Tickle, a “
leading interpersonal media company, providing self-discovery, and social networking services to more than 17 million active members in its community worldwide
,” has an interesting history.
Founded in 1999, it survived Bubble 1.0, turned a profit in 2002 and was acquired by Monster in 2004 for a combination of cash, stock and earn-outs.
At the time of its acquisition by Monster, Tickle regularly appeared on comScore’s Top 50 U.S. Internet Properties list and reported $25m in revenue over the previous 12 months.
Tickle’s claim to social networking fame was a suite of entertainment-based tests such as “Which Hollywood Blonde Are You” and “What’s Your Wedding IQ?” – eerily similar in nature to the types of “widgets” that are often popular on social networks like MySpace and Facebook.
These tests helped Tickle grow virally and positioned the company well for a Web 2.0 world in which novelty almost always tends to trump utility and promotes viral growth.
But it was not meant to be.
On June 6, 2008, Tickle users received the following email:
“We will be shutting down Tickle as of June 30th 2008. You will no longer be able to access your saved test results after that date. If you would like to keep your test results, please print them out before that date. Many thanks for your understanding!”
I’m not intimately familiar with Tickle and the details of its demise but I think its failure highlights an important point – novelty alone rarely serves as the basis for a successful, sustainable business over the long-term.
There were almost certainly issues related to business operations and strategy that contributed to Tickle’s shuttering, but it’s worth considering that the overall notion that services offering little more than novelty can thrive over the long haul is often quite tenuous.
Businesses trying to leverage the massive audiences that novelty and entertainment can often attract need to recognize that the audiences they obtain are often monetizable for relatively limited periods of time.
In the case of advertising-based services, audiences need to be deliverable to advertisers in some fashion that advertisers perceive to have real value.
Given that many of the most hyped Web 2.0 startups are providers of little more than novelty and entertainment, Tickle’s inability to survive long-term should be of concern to startups like Slide, for instance.
A producer of novelty widgets that are distributed through popular social networks; in my opinion Slide is akin to a more “Web 2.0ized” version of Tickle.
And it has raised tens of millions of dollars in investment from investors who have valued it in excess of $500m dollars.
Through the provision of widgets such as Super Poke and FunPix, Slide has built up an impressive “audience.“
But is its audience really all that distinguishable from the audience Tickle was able to build up in its heyday?
In my opinion, probably not.
Eventually, these companies are likely to run into the same problems that probably convinced Monster that Tickle wasn’t work keeping alive.
The reason is quite simple – the value they offer isn’t compelling enough to create a strong enough relationship with the members of their audiences and the form of novelty and entertainment offered is so easily replicated or improved upon by others that it is of limited inherent value.
Contrast this with television networks which deliver much more compelling (and “expensive”) content to an audience and in turn deliver that audience to advertisers. And, unlike companies such as Tickle, they are rewarded over the long term for it.
Given that, it’s my expectation that many Web 2.0 properties similar in nature to Tickle will share the same fate – even if they manage to make it until Bubble 3.0.