Voice in the Wilderness

THIRD VOICE'S SOFTWARE may be raising hackles on the coasts, but in the Twin Cities the company's marketing department still has some work to do. The sticky-note-style tags created by its utility adorn a handful of highly trafficked Web sites, but many local institutions--Jesse Ventura, the University of Minnesota, Prince--so far have failed to sprout the trademark red arrows.


On sites that have been tagged, the notes left by Third Voice users range from boosterish to nasty. At the Walker Art Center site (www.walkerart.org), a fan has taken the trouble to comment: "Probably one of the best art center/museums in the Midwest. Very progressive and interesting ideas." At the other end of the spectrum is a note reading "The Twins really stink" on the Major League Baseball page devoted to the local team (www.majorleaguebaseball.com/u/baseball/mlb/teams/MIN/index.html). Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com)--surprise!--hosts a flaming diatribe from a dissatisfied customer ("In general NWA personnel are rude, unfriendly, and unprofessional").

None of which looks much like the "meta-community" Third Voice says it seeks to create. Using the software, explains Leo Jolicoeur, the startup company's vice president of business development, should be "like going to the library and finding a coffeehouse where you can discuss a book or article right there." But while Third Voice-enabled comments are indisputably "right there," few taggers seem to have bothered to actually address each other, leaving the local meta-community looking less like a Barnes & Noble/Starbucks and more like a series of graffitied billboards.

Part of the reason may be that Third Voice has so far failed to generate much of a buzz in these parts. Several local Web designers queried by City Pages professed ignorance about the software; Robert Stephens, founder of the Minneapolis-based computer-support company Geek Squad, says he's aware of it but remains unimpressed. "My feeling is 'whatever,' in terms of usefulness," he says. "The last thing I need is another frickin' download program to be running in the background." The primary beneficiaries of the technology, says Stephens, might actually be companies whose sites are tagged: "They could listen in for feedback on their products." But then, he adds, "Third Voice is basically competing with usegroups and chat rooms," where consumers already engage in lengthy discussions about products and brands.

"[Third Voice] is not like usegroups and chat rooms, because those are compartmentalized and dissociated experiences," counters Jolicoeur. "You have to go somewhere else to use them. When you use Third Voice, your comments are right there." Besides, he adds, "meta-community" is just the beginning. The company plans to roll out "meta-content" soon, to be followed by "meta-commerce." Jolicoeur is coy about just what meta-commerce might be and whether--or how--Third Voice currently generates any revenue: "We're just not worried about making any money right now."

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