Birthday book goes exponential

A missed birthday was the only inspiration merchant banker Shannon Walsh needed to enter e-commerce. The idea of using the internet to store important dates like birthdays and anniversaries wasn't new - a quick search revealed any number of date-reminder sites - but the spin Walsh put on the concept was something different.

A missed birthday was the only inspiration merchant banker Shannon Walsh needed to enter e-commerce. The idea of using the internet to store important dates like birthdays and anniversaries wasn’t new — a quick search revealed any number of date-reminder sites — but the spin Walsh put on the concept was something different.

A user registering at his DiarySmart site gets their own personal birthday book and is emailed a message which they then forward to family and friends asking them to provide their own birth dates and gift preferences. When they reply, their details are automatically stored in the user’s birthday book at DiarySmart and a week before, and on the day itself, an email reminder is sent out along with the birthday person’s gift hints. “So,” as the site says, “you end up looking really thoughtful and clever. Which of course you are.”

From the user’s perspective the process is gloriously simple since the birthday book literally fills itself — talk about distributed processing! — but for DiarySmart the concept becomes an immensely powerful tool: viral marketing. The requests for birthday data results in an ever-expanding web of new customers at zero acquisition cost. As a result, though only three months old, the site is undergoing phenomenal growth.

“It’s exponential,” says Walsh. “In fact, if you look at the predictive models, we’re supposed to have several times the world’s population signed up within a few months,” he laughs.

With over 3000 new members being added every day (along with more than 10,000 new birthdays), bottlenecks are a prime concern.

“At the moment we’re just putting on additional bandwidth since the nature of the set-up we’re using allows us to simply plug in more resources,” says Walsh. But the site’s developer and manager, Greenwood Technology in Auckland, is already coming up with proposals to cope with the growth.

“We’re now starting to produce thousands and thousands of email reminders each day,” Walsh says. “To cope with that, Greenwood’s have proposed putting in servers at key sites around the world. The emails that go out are a standard form, so one option is to batch the outgoing data, merge it with the forms on a local server — say in the US, for example — and send them out from there. That’ll significantly reduce our load and cut back our requirements for international bandwidth.”

And the revenue model for this service? Captured demographics about who and where customers are is a start. Add to that a detailed knowledge of gift preferences and the impending date and you have a powerful marketing tool for advertisers. “And it’s not just limited to e-commerce sites,” Walsh says. “A local florist, for example, could have its ad appended to every birthday reminder that went out to people in its town.”

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