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[See the AOL folder, post #172 for the original thread.]

In the thread Earthlink, Onair said:

<< I never used Earthlink myself and will speak about it hypothetically. My guess is they are just another generic and yet bigger ISP that does not add much value. They may not even have the name recognition of better established ISPs, such as AT&T WorldNet or Sprint Passport and MCI that, unlike Earthlink, have an established base of phone accounts and potential net access buyers. Even though it may market itself as "a consumer ISP", it may still be going after computer-savvy customers. The idea to bundle/resell CNET's Snap (or Splash, the name didn't register, yet) may even magnify their focus on that niche entertainment market. I personally see CNET as an elite web site for business professionals, gamers, and computer junkies. Are they going to take the same approach in creating a mass medium? >>


I think you've laid out a number of important issues and questions. And not only about Earthlink's "ISP customer acquisition program" and Cnet's Snap Online, but about the state of the online industry generally. I am not at all ready to place a bet on the outcome of Cnet's and Earthlink's plans. I haven't much thought about it in those terms yet. But I think they are easily among the most interesting storylines to come out of cyberspace in a
long time, and have the potential to change the online environment, if not the terms with which it is discussed. As an online observer, I think these are first rate developments.

Earthlink's ISP program is nothing less than an attempt to strategically manage and channel the consolidation of the online access industry, which no one disputes is upon us.

Cnet's Snap Online is an innovative approach to marketing and content distribution within the medium. It is simple in many ways — which I like a lot. It is not every day that a new online business model is presented for our praise and ridicule, and this one has definitely caught my attention.

I find that Snap Online and Earthlink provide new, realworld examples of the pieces I work with when I try to put the puzzle together... when I try to figure out what's happening with online... maybe even predict the future... which would be a nice thing to do.

Snap and Earthlink are new wrinkles. They are each a line in the development of the industry and medium, as is the ongoing evolution of the online services formerly known as search engines. That maturation process has been going on for some time now. It was clearly under way by the time America Online increased its equity and strategic involvement with Excite one day last fall. One more thing about these search engines. For some perspective on
how far they have come in terms of the theoretical significance they are granted, consider that one of last week's big stories included the deals struck with Yahoo, America Online, and Excite. That's two search engines and one recent IPO "internet stock" (a term spoken these days with a tone of relative approval) sharing a good-news-headline with the world's most dangerous Internet online service. Don't worry. I'm not equating AOL to
these pipsqueaks. I'm just stating the obvious.

What is especially appealing about all this is the way Earthlink's round 'em up bounty program couples so neatly with Snap — which we might as well get used to calling SOL, at least occasionally.

As pointed out, what the ISP's offer is generic. That is clearly part of their current definition. Their attempts at differentiation are either corporately bland, like IBM Global Connect and AT&T WorldNet, or they are friendly and nice and informative but without real personality and just plain unimportant, as is Earthlink's perfectly adequate web site. By providing professional programming for these
content-starved access services, Cnet is positioning Snap Online as the solution to this fatal business condition.

Earthlink's complimentary strategy is spelled out right in the name of it's new program: customer acquisition. We're talking eyeballs, baby. This is Earthlink's move to be one of the survivors after the shakeout has run its course. They hope to accumulate as much of the existing user base as possible... now... while remaining ready to welcome new accounts as online moves mainstream. In this plan, SOL is
Earthlink's site for sore eyeballs.

How big a threat, if any, is this to AOL? I have no idea. The variables are many and their direction is unclear. But this sure looks like the birth of a brand new online service to this intrigued Fool.

TMF Nico
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