by Dan Bertolet
Recently, Onvia.com has lured several seasoned newspaper reporters into its lair. Must be a content oasis, right? Wrong: the Onvia.com website is DIM. The front page is numbingly busy, plastered with column after column of tiny font I can barely read on my 1024×768 monitor. Considering this front-page assault, Onvia’s “Work.Wisely” slogan is really a dare.
Struggling to keep my eyes from glazing over, I started simple. I clicked on the “Purchase Now” button, which brought up products and services in dozens of categories — computer hardware, office supplies, telecommunications, etc. — each with several subcategories. Still battling buyer’s remorse about my DSL service, I opted for “Internet Access.” After entering a few specifics, I clicked on “Find me the best plan!” but just three choices popped up — Earthlink ISDN and two DSL plans from Verio — none of which is competitive with the DSL service I have from COVAD. Thinking this can’t be all, I typed “DSL” in the search box only to get a list of nine DSL hardware items. Strike One.
Next, a subject near and dear to every small-biz owner: chairs (ergonomic, high-back). I was given 19 options from four manufacturers. For reasons unknown, prices for three chairs were in red (vs. black for the 16 others). Does red ink convey quality, special price, or what? I picked a chair at random and got a big closeup, along with the manufacturer’s description and specs. I suppose I was naïve to expect independent evaluation that would actually help me make an intelligent choice. Strike Two.
Not willing to give up just yet, I entered “My Business” section. The page gave not a hint about its intentions. But I was going for it – I clicked on “login.” I signed up Seattle24x7! Any future transactions we do via Onvia will have that personal touch — our success is assured! As far as I can make out, the only reason to sign up for “My Business” is to become an Onvia “seller” and have your products and/or services listed. That is, unless you’re simply feeling charitable and want to help them build their valuable database of small businesses. Strike Three.
But what about the editorial content, the “news and tools” being generated by all those options-happy x-newspaper reporters? A nice afterthought, but it can’t carry the site.
Despite its rather weak website, Onvia.com has raised almost $50 million in the past five months, and it has filed an IPO to raise more than $100 million (see Go, Go, IPO). Can I get a witness?
Dan Bertolet, resident SiteCynic, is an electrical engineer and musician.
Site Cynic Rating
Overall: 2 out of 5 Lamps (DIM)
Content: 2 lamps
Navigation: 3 lamps
Graphics: 2 lamps
The GE Connection
GE Capital, the financing division of General Electric (NYSE: GE), owns about 7% of Onvia.com (pre-IPO). But GE now has an even bigger stake in one of Onvia’s major competitors, All Business.com, which was bought by NBC Interactive (NASDAQ: NBCI) in February 2000. (GE owns a big chunk of NCBI.)