NEW DELHI, October 19
Everyone is looking for a niche. And the niches are getting smaller. Much, much smaller. As sites proliferate, and the battle for eyeballs gives no quarters, dotcoms are coming up with newer and newer ideas. And tightening their focus as much as possible.
Take Fem40plus.com for example. The site is aimed at women over the age of 40 facing menopause, and it has roped in global healthcare major, Wyeth Lederle, and the Indian Menopause Society, to support it. It is a tie-up that works both ways. "The site gives women facing menopause all the information they need, and yes, it helps us sell our products," says Mark Larsen, chairman, Wyeth Lederle Limited, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania-based American Home Products Corporation, the seventh largest pharmaceutical company in the world.
Interestingly, Wyeth-Ayerst itself began with an innovation. In 1860, John Wyeth and his brother Frank began the then novel practice of preparing quantities of frequently prescribed compounds in advance - the idea behind the modern drug store. Today it employs more than 40,000 people worldwide, had a sales turnover of $1.5 billion last year and is planning to aggressively target Indian women.
The Indian arm, the sixth largest multinational in the country, had a turnover of Rs 260 crore last year with health care products targeted at women, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), forming the biggest chunk of the sales.
Yet things may not work out as planned. Millions of women will reach menopause, but not many of them may be surfing the Net. According to NASSCOM, the ratio of men to women surfing the Net is 70:30 in favour of men. In addition, most women use the Net only to chat or to e-mail.
Then there is www.stAARRs.com, launched by Millennium Infocom Technologies Ltd (MITL). stAARRs is targeted primarily at all school and college going youngsters from 16 years. Yawn! So what's new?
Youngsters themselves run the site. stAARRS, stands for Simran, Tina, Anjali, Ajay, Rahul, Raj and Sanju, seven youngsters selected via a profiling exercise among 2,000 students in Delhi University. For a minimum period of three months, these seven people will be allowed to run the site. "They, in effect, will become the icons that the others in their age group will very easily identify with," says a company official.
The company is trying to take the facelessness out of chats. The site will have a detailed portfolio of every member of the site, including the member's photograph. Future stAARRs would be chosen from these profiles. And in a nod to privacy, the contact details of the profiles will be protected until the members themselves wish to disclose them to other members.
Companies that provide web technology solutions are also narrowing down their focus areas. stAARRs' parent company, MITL, which was incorporated in April 1999, is offering the PHP4 /Perl / MYSQL Linux - Apache combination, which, being cutting edge technology, gives MITL an advantage. Apache enables the use of "the secure sockets layer" encryption technology, essential to private transactions such as credit card payments.
Apache is used on 55 per cent of the Web sites, more than twice the number of the second-place finisher, Microsoft's Internet Information Server (MIIS), according to the US-based consulting firm Netcraft. The company was the first to start a classified webs site - www.mitclassifieds.com - India's first free classifieds website. The idea caught on, with major newspapers currently offering the same service online.
By March 2001, in India, there will be 1.6 million Internet subscribers or 5 million users. This figure is expected to increase to 4 million Internet subscribers (10 million users) by March 2002, and 8 million Internet subscribers (18 million users) by March 2003.To conquer their eyeballs will be a challenge. And in the battle ahead just how different the service provider is could spell the difference between boom and bust.
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