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Four Properties of a Good Autonomous Web Business

Now that you have a business model, your next task is to choose a content area, or topic, for your personal Web business. Not all topics are appropriate for an autonomous business model. Remember, your community is the one adding the content for you. So, to use an extreme example, a personal Web business based on some specialized topic like "nonlinear activation functions for parallel distributed processing networks" probably won't be as successful as one whose topic is "Advice forum for first-time parents." So choose your topic carefully. In general, a good autonomous Web business has the following four properties:

    1. A broad topic in which a large number of people are interested. The idea is that you want to broadcast, not narrowcast. I think Vince McMahon—owner of the World Wrestling Federation—said it best. During an interview, a reporter asked Vince why the WWF was so successful. His response (paraphrasing) was that he broadcasted, not narrowcasted, to a diverse audience. With the ubiquitous nature of the Web, there's no reason why you shouldn't broadcast as well. For example, a lot of people are interested in movies. A movie site satisfies this first condition.

    2. A topic that changes frequently. How frequently the topic has to change depends on how much money you expect to make from your personal Web business. The more the topic changes, the greater the chance that users will return to check out what has changed. Going back to our movie site example, new movies come out every week, so a movie site has a topic that changes frequently. Therefore, a movie site satisfies the second condition as well.

    3. A topic to which people can contribute. Because you're operating an autonomous Web site, you need a topic for which people can contribute content to your site. Again, going back to our movie Web site example, users who watch movies can contribute their reviews to a movie site. So a movie Web site satisfies the third condition.

    4. A topic to which people naturally want to contribute. There is a big difference between having a topic to which people can contribute, and a topic to which people want to contribute. While everyone is certainly capable of contributing a movie review to a movie review Web site, not everyone wants to spend the 5 to 30 minutes (or longer!) doing so. Thus, a movie review Web site is not a good topic for an autonomous Web business.

The last criterion is very important. My experience is that most of my students pick topics that satisfy the first three conditions, but not the last one. For example, a recipe Web business satisfies the first three conditions, but not the last one. While many people are interested in cooking (condition 1), there are almost an unlimited number of recipes (condition 2), and people like commenting on their favorite dishes (condition 3), most people aren't willing to take the time to type in a recipe (condition 4), unless you can somehow streamline their data entry. As you can see, you'll have to put some thought into choosing the right topic for your personal Web business. The better the topic, the higher your revenues should be.

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