Sony Interactive Services is launching its first Internet service, the Friend Factory, into Europe to provide members with a social club where they can chat, post messages, build a Web home page, send email and create communities.
Although the online social club will come with a number of professionally created communities, including Sporting Life, Books Online and Playstation, Chris Warrender, head of FriendFactory UK, said: "The idea is that the service is created for members by members. Friend Factory will be moulded by what the members want, rather than us saying take it or leave it. A lot of Internet companies tend to be faceless, we want to put a human face on our service."
Friend Factory is the first plank in Sony?s strategy to try and introduce online services to complement its entertainment and consumer electronics businesses. The offering will launch simultaneously in the UK and Germany, but will be followed elsewhere in Europe. There are no plans to launch it in the US in the foreseeable future, however.
Sony hopes to generate revenues through advertising and ecommerce, but about 60% of turnover is expected to come from sales of its instant message tool, eNotes. When members sign up to Friend Factory, they can choose to fill in a profile of their interests so they can be mailed about relevant products and special deals. The number of emails sent out weekly will be limited, however, and members not wishing to fill in personal profiles will not receive emails. Commercial sponsors will also not be able to contact members directly.
Warrender explained: "We don?t want to know about the demographics, we want to know about their interests, so they can be targeted accordingly by direct marketers. The beauty of it is, is that it?s as attractive to the consumer as the marketer. It?s classic direct marketing -but with an Internet twist."
But Sony is relying on Friend Factory to be a self regulating service and for members to deal with unsuitable material themselves. "Communities are the responsibility of their owners. We will make checks, but we are relying on our members contacting us if material is unsuitable and believe me in past experience they do," he said.
Friend Factory will also adopt the "Beenz" online awards system, which is a loyalty scheme similar to airmiles, to keep members motivated and plans to host celebrity chats and competitions.
Friend Factory software will be available over the Internet, through direct marketing and the regular Sony channels. The service comes with a free email address and 15 Mb of Web space per user. The aim is to have one million members by May next year.
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