) tries to capture the Snitch; success means the player’s team is awarded with an unreasonable amount of points and the game immediately ends. It’s possible the Golden Snitch will not be found (or caught), of course, and there is a way to simply score one point. Therefore, a proportionally small number of players (just one, actually) are assigned solely to finding the Golden Snitch.

It’s a perfect metaphor for the way the best interactive companies are organizing themselves for the coming year. The Golden Snitch represents an idea that, once caught, gives the capturer the game. The winner in any category will be the one who captures the idea first. The previous incarnation of this concept was the Killer App. The problem with the Killer App, though, is that was about invention: coming up with something never before seen or imagined but that, once found, answers a distinct latent need. The Golden Snitch isn’t about invention; it’s about discovery. Everyone on the pitch knows what it is and that it’s out there. The challenge is just to be the most clever and skillful, and find it first.

Now, I don’t want to reiterate the infamous quote, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented,” but I believe energies right now are best spent assigning a relatively small number of resources (the Seeker) to finding quick and clever solutions to challenges we all know currently exist. Again, I’m not downplaying invention, but I believe the market will reward the company that solves one of these big challenges. Bringing breakthrough products to market is a job for another time.

So, to that end, I provide what I believe to be the primary Golden Snitches on our playing field. I invite you to provide me with yours.

E-Mail Filtering

Spam is a growing problem that is written about extensively, so you already know how serious it is. Unfortunately, the main solutions offered, filters, seem to not be especially effective. I’m excited MSN and AOL have made this a priority, and I like the work coming out of a company called IronPort. But, as Rob Leathern, Jupiter’s Payment Analyst has written, there’s another level that needs addressing.

E-mail billing holds a lot of promise, for example, but it won’t take off until a bill appears in a unique and recognizable form, separate from your other emails. Filters will have to not only separate the junk but also ensure important emails get special attention.

Beneficial Wireless Content

I have to admit, I have some doubts about wireless content. I wonder if the people who are into high-end games are willing to take the resolution and format hit to play them on a phone. I could be wrong, but I believe some catch needs to be behind the content — something that makes better use of the device’s unique capabilities — beyond just the fact it fits in your pocket. Ads that say “Take the game with you” remind me of early e-commerce ads that said, “Shop in your underwear.” Who wants to do that? That’s not the benefit of e-commerce. Someone needs to determine the unique-to-the-medium benefit of wireless content.

Integrated Measurement

I notice Hewlett-Packard has, after a pretty hefty review, awarded Goodby, Silverstein & Partners responsibility for the strategic direction of its online advertising. Well done. The agency has shined for that brand in the past, and I look forward to seeing campaigns as they develop. But, the fact a traditional shop is at the reins reminds me we still have a lot of work to do, when it comes to understanding how on- and offline integrated campaigns are working. I am excited by the reach and frequency focus of Avenue A’s work, and I think it is on the right track. Still, it’s hard to model a holistic view.

Advertising and Premium Content

AOL is pushing more premium content in 2003. CNN’s Web site offers video only to paying customers. Salon.com offers an ad-free experience to subscribers of premium content. Increasingly more, publishers are looking to shore up revenues by affording consumers the ability to buy their way out of advertising. Ugh.

I’m glad publishers are experimenting, but I worry about advertisers being left out of the picture. Advertising needs to be a win/win/win (publisher/advertiser/consumer) proposition. Premium content is good, but there needs to be some integration with advertisers. AOL hasn’t directly said it won’t offer ads inside the premium content, but I wonder if that’s what consumers expect when they’re paying for Web content.

Behavioral and Contextual Advertising

The theory of contextual advertising is correct. Placing advertising according to demographic profiles has served the ad world well for a long while, but it is time to think past that paradigm. Online, ads do best when they are worked into the experience a consumer has chosen. Current solutions, however, are raising the ire of industry players way too much. Somehow, the theory and the practice need to align, so the win/win/win mentioned above works out.

All right — there are five Golden Snitches to get us started. I’ll also be covering this on my blog. Happy seeking!

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