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DOING A LAND-OFFICE BUSINESS IN CYBERSPACE

The denizens of Capitol Hill shoot the breeze about political scandals while nearby, folks on BourbonStreet are grooving to jazz and swapping Cajun recipes. SoHo artists and bohemians, meanwhile, create images and poetry they hope people will stop to see.

It's a typical day at GeoCities.com, a fast-growing metropolis on the digital frontier. GeoCities is the brainchild of David Bohnett, 41. An ex-marketing exec at software maker Legent Corp., Bohnett discovered the Web in early 1994--and was inspired. The Web was exciting but also overwhelming, so he tried to bring sense to cyberspace. His idea was to create online neighborhoods based on themes, and then offer ''homesteaders'' free space to put up home pages.

Settlers have been pouring in ever since. GeoCities' population has swelled to half a million, with 5,000 new residents arriving every day. There are 34 neighborhoods--such as Area51 for science-fiction buffs and the Colosseum for sports fans--arranged by blocks containing 100 home pages each. Many of these neighborhoods are already spilling over--SiliconValley, for example, has added seven suburbs.

TOP-RANKED. This sprawling collection of cyberhoods capitalizes on the grassroots spirit of the Net. GeoCities provides the structure and the tools, but members take it from there. Just about all of the content is created by GeoCities residents--with impressive results. The site is brimming with beautiful home pages chock-full of images, photos, and music, generating enough traffic to make GeoCities one of the top-ranked Web sites.

There's a business angle, too. Because members create the content, GeoCities, in Santa Monica, Calif., can operate with one-third the staff needed by Web publishers such as Starwave Corp. or C/Net. ''We have 55 employees and 500,000 editors,'' says Bohnett. The site also relies on volunteer ''community leaders'' to help newcomers get settled.

Bohnett's strategy is to keep costs low while tapping a number of revenue sources. Ad sales, he says, will contribute 70% of GeoCities' projected $4.5 million in revenues this year. Advertisers can even place banner ads on the home pages of consenting members--a privilege they pay premium rates for. In exchange, home-page owners earn bonus points that can be converted into frequent-flier miles. On top of ad sales, 15% of revenues will come from premium services. Today, 1% of GeoCities members pay $5 a month for an extra eight megabytes of space for their home page. The rest will come from sales of goods from GeoCities' marketplace, which offers flowers, computer gear, and later this year, a food mall and pay-to-play gaming. All that, figures Bohnett, should add up to profits in 1998. If so, there may be no stopping this boomtown.

By Amy Cortese in New York


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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