in popularity as veteran Web surfers seek information at specialized sites. This could spell trouble for credit card issuers, which advertise heavily on these portals.
This particular sound bite emanates from a six-year-old Internet research firm in New York, Cyber Dialogue, one of a growing chorus of voices offering survey-based wisdom about all things on-line. Its take on the evolution of Web-browsing preferences is not unique, but the way it relates such trends to banking and electronic commerce has made the firm popular with some financial analysts who cite its findings in their reports to investors.
As the Web grows, so does the number of research firms aiming to analyze, measure, and critique it. Jupiter Communications of New York recently completed an initial public offering. GartnerGroup, of Stamford, Conn., is shifting its focus from traditional consulting to electronic commerce. Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass., also publicly owned, recently moved to larger headquarters and ex-Forrester people are behind Gomez Advisors of Lincoln, Mass., which publishes widely quoted Internet performance scorecards.
Cyber Dialogue often competes for the same clients as those firms, but Mark Esiri, the company's 34-year-old chief executive officer, said his focus is different.
"We drill very deep on the demand side," Mr. Esiri said. "We identify market opportunities and analyze the customers, whereas Jupiter and Forrester talk about technologies and strategies in deploying those technologies on the Internet."
Cyber Dialogue, whose clients include Microsoft Corp., GE Capital, and Bank One Corp., expects to make $10 million of revenue for this year, up from $3.5 million in 1998 and less than half its projection for next year.
Mr. Esiri, a London native, took the helm of Cyber Dialogue in 1996 and runs it in the spirit of an Internet start-up. He and most of the 65 employees wear T-shirts to work in a huge loft space that includes showers for all-nighters.
Analysts at Cyber Dialogue -- their average age is 28 -- build their knowledge of Internet behavior through telephone surveys and on-line questionnaires with 2,000 people every three months.
For $30,000 a year, clients can receive monthly papers that analyze the data for a variety of industries, including finance, health care, and entertainment.
Cyber Dialogue was founded by Wand Partners, a private equity firm in New York that owns 55% of the company. The Young & Rubicam Inc. advertising agency owns 13%, and the rest is held by outside investors. Mr. Esiri, who was trained as a lawyer, spent three years at Wand covering data base marketing for credit cards. Before that he was a consultant for three years at Bridgewater Consulting in London.
In 1998, Cyber Dialogue found that 60% of people seeking financial information on the Internet went to America Online's personal finance area or to Yahoo Finance. This year that number has dropped to 31% as traditional financial services companies have enhanced the services they offer on-line.
Portals such as America Online, Yahoo, and MSN.com have been considered prime real estate, commanding pricey marketing contracts with major credit card issuers like Bank One Corp.'s First USA division. Cyber Dialogue is now warning that Internet users are more likely to get information from targeted niche sites.
"Portal power is diminishing very rapidly," said Michael Weiksner, manager of Cyber Dialogue's on-line financial services practice. "As people become comfortable with the Internet, they're seeking their information on the sites that are the providers of it."
Mr. Esiri said the next wave of Internet cobranding and advertising deals will be much more targeted. "There is a huge assumption that the credit card companies want to go for the whole audience, but the fact is they don't," he said.
Kenneth A. Posner, principal at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York, said many companies are "disappointed with the performance of advertising on the big portals." He said more successful strategies include sending e-mail solicitations to affinity group mailing lists (which MBNA Corp. is doing) and aiming Internet advertising more selectively (as Capital One Financial Corp. is doing with DoubleClick).
Credit cards are "the drivers of e-commerce," Mr. Weiksner said. Issuers' "immediate opportunity is to take all of the analytical data capabilities that they've developed analyzing off-line spending patterns" and use it to understand on-line transactions.