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The Race to Become the Next Homepage of the Internet
What's at stake for Roblox and Fortnite as they battle for consumer attention.
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Internet Homepages Evolve: From Altavista to Google to Facebook, each generational homepage has shaped online behaviors and commerce.
Metaverse < Homepage: The Metaverse is not a separate entity but the natural evolution of the internet homepage, driven by younger generations.
Targeting the Same Consumer: Despite seeming differences, both Roblox and Fortnite aim to capture the same consumer demographic as they age.
Commerce and Communication: The next homepage will offer more than just entertainment; it will be a hub for commerce and social interaction.
XR Headsets: The future of immersive homepages may be closely tied to the adoption of XR technology, especially in a 5+ year timeframe.
This is the first internet homepage I remember having. Altavista was one of the earliest online search engine directories. It was eventually bought by Yahoo and lost ground to Google. It was ultimately shut down.
Martin, why am I reading about a defunct search engine from 28 years ago?
The Power of Internet Homepages
Every generation of internet users grows up with a de facto homepage that shapes their online behaviors, patterns, and expectations. Each generational homepage has a race to claim that coveted position—like Altavista losing out to Google.
Google wasn't just a search engine; it became a homepage. The same can be said for Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
An internet homepage is the default gateway for users to access the internet. It becomes a powerful attention aggregator, attracting both culture and commerce. Companies that have claimed the position of an internet homepage have invariably turned into some of the most valuable enterprises in history.
Each generational homepage has evolved, primarily through technological advancements:
Google was a static, information-based homepage.
Facebook was interactive, communicative, and entertaining.
Instagram marked the shift to mobile-first internet homepages.
Now, we're watching the race to become the internet homepage for the next generation of internet consumers play out in real-time.
Either Roblox or Fortnite will take that spot.
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Metaverse < Homepage
Remember in 2021 when everyone was talking about the Metaverse. I do. And I spoke of and wrote about it, too.
Then, the public eye shifted to AI, and Business Insider took it upon themselves to host a virtual funeral.
The Business Insider article is worth a read if you want to understand how most people got the framing for the Metaverse wrong. The concept of immersive internet experiences will not proliferate via grown ups donning VR headsets to meet in virtual conference rooms.
It will emerge – it is emerging – the same way as previous technologies, through play, fun, and games. Adoption is driven by younger generations of consumers.
The immersive internet experience that Roblox and Fortnite represent merely continues the arch. The internet become higher fidelity and is driven by the democratization of content creation and distribution.
We will eventually have "the Metaverse" because that's what the homepage of the internet morphs into.
From profile pictures to avatars.
From photo filters to digital fashion.
From feeds to virtual homes.
The Race Is On
When I've floated this idea of a race between Roblox and Fortnite, there's one recurring pushback: They are two very different platforms targeting different types of users.
That's a static and limited lens that makes it difficult to understand the business case of internet homepages.
In fact, both platforms are targeting the same consumer.
Roblox's user base trends younger than Fortnite's. That's a fact.
However, it's in Roblox interest to retain users as they age. Because it is impossible to become a homepage if people drop off. That's why we're seeing Roblox invest a lot in 17+ experiences: To make it more exciting and more attractive to stick around as users age up.
Similarly, Fortnite will not be able to achieve its position as homepage if it waits for consumers to age up to its age bracket. By then, Roblox will already have acquired much of this growth potential.
Which is why Fortnite partnered up with Lego to create kids-friendly online spaces.
Both Fortnite and Roblox are already expanding their efforts into the core territory of the other. Which is what makes this a race for real.
Bells & Whistles
As mentioned, homepages have evolved their capabilities since Altavista. Successful homepages of 2023 have amenities that make people stick around. Two core amenities are access to commerce and communication.
If you want a deep dive into the latter, check the previous essay about Roblox as a social network. Since I wrote that essay, Roblox also presented avatar-based video chat during the Developer Conference earlier this month.
Another check on the communications checklist.
Given that these platforms represent increased immersion and fidelity, I expect them to gradually introduce lower-fidelity ways to use certain core features of the platform. The video calls above is one example, and messaging is another.
They also alluded to more commerce features and opportunities coming soon during the same conference.
Mainly, they did so via one of their five-year predictions:
Some Roblox creators will make more money from selling physical merchandise on Roblox than virtual merchandise
A powerful growth lever is allowing merchants to sell off-platform, physical products through on-platform immersive stores.
Another big opportunity space is entertainment. Creating ways for more of the time people spend on entertainment to take place on-platform.
Roblox has pushed further out on the "internet homepage" spectrum than Fortnite on all dimensions except entertainment. Fortnite's branded collaborations, virtual concerts, and entertainment IP crossovers are very potent.
What About the Headsets
VR/AR/XR headsets are coming. That much is clear. It is also clear that an immersive internet homepage lends itself much better to the capabilities of an XR headset than a flat, 2D website.
It's hard to say how much the arrival of these headsets will do for propelling us toward the future of immersive homepages. Especially given the price tag of Apple Vision.
On a 2-year timeframe, it matters less; on a 5+ year timeframe, it matters a lot.
Regardless, understanding how the internet evolves from one homepage to the next is key to understanding the internet itself. Whether you use it for communication, marketing, or something else.
Remember, when Facebook launched its merchant and ad tools, the opportunities were massive for those who learned, understood, and utilized the new capabilities early.
The same will happen with the next internet homepage.