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Why is It So Hard to Kill a Web 1.0 Dinosaur?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 16, 2009 05:15 PM

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mypunch.jpgI was talking to Matt Douglas last week, founder of the Framingham-based party planning site MyPunchbowl. They're announcing tomorrow morning that they've acquired some assets from GroupGo of Waltham to help party hosts find local vendors, like a flower shop, a balloon-delivery service, or a Mexican restaurant with a private dining room.

Douglas talks about planning a party as a "workflow," which "starts with figuring out the date, sending a save-the-date announcement, then doing an online invitation, managing what people are bringing if it's a potluck, buying supplies, creating a gift registry, organizing travel, and then doing photo and video-sharing after the party is over."

Douglas and his team have raised $3 million from investors including Intel Capital , Contour Ventures, and eCoast Angels. And in many ways, they've built a site that has surpassed the Web 1.0 dinosaur of party planning, Evite (now owned by Barry Diller's online conglomerate InterActiveCorp.) MyPunchbowl makes it much easier to decide upon the best date for a gathering among a group of friends, or organize a potluck where everyone brings a different dish, for instance.

Douglas tells me that the main way people discover MyPunchbowl is that they're invited to a party that uses it, or they hear about it from a friend. "It is a viral model," he says. "The more people who are exposed to it, the more people who tell others about it."

I'm sure that's true, but MyPunchbowl (founded in 2007) still lags way behind Evite (founded in 1997) in terms of usage:

(The chart above doesn't show that MyPunchbowl has actually been growing its user base over the past year.)

So what's your theory? We all have our favorite example of a Web 1.0 dinosaur that hasn't innovated enough (eBay, Craigslist, and Expedia among them.) Is it just ennui inertia? I still find myself using KodakGallery (founded in 1999 as Ofoto) for much of my personal photo sharing and printing, even though I'm sure there are many better options.

Is it just that Web 1.0 dinosaurs got the flywheel spinning first, and achieved a level of virality that it's hard for anyone to match?

Interested in your opinions: why is it so hard to kill a Web 1.0 dinosaur? And what examples can you think of (aside from Google vs. Yahoo) where a Web 1.0 dinosaur has been brought down by a new entrant?

(Douglas, for his part, says that he doesn't like his site being compared to Evite; he says it's more similar to sites like, which does start-to-finish wedding planning. He does acknowledge, though, that his start-up may suffer from a perception problem. "You can't win a war of perception on $3 million bucks. It's a long-term effort.")

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8 comments so far...
  1. The comfort of the familiar is a strong inertia that is difficult to overcome.

    Posted by Steve Rush Garrett November 16, 09 06:06 PM
  1. I'm not sure ennui is the word you are looking for. Seems to be inertia (one could also argue technology overload just makes it easier to settle for what worked last year).

    Posted by J Goss November 16, 09 06:32 PM
  1. Your analogy to dinosaurs might provide an answer.

    If the old "Web 1.0" sites are the "dinosaurs", then you'd probably call the new "Web 2.0" sites "mammals", right?

    Mammals and dinosaurs lived side-by-side for around 110 million years. During this time, dinosaurs occupied and dominated nearly every major land-based ecological niche, while mammals got no bigger than rats. (Kind of like your eVite/myPunchbowl graph?) Yes, mammals were diversifying, finding new things to eat, getting smarter and smarter, but dinosaurs held a monopoly on being big and eating whatever you felt like eating.

    In truth, mammals had lots of neat innovations . . . they made milk, they nurtured their young, they were smart, they had better chewing teeth (sort of like myPunchbowl's party planning tools). But dinosaurs were clearly superior to mammals where it counted, because dinosaurs got bigger and badder. If the mammals had been "better", they would have pushed the dinosaurs out of their way . . . new dinosaur species were constantly pushing old dinosaur species out of the way, but no mammal species ever stepped up to do the same to a dinosaur species. Dinosaurs were active, energetic creatures, fully-adapted to life on earth. And they were better at what they did than the mammals were.

    The only reason mammals rule today is that something catastrophic killed all the dinosaurs off (except the birds), and spared just enough mammals around that mammals could take over. The mammals got lucky. The dinosaurs ruled alongside them for 110 million years because the dinosaurs were better (in the ways that really mattered) than the mammals ever were.

    Posted by Christopher Lund November 16, 09 07:40 PM
  1. What a great comment - thanks, Christopher!

    Posted by Scott Kirsner November 17, 09 08:25 AM
  1. An example of Web 1.0 dinosaur being brought down by 2.0...Napster meet iTunes.

    Posted by Sam November 17, 09 11:41 AM
  1. Because of the switching costs for customers (e.g. finding and learning a new service), it is not enough to be "better" than the existing web 1.0 dinosaur. You have to be much better, 10x better.

    Posted by Cyndi H November 17, 09 02:59 PM
  1. Web 1.0 companies often adapt themselves. Adding social elements and the such . . . that said:

    I continue to use ofoto (or whatever Kodak calls it now) over web 2.0 flickr -- ofoto is good enough for my purposes and my primary audience (grandparents and great-grandparents) are used to using it.

    Good enough functionality, not enough benefit for my needs at the next tier of innovation.

    Also, Christopher, awesome comment.

    Posted by @joshpayne November 17, 09 03:31 PM
  1. Why not ask these guys? They're still decorating like it's 1999.

    No foosball for me, thanks. I tend to work, at work. When I'm finished, I go home.

    Posted by James November 18, 09 02:06 AM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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