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March 13, 2007

Disney's mommy portal, family.com, will be a winner

Disney_online by Josh Bernoff

We got briefed last week by Emily Smith, a VP at Disney online heading up their new community site, Family.com.

Now it's easy to make fun of Disney -- especially in the wake of their failed 90's Web experiments like go.com, which was supposed to turn Infoseek into a major portal run by Disney. But the company is now very smart with its online properties, which include ESPN.com. In January at CES it ambitiously relaunched Disney.com, which is now a community-based site for kids and grownups. But kids means limitations, because of COPPA. Now we finally get to see what Disney can do without those restrictions -- its latest effort, family.com, is aimed at parents.

Here's are 4 reasons family.com is a breakthrough:

  1. It only starts with Disney editorial (drawn from Disney's magazines Family Fun and Wonder Time). Disney has added mommy bloggers of the type that have been popular with moms online already. And even the entertainment content will be balanced -- like Time Warner property Entertainment Weekly, family.com promises to review all entertainment fairly.
  2. Disney isn't drawing the line at the site's edge. Family.com includes a search of the "Family 1000," a dynamically updated collection of the 1000 sites most popular with families.
  3. It embraces users -- all articles will include comments from readers.
  4. It's moving toward real community. In a wiki-like section called "Parentpedia," planned for this summer, common parent questions like "How can I get my kid to sleep through the night" will get answers from a parenting expert, a wiki-built answer from visitors, and a collection of first-person narratives from parent who have been through it.

Now there are those out there among you who will not believe that Disney, or any big corporate media company, can get community right. But from where we sit, family.com strikes the right balance for its audience, mothers, between corporate/managed editorial and free-form community. Moms like to talk to other moms about parenting, anyone who's ever visited a playground has seen that. (And for the dads out there, you can call me sexist, but I'm sure the demographics of this site will skew way in the mommy direction.) As a result, this community is more likely to take off than, for example, last week's big announcement, usatoday.com with community features.

The interesting question is this: advertisers on this site are likely to enjoy more click-throughs, especially if they sponsor an area like kids' health. But can they handle being next to whatever content people post there, like some crazed parent spouting off about potty-training?

New: click to read the Forrester Quick Take on this topic.

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Paul Copcutt

This move in the virtual by Disney - particularly getting the site visitors to be the contributors - is a smart move given my recent experience at the real Disney.
They do the 'big' things well, but when it came to the smaller details, especially communication they really fell down and as they will see from family.com communication with the customer is key.

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