Digital World: Web 3.0 gets a big ‘Mazal Tov’ from Walla

“Walla Mazal Tov” lets you do everything from searching for a wedding hall to having your kid learn his bar mitzva portion virtually.

By DAVID SHAMAH
October 17, 2011 23:08
mazaltov.walla.co.il

website 311. (photo credit: mazaltov.walla.co.il)

If you’ve lost track, the web business is now entering the era of “Web 3.0” – which, for our purposes, is the maturation and consolidation of Web 2.0, which itself represented a major advance over Web 1.0 (or, back then in the late ‘90s, just “the web”).

Of course, the term “Web 3.0” is used by most people to describe the next big major technological breakthrough in Internet technology, but notice I said “web business” – meaning that, beyond the expansion of the social interaction (Facebook, Twitter) revolution of Web 2.0, there doesn’t seem to be anything all that new and exciting on the horizon.

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Notice, though, that I said “web business,” not web technology.

That the business of running a website – thanks largely to Google and its ad programs, by the way – has improved since Web 1.0 is clear. Today it is possible to make money on a website, something that just a decade ago was considered almost impossible. But beyond online shopping and ever more precise ad targeting (where advertisers and website owners hope and pray that someone will click on those ad links!), there seems to be very little new innovation on the WWW.

But it seems there is room for innovation, after all – and it comes, of all places, from an Israeli company associated with Web 1.0, the era of the “portal” and free web e-mail, and has expanded its offerings to cover almost anything a web user would want or need. Walla recently started a new site, called “Walla Mazal Tov,” which lets you do everything from searching for a wedding hall to working out place settings at your party, to even having your kid learn their bar mitzva portion virtually.

In an era of iPhones and specialized web services that run the gamut, it’s easy for a “department store” portal like Walla to get lost in the shuffle; too often on the net, being “all things to all people” translates to being “nothing to no one.” Cognizant of the problem, Walla has been designing tools that will fill niches that aren’t being covered elsewhere – especially those that can appeal to younger users, who don’t even bother with e-mail (one of the signature services offered by Walla and other web portals) anymore, preferring texting and Facebooking.

“One of our objectives is to provide web users with everything they need,” says Walla Mazal Tov director Shimon Cohen.

“We are the top site in Israel for younger users, and we wanted to provide them with tools they could use that they wouldn’t find elsewhere,” like the tools Walla Mazal Tov provides for those planning to marry.

“Being organized is half the battle in keeping wedding costs down, so we provide everything a couple needs to remain organized, including lists, price calculators, help with planning, a site that searches out discounted wedding dresses and a program to figure out seating.”

In a useful twist, the program can even recommend preferred dates by price (as some nights are more expensive than others) and nights when a wedding might “interfere” with a major event, such as Maccabee Tel Aviv’s appearance in the Final Four! And as anyone who has ever “done” a wedding knows, figuring out who should sit next to whom is one of the biggest planning hassles. To make it easier, Walla Mazal Tov provides virtual “tables” that you can label with names, moving them around until you get the right combination. You can then print out the lists, and even turn them into placecards.

The service is unique in Israel (although similar services can be found on other websites), but Walla Mazal Tov’s bar mitzva teaching service is one-of-a-kind.

“Some kids learn better with a rabbi or tutor teaching them, but many others don’t. Plus lessons can be expensive,” says Cohen. A prospective bar mitzvah candidate can use the site to prepare his Torah/Haftora reading, letting him set his own schedule for training (the site is always up) and saving money on “professional” training in the process. The candidate puts in his birthday, “style” (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Moroccan, etc.), and other details, sets up an account where he can listen to the portion being read by a professional and practice it (using interactive computer techniques, games, webcams and microphones), “turning it from a chore to something enjoyable and encouraging learning,” says Cohen.

The site was very expensive to put together – it cost in excess of $4 million, Cohen adds – “all of it donated by a haredi Jew from England in memory of his parents.”

In just the first few months of its operation, nearly 10,000 people have used the bar mitzva section of Walla Mazal Tov.

“It’s a great way for kids studying with a rabbi to practice as well,” Cohen adds.

But Walla Mazal Tov’s latest offering may top even the bar mitzva program when it comes to saving time, hassle, and money: virtual tours of wedding halls throughout Israel. The site, together with several partners, has put together a 360 degree online tour of halls that let you get a real idea of what the place looks like – before you go for a “real” tour. This way, says Cohen, you can weed out the places that really don’t appeal to you, or that aren’t big enough (or are too big) for the affair you have in mind.

“It’s a virtual tour available anytime in any language, designed to save time and money.”

And it’s innovation like Walla Mazal Tov that keeps a Web 1.0 company in the game, ready for the world of Web 3.0.

http://www.digitalisrael.net


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