Surfing for a Niche; Passionate People Find Common Ground on Web
Byline: Rob Gutierrez and Andrew Richards, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Twist. The Shake. The Swim. Dancing in the streets never demanded better guitar riffs from band mates James Magee, Gordon "Corky" Phillips, Billy Scandrelli and Mickey Litherland than it did in the 1960s, when "music was the most important thing" on the minds of these Rhode Island high school buddies.
After graduation, however, each went his separate way and the music died - or so they thought.
Forty years later, the four musicians were reunited through Reunion.com. They plan to perform next year at their high school reunion.
The former band mates have benefited from the rise of "niche-oriented" social networks on the Web. Reuters, MTV and Martha Stewart are among those who have created or plan social-networking sites that provide specific forums to connect people with similar interests.
Niche social networks most likely to succeed are those that "aren't too broad" and whose users are passionate, said Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for EMarketer.com, an Internet-based research group.
"A tampon brand wouldn't do well. People aren't going to join a Playtex social-networking site," Ms. Williamson said.
Jeff Tinsley, Reunion.com chief executive and founder, said users join Reunion.com for information about friends and relatives, to reconnect with people and to maintain those connections.
"Before, people used to hire a private investigator to find people they lost touch with," he said. "Now, all this information can be easily searched and Googled, and we can find people through people searches."
Reunion.com remains among the top 20 social-networking Web sites.
A niche Web site that has not done so well is Wal-Mart's, which Ms. Williamson called an example of "what not to do." Wal-Mart created and marketed a networking site in an attempt to unite consumers in a back-to-school theme. Taking criticism from bloggers and the press, the site was shut down after three months.
Passion is the key to a successful niche-networking site, Ms. Williamson said. She noted that several social-networking sites are dedicated to parenting, a topic that "works well" because of the passion of new mothers. …