Dear Black Entrepreneurs (especially the ones behind Blackbird):
I know you mean well. You want to create tools and communities that empower those left out of the digital divide. You want to be a voice, perhaps even the voice uniting our people. But really: a web browser for the African American community?
I think niche browsers are a bad idea to start with. Browsers are commodities. For most computer users, their browser of choice is the one that came installed by default on their computer. Inertia, technophobia, and a lack of pressing need means they just use what’s there. Even getting advanced computer users to switch browsers requires a compelling reason to do so. Flock, for example, still isn’t particularly mainstream, despite it’s brilliant integration of services like MySpace and Facebook.
Ultimately, all anyone needs — dare I say wants — a browser to do is display whatever content she or he is trying to view, display it quickly, display it well, and not crash with any sort of regularity.
But let’s say Blackbird is an even more brilliant reworking of what is, in my opinion, the world’s greatest browser. Your problem is still one of positioning. African Americans Are. Too. Diverse. To. Be. A. Single. Market. Niche.
You would think black people would know this better than anyone. Though perhaps my assumption is just as faulty as yours. Maybe all 36 million of us really are interested in the same dozen or so sites, but I doubt it.
The problem with this sort of broad-based ethnic marketing — and I’ll add to that gender marketing — is that it tries to fit this wide range of ages, incomes, regions, nationalities, religious affiliations, and races* into this single, one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all box.
What speaks to me will not speak to my senior-citizen parents. Gospel-themed anything will not work for my cousin who wasn’t raised in the church and converted to Islam a decade ago. Injecting Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King into the conversation won’t resonate with Black Caribbean or African immigrants who came here by choice, some not all that long ago. Hell, there are even subtle differences of interest and experience between black folks who went to HBCUs and predominantly white universities.
In other words, what you think is of interest to African Americans probably isn’t of interest to most of us. What’s more, the most techno-literate black folks — you know, those computer users who are sophisticated enough to download and install another browser — already know how to use Firefox and Google. Some of us even use Macs. And while I wish y’all success, the early buzz indicates that almost nobody, not even the black folks, are digging this browser.
- Blackbird Is A Custom Browser For African Americans Built On Top Of Mozilla on TechCrunch.com
- Blackbird, The First Web Browser for African-Americans by Karsh on BlackGayBlogger.com
- Blackbird: The African-American Web Browser from GreasyGuide.com
- Blackbird: The African American Web Browser and Philanthropy on the Web From Blog Around Harlem
- Blackbird: I was not waiting for this moment to arise by Cecily
*P.S.: I say “races,” even though I’m talking about black folks, because in the U.S., black ancestry legally and usually culturally means you’re racially black. This applies even if you are of mixed parentage, as Malcolm Gladwell is, or have a non-black grandparent, such as Ming and Aoki Lee (Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee’s daughters).
* P.P.S.: This is also some bullsh*t