types of Social Networking sites, I saw a NYT article about sites targeting older people. Two days after that, Techrunch posted an article about massive layoffs at Eons, one of the Baby Boomer sites mentioned in the NYT article. Eons was trying to preserve some of the $32m they've raised.Following my post on
I am over 50, so I looked at Eons when it was announced and promptly left. I don’t think it was just lousy execution at Eons, although that was certainly a factor. The idea of targeting by age is just not smart marketing. Sure marketers want to target by age, but do “the people formerly known as audience” want content targeted that way? I can't think of a successful consumer print magazine which does that. Reader age certainly varies by magazine, but they target around content rather than age. The only exception is perhaps magazines for teenagers.
Bubble Investing & Concept Extrapolation
This trend to invest in lifestage social networking sites looks like a classic example of bubble investing, done on the “concept extrapolation” theory. This is when VCs invest on the basis of “if it works for x then it will work for y”. If it works for teenagers it will work for baby boomers. You can usually recognize these by the elevator pitch that has something along the lines of “we are the x of y”. (e.g. we are the “eBay of missing socks”).
In the last dot com cycle, think “if it works for books (Amazon) it will work for pet supplies and groceries (Web Van)”. Concept extrapolation is funded by VCs who are keen to get on a trend before it is too late. The founder CEO is often a great success story - the Eons founder had previously built Monster.com - so it all looks like a no brainer. I can see the Eons decision-making: hot trend, great entrepreneur and the right demographics. What’s not to like?
Connecting Around Content, Not Age
There is a deeper underlying opportunity here. Clearly content varies by lifestage. A Baby Boomer is more likely to be interested in Bob Dylan than 50 Cent. But people want to connect around content, not around age. Connecting around content is what Blogs do. You connect on something that interests you. I may connect now on technology and later on music. As you get older, you get a more varied set of interests and human relationships across all ages.
It is interesting to look at what we might class the “older early adopter” market. These tech savvy older people are quite happy with a mix of Blogs and RSS and Start Pages as an update to phone and email. Social networking sites are places to “dip into” but not live in. The big question is: will the MySpace generation move more to that model or will older people adopt the tools initially created by teenagers? Clearly Eons bet on the latter and now it looks like that was not a good bet. Possibly Facebook will pull off the tricky job of becoming an all-encompassing site that meets all your communication needs in one place and is effective across all lifestages. The jury is still out on that one.
The big underlying trend of the Internet is the push to the edge, which sometimes goes by the ugly name of “deportalization”. These lifestage social networking sites are fighting over that underlying trend. As King Canute discovered, commanding the waves to go back was futile. I would bet on tools that enable people to connect around content wherever they are.