Take a look at four new online offerings that caught my eye just this week:

  • StorkBrokers, a place to buy and sell used baby gear
  • TopDish, a restaurant recommendation engine
  • Room 77, a site to let you pick the best rooms within a given hotel
  • Tello, a site to let you rate customer service at any businessQuick: what do they all have in common? On the surface, not much. But go up to 40,000
    feet, and what you see is highly-specific spins on well-established products and categories of products.

StorkBrokers is doing something you can already do with ease on EBay and Craigslist, and who knows how many other online classifieds sites.

TopDish is a new entry in the very crowded restaurant directory/review category, which brings to mind products like Zagat and OpenTable.

Room 77 jumps into the hyperactive world of hotel information, starting with sites like
TripAdvisor and Hotels.com, and ranging out to all the major travel booking sites.

Tello wants to play alongside the seemingly endless number of consumer review sites,
from Yelp to Angie'sList. Even the big online yellow pages sites are dipping their toes in here.

So what's my point? You could certainly say these are all brave new entries in highly competitive markets, but that's not particularly insightful. You could argue that these are all "me too" concepts, that might suggest a dearth of big new ideas. This line of thinking is always compelling, at least until the next big new idea comes along. We could say that these sites are just examples of the ongoing effort to "slice and dice" successful sites by pulling off some of their functionality and layering some new twist on top. There's something to that.

What intrigues me is that all these sites are trying to do something better for a very specific audience by tightly focusing their offerings. By limiting itself to baby items, StorkBrokers has a chance to attract more sellers, which will in turn attract more buyers, meaning more choice and faster transactions.

TopDish says that knowing what restaurants are out there is valuable, but knowing which
restaurants serve the specific dishes you want is more important, especially if, for example, you have food allergies. TopDish isn't for everyone, but those who find it appealing will probably use it heavily.

Similarly, Room 77 says picking the right hotel is only half the battle, and knowing which
room to request is equally important. Again, not everyone cares, but those who do will be loyal users.

Finally, Tello believes that a lot of people want to rate a business, but don't want to
write lengthy reviews. Its goal is to attract a specific following.

My takeaway: the web is beginning to mature. It is moving away from the land-grab
mentality of chasing ideas for the mass market to building highly granular, specific
functionality products for limited audiences. It's a concept that business information publishers have understood and practiced for over 100 years: target a vertical, serve it well at a granular level and profit handsomely. It's nice to see the online world finally catching up and online users valuing deep, focused, granular content