Note to readers: this is a very long post because I find Eons to be an interesting site and worthy of a somewhat detailed deconstruction. Eons are part of a new wave of social networks targeting niche audiences. This one is targeting boomers and seniors.
Eons (http://www.eons.com/) launched this week. Eons was founded by Monster.com entrepreneur Jeff Taylor with a reported $10m war chest. It’s easy to see where the money was spent and there is a lot there. So much so that TechCrunch, who reviewed the site yesterday, noted “Eons is trying to do way too much and I’m at a loss as to what it actually wants to be.” Eons was also reviewed in Mashable and has also received mainstream press. The site was having some trouble when I used it and I got a few “Rails” errors. These probably were the result of the significant traffic from all of their PR as well as being “Dugg”.
Not being on the receiving end of an Eons PR package promoting the site, I’m not sure how hard they were pitching the “MySpace for old people” concept but it is certainly the parallel everyone is drawing. As Mashable noted, the comparison to MySpace isn’t all that accurate given the immense amount of producer-provided content (as opposed to user-provided content) making them more of a “portal”. Think of it as a “Yahoo” for the 50+ crowd more than an age targeted MySpace. There is also a question of how much the 50+ crowd even wants social networking activities such as building profiles, blogging, etc. Since the founder is from another tech company not to mention below the target age, it’s possible that Eons has put too much stake in treating the over 50 crowd as if they were the under 35 crowd and thus providing tools that may be of no interest to them.
Eons has several nice touches showing that a lot thought went into even basic tasks. For example, when you register Eons asks you the basic questions one gets when registering including your zip code, age, etc. But as you key in the information it gives you immediate feedback on how your information compares with other Eons who have registered. For example, when I typed in my zip code I learned that 21% of Eon’s users are “nearby” (though this is left undefined) and 1% are my same age. This makes the normally dry process of registration a little bit more interesting. (By the way, I’m not so sure about the age data they report. I tried keying in several different ages from 30 to 90 and they all reported to be 1% of their users). When I put my real age (which is under 50) I was bounced because users have to be 50. This was easily rectified by keying in a new birthdate making me over 50 but the ease by which I did this (and their essentially forcing me to lie to use the site) raises questions about the accuracy of their demographic profiles.
Building a profile, uploading a picture and other minor housekeeping tasks were all easy to do.
Once registered I started to play with the site.
First off, in addressing the “chicken vs. egg” that all true social networks face, Eons has done something I like very much. Namely to add useful applications and utilities so that even prior to the network effect kicking in individuals will will find useful things to do.
The first such utility is the “longevity calculator“. This is similar to the Real Age calculator but instead of giving you your “real” age (as opposed to calendar age) the Eons test calculates your expected longevity (mine was 88 though I had hoped it would be in the 90s).
The next utility is their Obituary Alert. This was one of the most written about parts of their site in their launch press. With this utility you can create up to five alerts (think of them as Google News alerts) that let you know if someone’s name, school or other trigger comes across in the obituaries. Kind of creepy but cool. I once read that the obits are one of the most read sections of the newspaper so Eons may be on to something. The publicity Eons is getting from just this one utility has probably paid for the cost of making it.
Speaking of obituaries, they have an entire obits section with pictures and tributes to deceased famous people sorted in various ways (by name, year, and most popular). It was here that I found a tribute to Billy Barty. Other obits items included humor (I’m not kidding), a “loss and grieving” advice section, and a section for sending sympathy gifts, no doubt through affiliate “arrangements” (pun intended).
Another utility is the “LifeMap” which plays on the (probably true) stereotype that the 50+ crowd loves to sit around and reminiscence. The LifeMap uses a time-line and icons to represent major milestones in one’s life. Here is an example of one that Eons created for former President Bill Clinton. The LifeMap utility has a very nice series of prompts and it looks easy to build. However I was unable to tell what one did with their LifeMap when it was done. Presumably it can be accessed by friends and others that you allow to see it from your profile but I didn’t see this option in the profile builder. Also, it’d be nice if there was a way to export it. I can imagine someone putting a lot of time building their LifeMap (including uploading photos) and then wanting to print it out in some fashion or have it be able to be shared through a method other than just through Eons. What happens if Eons goes out of business or decides to start charging for LifeMaps? Similar to the debate over at Flickr, users should own their content and be able to easily take it with them where they want.
