For all the World Wide Web's wondrous powers, your standard Web page is still a pretty static affair. Users flip through stacks of preconfigured billboardlike displays that present the same stuff to all comers, regardless of who they are.
Therein lies the tantalizing potential of a technology developed by San Francisco-based Electric Classifieds Inc. (ECI), creator of the popular on-line dating service match.com (http://www.match.com). ECI's software whips up customized Web pages, assembling items to suit users' demographic characteristics and interests. Say, for instance, a 28-year-old woman registers on match.com. She'll be greeted with visuals that are different from what a man sees, and she'll receive information particular to her age group, location, and so on.
Although the technology can enhance a site's usefulness in that way, the one-to-one marketing possibilities are even more enticing. On a home page, an on-line vendor can show a picture of one product to young people while promoting another item to an older set, or send an advertisement only to those people whose on-line histories indicate a particular purchasing predilection. The software also enables the creators of the page to target region-specific ads at users in certain geographic areas, giving small businesses advertising opportunities. (The concept is similar to local advertising on television: Joe's Oldsmobile, in Dallas, won't buy national air time on NBC, for instance, but it might advertise with the regional affiliate.)
The technology goes even further: it can tailor Web pages to the capabilities of recipients' hardware and Web browsers. To a user with broad bandwidth and a sound card, it sends high-resolution graphics and audio; for someone with a slower modem or dumber computer, it drops those elements.
Although ECI plans to license out its software to only a handful of companies, the idea of a more dynamic Web page is not likely to remain unexploited for long.
-- Jerry Useem* * *