Learn from their mistakes

How not to run a Web site if you really want to succeed
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There's a Web site that chronicles the almost daily announcements of, and gossip about, Web sites that are going down for the count. Some call this bad-news site the "Dotcom Deadpool." We are too polite to mention the site's real name, which includes a popular vulgarism, but here are two clues: The site's title has the same initials as "FailedCompany.com"; if you still don't get it, think of a California-based NHL team and then get out your rhyming dictionary.

Just like a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control examining cadavers to understand disease, we can gain some instructive pointers from reading about dotcoms that have left this world. Some FailedCompanies are TV-related Web sites, others are not.

The number of whispered stories that came true and were first reported on the Web site whose name we dare not speak is astonishingly high. But since some reports can't be totally confirmed, we won't mention the companies involved unless their travails have been made public. But here are just a few, categorized:

Aggregator news sites are a lousy business. As we've previously reported, FasTV, which acted as a streaming-media portal for televised news reports, is of blessed memory. And FailedCompany reported a little more than a week ago that at least one other news aggregator site, with a slang-tinged name, had "hired a bankruptcy attorney."

Moral: Why pay an aggregator site to highlight your streamed news content if you can offer it on your own site?

Opt-in e-mail is hard to do well. FailedCompany is rife with reports and postmortems of Internet companies that have staked their business plans on signing up people for promotional mailing lists.

This isn't necessarily a bad idea: TV-station Web sites use this method to reach viewers with promos, announcements and news updates. But some of the opt-in e-mail companies are in hot water because they didn't have effective policies for distinguishing opt-in e-mail (good) from spam (bad).

Moral: If you offer opt-in e-mail on your site, be careful not to overwhelm subscribers with needless messages and offers from third parties.

Approach silly ideas with caution. The killing fields of cyberspace have been littered of late with the carcasses of bad or poorly executed e-ideas: party planning and sites that give away stuff in exchange for subscribers' registering with them and giving approval for their name to be sold to third parties, e-stores with inadequate inventory.

Moral: You haven't gotten this far in your media company by being a spring chicken. If an e-commerce company comes to you seeking partnership opportunities, turn up the gain on your mo-goo detector.

Do a credit check on your partners. FailedCompany has several "paychecks bounced" reports. If you do business with such a site as an e-commerce partner, an advertiser, or both, you might not get paid.

Moral: Dun & Bradstreet can help weed out the financially shaky before you sign up with losers.

Don't assume everyone has a broadband connection. Psuedo.com and Digital Entertainment Network have come to highly publicized ends, but several other wannabes have failed as well.

Before we bury this issue, the postmortem needs to be writ large: When you hire cool people who hang out with other cool people who all know how to use Flash and have high-bandwidth Internet connectivity, realize that humans of such ilk are generally incapable of muting their supercharged graphical-interface impulses with marketing common sense.

Moral: While there are always exceptions, body-pierced folk with attitude are fine for the mail room but not for designing your Web content.

THE LAST WORD: There's nothing like the real thing, and Common Ground would love to hear your stories. All road tales are appreciated. Please e-mail me at russellshaw@delphi.com if one or more of these applies to you:

You've experimented with streaming media on your station, program or cable-system Web site. If so, have you been able to monetize this offering? Do you even care to, or do you view posting your newscast as a promotional loss-leader?

The holiday season is coming up. What are your e-commerce plans? If you did e-commerce on your site last year, what have you learned? Are e-commerce advertisers advertising on your station or cable network this Christmas season?

Some television networks strongly urge their affiliates to use standardized graphical "templates" for their Web sites. If you are one of those stations, do you regard these templates as blessed time-savers, creativity-inhibitors or some of both? If you have a problem with these "templates" but don't want your name to be used, we'd be OK with that.

Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issue appears regularly. Reach him at russellshaw@delphi.com.

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