The adage “if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door” was never really true. It would be more accurate to say “if you build a better mousetrap, the segment of the market that has a problem with mice is more likely to eventually be dragged somewhere near your door, probably kicking and screaming.”

This applies to the Internet, as well. Most people traditionally think of the Internet — if “traditionally” is a word you can use for something this young — as being a medium of one-to-many. But the notion of one-to-many communication is flawed, especially when it comes to the Internet. Where the Internet truly excels is in the mode of one-to-few or even one-to-one. I’m repeatedly telling people the first step in building a successful business, Internet or otherwise, is to find a niche and fill it.

And that in itself is the Internet’s biggest challenge — and perhaps best opportunity. The advances in computer processing power and the tools now available us all make this type of one-to-one communication a viable option for anyone running a web site or a business. There’s simply no benefit to tailoring a message for everyone when you can tailor your messages for one.

The other big change we’ve seen in the Internet recently is the shift to providing publishing power to individuals. In the early days of the internet the only people who could afford to build web sites were larger companies with vast resources. Over time, tools have emerged to allow smaller businesses — and even individuals — publish professional web sites. And the change has enabled a different type of communication to take place, where individuals have been empowered to compete with companies 100 times their size. The natural extension of this phenomenon was that this communication would continue to become more narrowly focused.

Sites like Blogger allow individuals to publish their own web sites. People often think of Blogger users as creating web sites for the world to see when, in reality, most people are using Blogger to create web sites for a small audience. For example, I use mine to keep my extended family updated on what’s happening with my immediate family. Back Fence is building a business by creating a method for smaller communities — even down to the neighborhood size — to communicate with each other about events, news, and happenings regarding the neighborhood. Who provides the content? Soccer moms and dads who live in the neighborhood. Even eBay, the world’s largest auction house, excels by segmenting it’s mass market into niches,putting like-minded people together to share information, products, andservices. So if you’re still thinking in terms of mass markets, youprobably need to retool your approach to marketing.

People are using the internet as a source of information and a gateway to create, maintain, and foster environments with other people who have the same interests and concerns. The people and businesses who understand this concept, who use the power of the Internet to their advantage to target and communicate with these smaller markets — in a sense, those businesses that find a niche and fill it — will prevail.