Blink.com turns an old browser warhorse, the bookmark, into a new ad vehicle.
With “banner-ad-only” rapidly becoming an endangered revenue model, advertisers looking for ways to maximize expenditure on online ads might consider Blink.com, one of several bookmark-management and Web search sites performing the next best thing to keyword-based advertising: cleaving ads to personal bookmarks.
In the argot of the Internet, where new revenue models for a dot-com can change overnight, the notion of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” doesn’t carry much clout. But if there’s a model of that dictum for the Internet, it’s the browser bookmark, or “favorites” feature, that hasn’t changed much since the inception of the Web browser. So pulling bookmarks out of the browser broom-closet and featuring them on a Web site might seem as likely a way to monetize a dot-com as a site focused on how to pull wisdom teeth.
Not so, says Blink.com’s CEO David Siegel, who claims the browser bookmark function has been gathering cobwebs faster than it has enthusiasts because bookmarks, unlike their terrestrial namesake, have not yet realized their fullest potential. “If you don’t drive your car much, it doesn’t mean cars aren’t useful, it means yours isn’t,” says Siegel. “What we do is turbocharge bookmarks, make them portable and central to a navigation, search and sharing service.”
Blink.com uploads a new user’s bookmarks, deposits them in a private, password-protected account on the site. The user can add links to his or her Blink.com bookmark folder, sort them, share them and use Blink as a search engine by exploiting the site’s immense public library of member-donated bookmarks. That, says Siegel, makes Blink.com a portal, like Yahoo!, albeit one maintained and edited by a community of users rather than hired editors.
Siegel says the company’s approach to targeting ads allows it to skirt the privacy issue. “A lot of people try to target ads,” says Siegel. “But we are actually in the position to do so without profiling. We don’t need to ask you if you plan to buy a car this month. If you are searching for auto site lists, you’ll be likely to get a banner ad for a car.”
Andy Williams, vp of marketing at Blink.com, says the site is garnering strong banner clickthrough rates partly because the site serves both as an opening page and de facto search engine. “A lot of people talk about stickiness,” he says. “We are the antithesis of that: users come here to go somewhere else, so they’re already in a frame of mind to click through to another site.”
Portability may be the most obvious difference between Blink.com (and competitors BackFlip, Hotlinks.com and others) and browser-client bookmarking. Users who sign up for the service effectively transfer their Web browers’ bookmarking features from their personal computers to the Web. Once uploaded, those bookmarks are accessible from any Internet-enabled computer.
After logging in, a member is served a page showing the directory of folders he or she has created, as well as a list of links either from one of his or her folders or from a public search. A member can add new links by either typing them in or, when at another site, by using the LinkAdder tool that Blink places on the browser bar. The GrabLinks function collects every link on a Web page, displays it in a pop-window, lets a Blink member choose the desired links and save them to his or her account.
Blink.com also supplies a versatile sort feature to bookmarking, allowing users to sort links from a personal folder or search alphabetically, by popularity, hits, rating, category or most recently viewed. Members can also drag-and-drop bookmarks between folders, share folders or links with other Blink members, incognito or publicly, and add them to the Blink Public Library, an Alexandrian library of bookmarks with over 50 million links, 10 million of them unique. In May the library became the largest human-edited directory of links on the Web.
That’s several times larger than Yahoo!’s database of searchable URLs, claims Siegel. “The description of us on Yahoo! is ‘organizes bookmarks in a private library.’ ” That, he argues, belies Yahoo!’s inability to handle the immensity of the Web with a handful of hired editors. “There are over two billion Web pages out there and two million new ones added per day, and when you search Yahoo!’s database, you’re getting less than 1 percent of it, or only pages hired editors have catalogued.” Siegel says Blink.com’s users constitute a volunteer staff of over 300,000, with a much more personal feel for links they contribute.
Ultimately, he says, Blink.com’s search-engine and directory performance is fostered both by its server-based technology and by users’ willingness to share links. “First and foremost, there is a sense of community. Users recognize the value of adding their own knowledge, especially when they can do so anonymously,” says Williams. “Also, people are very proud of the folders and links they have created; since we can tell members how many people have used their links, there’s a competition to contribute the most popular folder in the library.”
Williams says that since June, Blink.com’s user-base has grown to over 325,000 registered members. He predicts the site, which is adding between two thousand and five thousand new users per day, will have 800,000 to one million members at year’s end. “Most Blink users are computer-savvy, male and early adopters,” he says. “They tend to be computer professionals, doctors and lawyers, and the average age is between 30 and 45.”
The library is also powered by an artificial intelligence approach to link searching, wherein a user can highlight a folder and hit “Find Related.” An algorithm kicks in that finds links others have grouped similarly. The larger the library becomes and the more users that contribute, the better its ability to group sites together by topic. Blink.com also has a “spider” that regularly updates the status of links. A “fresh” notation on a link shows that the content of the bookmarked page has changed. A user can search by “fresh” list of bookmarks. “If you have a collection of news sites, you can put them in one folder, click on fresh to see which ones have been updated, which is most useful for monthly papers or sites that refresh irregularly.
“Stale” is the counterpart, denoting bookmarks for sites Blink’s server can no longer locate. “Hot List” shows which sites users have been hit most recently. Blink also uses a “smart” program that aggregates and sorts bookmarks by category, and learns to distinguish between categories as the library grows.
He says the company is generating revenue both from context-relevant banner ads on-site and through ad space contained in e-mails to members. Blink also has business development deals with an advertising component with Homestead.com, ZDNet, GomezAdvisors.com., Vote.com and Teen.com. “With ZDnet, we get placement on their site and in return we do advertising for them. With Vote.com and Teen.com, we offer a button on their sites allowing visitors to bookmark their pages, which in turn prompts them to sign up for Blink’s service.”
Blink’s bookmark-centric interface, encouraging scroll-and-click navigation, makes it wireless-friendly, a fact driving Blink’s strategy for that growing market. On June 21, Blink launched its wireless application protocol (WAP) bookmark manager, Blink WAP, for users of Web-enabled cell phones and other WAP devices. A streamlined version of the Blink.com site, Blink WAP allows users to configure their folders of favorite bookmarks on their PC or laptop, then remotely access their accounts and utilize searching and organizing links without having to type on miniature keys.
On June 29, Blink.com announced its entrance into the Japanese market with the launch of its Tokyo-based subsidiary, Blink.com (Japan). Its investors included Inabata & Co., Ltd., and Sumitomo Corporation. Concurrently, Blink.com announced the debut of Blink iMode, a customized version of Blink.com that provides mobile bookmark access for the more than 10 million Internet-enabled cell-phone users in Japan.
The company raised $11 million in second-round funding in March, led by Sandler Capital. Blink.com’s $2 million first round was completed last fall.
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