Yet another utility is a goal generator/tracker. I builds off of the belief that one should make a list of all of the things they want to do before they die–a popular topic with self-improvement authors and life coaches. Instead of saying “die” however Eons sets the deadline as before you are 100 years old. Like the applications above, Eons has made the process easy with simple instructions and interfaces. The basic process is that you key in whatever goal you want and Eons looks in a database to see if others have the same goal. If not it offers up goals that might be similar (for example “sail around the world” and “sail a boat around the globe”). You match up the ones that make sense or otherwise signify your goals as unique. If you are stumped and can’t think of very many goals you can see what others have put on their lists. The most popular is “lose weight”. By clicking on that I can see the names of some of the people who have this goal (which is a little odd). Presumably this is useful with a goal such as “run a marathon” since I can communicate and maybe even train with people with the same goal. Goals can be made private or public and are accessible from your profile (note this was either not working or not working well when I tested it). There is a lot more that they can do with this area and presumably ran out of time before launching.
One of the most interesting parts of the site is an age-relevant search engine, which they call “cranky.” If you type in a basic word like “book” or “triathlon”, the results are sorted by what has/has not been reviewed by users or editors (which presumably is what they use to determine relevance). “Triathlon” served up Triathlete Magazine, relevant yes but hardly age-relevant. I’ll have to spend more time on this but to me it appears that they are going to use the community to “teach” the engine what is and is not relevant. For example, when I typed in “senior” to cranky I got AARP (very relevant) and not “high school seniors” (not relevant).
In addition to the above mentioned applications/utilities, Eons has sections entitled “Fun,” “Love”, “Money” and “Body.” They contain some combination of articles, tips, blogs, pictures and affiliate deals–lot’s of affiliate deals. For example in “fun” they have a movie section that lists movies in theatres via online ticketing agent Movies.com. The entertainment section contains a nice mix of current and nostaligic offerings–something that is quite appropriate for their target market who is probably more interested in music and TV shows of 30 years ago than what is out today. The games are also demographic appropriate (Suduko, solitaire, etc.).
Eons also has a blogging capability. It is a very clean and easy process. However, like other sites that have targeted the older-than-the-MySpace crowd (such as ThirdAge), it is uncertain whether this age group really wants to blog and it will be interesting to see what adoption rate they experience.
Eons has “groups” functionality and already had several age-relevant groups started like antiques, knitting and golf. (No group for “puttering around in the basement” however). I tried setting up a group and it was a very easy process until the site locked up I got an error message. Not sure if my group made it or not. Presumably this bug is related to the server loads they are getting and will be rectified shortly.
Now that you see how much is there, it is easy to understand why Techcrunch had this to say in their review:
It’s too much to throw at people at once, and this age group is perfectly capable of using Yahoo for a portal, Vox for a blogging platform, etc. I would have started out with just the Myspace angle and added functionality from there as users grew, a model that has worked well for many other start-ups. Do one thing better than everyone else.
The Eons’ business model is focused on advertising with a lot of affiliate deals thrown for good measure (including Amazon books throughout the site and suggested sympathy gifts for the recently departed). Eons had one big banner ad centered on the home page and banners and smaller Google adSense ads on other pages. Certain sections are sponsored, for example the “Body” section is sponsored by a company called Humana.
In all it is a good site. But I there is too much there for most people and by spending as much as it appears they did they have set the bar very high for themselves to justify the expenses.
For the record, I’m a big believer that the over-40 crowd is under-served and believe there are a variety of opportunities to serve segments of this group in different ways. I am part of LifeTwo, a company that is focused on addressing the “life transition” years of 40-55 and particularly focused on midlife crises.
Update: The Rearview Mirror, a midlife-focused blog written by Micki Berthelot, had this to say.
We all agree that marketing to Boomers is a good and necessary thing. The Boomer demographic, particularly the female part, is generally ignored. Monster is making the attempt to attract the Boomer demographic with its new web presence – Eons. Eons is brand new and has a lot of evolving to do, but it is a shallow attempt at attracting advertising dollars. It is obvious that the only purpose of the site is to attract advertising dollars that the company isn’t attacting with other products. Boomers are too smart for that Monster – we see the obvious right away. The site is making an attempt to provide valuable content, but it is a substandard effort.
This tactic leaves the content weak and unattractive to me. … the “fun” page introduces a Brain Builder section designed to “stave off cognitive decline”. Oh yeah – just loads of fun. Thanks Eons – I really needed that. Sorry – but the whole concept is just boring and lame.
Follow this link for her entire review.