There's gay, straight ... and plain queer

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The Independent Online

Can a website targeting the black community ever be "too black"? It sounds like a controversial question, but, according to Simeon Quarrie, the commercial director of community site Blackserve, which folded last week, the answer is yes.

Can a website targeting the black community ever be "too black"? It sounds like a controversial question, but, according to Simeon Quarrie, the commercial director of community site Blackserve, which folded last week, the answer is yes.

Despite the sudden departure of its managing director, Paul Castro, and failed attempts to raise the necessary £150,000 to cover debts, Quarrie believes there is room in amongst the likes of and for a site which welcomes everyone, while targeting the black community.

"These sites need to be specific - but not exclusive - to attract the right amount of traffic", he said. Avoiding mentions of Black Pride or stereotypical images helps keep a balance, says Quarrie. But community sites covering religious and ethnic minorities must avoid making assumptions about what their target audience wants because, more than any site, they rely on a loyal, commonly-bonded user base.

While Darkerthanblue focuses on entertainment and Blackbritain is more news-based, Blackserve tried to be one of those lifestyle portals, an ultimate destination site. It's a fine line between being a focused, targeted site to being too general, which misses the whole point.

It's probably easier to build a site around religious affinities (such as the hugely successful because you have set events and beliefs around which you can encourage e-commerce activity. Most community sites rely on advertising for the bulk of their revenue, exploiting the fact that they are targeting a very specific audience, but you need a strong user base to attract the advertisers, which prompts community sites to widen their appeal. It's a vicious circle.


Portals think pink

Trying to offer an ultimate destination site for the black community is hard enough, but imagine a gay and lesbian portal which claims it is for "queer people, both gay and straight". Confused? We were.

Gay lifestyle portal opened its closet doors last week to compete with the likes of, Rainbow Network and Last Wednesday we took ourselves down to Brick Lane to the converted warehouse Atlantis II for the launch party. Standing beneath the gigantic, glittery silver polystyrene Q and the stiltwalkers was ex-stripper, ex-nun, and the nation's favourite lesbian, Anna from Big Brother. We'd been expecting the Minogue sisters and Claudia Schiffer but it was strike three for our game of Big Brother new media bingo (similar to Mark Lamarr new media bingo, only if you spot him hosting a new media event more than five times you are entitled to shoot him, or yourself).

Reclining in the Love Lounge we had a look at the site. It was the usual mix of entertainment, lifestyle and e-commerce channels, with partners including Creditweb, First Call and fashion e-tailer Yoox - as well as a few surprises, such as the article on Poufes in the Home section.

The company aims to move away from stereotyping and "offer something more important than a pair of well-toned buttocks" and " give people the option to break out of that ghetto and get into something much broader - life". It has put aside £1m of the £3.5m in funding it received from Smedvig Capital earlier this year for its marketing campaign, which will include ads in the mainstream national press and in gay magazines and hopes to attract 450,000 users in the UK by the end of 2001.

After reading that her emotional life was about to get a spring clean with a new partner in the horoscope channel, my (female) colleague burst out, "I LOVE Anna, she's my new best friend." We're putting it down to too much pink champagne.


Healthy attitude

Nutravida, the natural health and beauty site which shut up shop last month due to lack funding, has been resurrected through a partnership with Apotheke 20-20, a Chiswick-based complementary and holistic health store. It's yet another case of bricks and mortar retailers coming to the rescue of failed dot.coms, many of whom have been all mouth and no trousers when it comes to delivering the goods.

Apotheke 20-20 will cover costs, taking over the stock, customer services and fulfilment, leaving Nutravida to run the transactional website and spend the time and money doing what its main rival, ThinkNatural, has done. That is, build a brand with the support of an offline guardian to make sure the figures add up, which in ThinkNatural's case means a mail order catalogue and the launch of its own-branded products in Superdrug.

ThinkNatural always set out to deliver across multiple platforms. This was wise, because to find the sort of money that is required to build a brand in any sector, whether or not you've got a celebrity like Joanna Lumley on your site as Clickmango did, you need to have some other form of revenue than an initial round of funding. Investors are becoming increasingly wary of companies that are putting all their chickens in the online basket. Like my Mum used to say, once it's gone, it's gone, and she really means it this time.