Halloween 2.0: How Web Companies Trick and Treat

No longer just for kids, this multi-billion dollar holiday lends itself to creativity on the Web. Check out what these innovative tech companies have in store for October 31, both online and off.

Halloween may have started as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrating the New Year, but today it's a $5 billion industry with millions of children dressing up in costume for a night of trick and treat. And don't forget the myriad adults celebrating with parties -- both at the office and at home -- as well as parades. This year Web 2.0 companies have capitalized on the festive occasion providing a hauntingly good time for their customers.

Halloween 411

The Internet will serve as a source of valuable Halloween information for those in search of everything from fast holiday facts to the scoop on how others celebrate. Semantic search engine Hakia has created "galleries" for popular search terms, including "Halloween" and holiday-related words. The Hakia Galleries build upon the search engine's claim to deliver more relevant results than keyword-based engines such as Google by offering, according to COO Melek Pulatkonak, "10 searches in one." A search for "Halloween," for instance, not only brings up Halloween-related pages; it automatically organizes the results into categories like "origin of the holiday," "stories and literature," "holiday music," and "news and blogs."

For the Halloween party and parade seeker, Eventful, the Web's leading database of events, lists more than 9,000 Halloween events for visitors to browse. It rates as one of the site's most searched holidays, along with Valentine's Day. "It's a pretty social holiday, where you're not just with your family. People like to get out there and go out in their costumes," says Holly Anderson, Eventful's director of marketing. While Halloween favorites like haunted houses and pumpkin patches are well represented, Eventful also offers another feature: Users can see if their favorite music artists have special shows for the holiday.

For those on the go, there's Twitter. The popular mobile social networking site, offers the opportunity to take Halloween planning to a more interactive level this year. Its latest tracking feature allows users to receive alerts on their mobile phone whenever a specific keyword appears in a public update. Want to know what your peers are doing for October 31? Just track the term "Halloween," and follow the fun.

A New Way to Celebrate

Halloween revelers in search of candy, costumes, and décor for the holiday, can visit shopping sites like PriceGrabber and Kaboodle. Comparison shopping site PriceGrabber features a Halloween guide focused heavily on costumes. The listing also helps visitors choose the season's hottest costumes. This year's pick -- Harry Potter. And according to The New York Times, now-infamous Senator Larry Craig is doing very well in some quarters, too.

Social shopping site Kaboodle allows visitors to view product lists created by site members and profiles of anyone interested in the same items. Users can also create groups to discuss Halloween purchases and poll others to help decide what to buy. This is a particular boon for Halloween, for which "shoppers aren't typically searching for a particular item," says Manish Chandra, Kaboodle's CEO. The truly meticulous can even upload images of their costumes or decorations to help others decide which costumes or décor to buy.

Besides enabling visitors to plan for Halloween in traditional ways -- such as costuming, party planning, and haunted-house visits -- several Web companies offer media and applications commemorating the holiday. Mobile media company Thumbplay features Halloween promotions to "put some fright into your phone" on its Website. Visitors can find the theme song from "Halloween," clips from movies like "Bride of Frankenstein," as well as traditional scary sounds and images of ghosts and goblins.

Widgetbox offers Halloween-themed widgets for use on social network personal pages and profiles. The company has an "influx of 'merchandise' around the holidays," says Pam Webber, VP of marketing. Homepage promotion for Halloween content began on October 25, with the most popular widgets including countdowns to the holiday, Halloween-themed games, Halloween music players, and costume viewers. Costumes.com and Tenebre Records, which distributes Halloween and horror music, sponsor their own Halloween widgets as well.

Docstoc, a document-sharing site for business and legal documents, will publicly launch "around Halloween," according to CEO Jason Lawrence Nazar. Though still in beta, the site already offers printout masks for the late workers who'll be stuck in the office instead of out at parties.

Spook-tacular Media

Social media network imeem.com presents a low-key alternative to Halloween partying after work. In partnership with independent film distributor Palm Pictures, which began offering clips and limited showings of full-length films in late June, imeem will host screenings of the horror film "The Eye" from October 30 to November 5. Meanwhile, as Halloween approaches, the media-sharing site has experienced increased user activity related to the holiday. Currently, imeem has more than 1,200 Halloween music playlists.

But why watch a scary movie when you can make your own? Kyte.tv enables users to produce their own video channels, which makes it an ideal platform for broadcasting holiday events online. In fact, Daniel Graf, kyte's CEO, anticipates the emergence of several "party channels" for Halloween. San Francisco events organization BAM Productions is already preparing to sponsor its own channel, "Halloween BAM," on kyte for the holiday.

Scrapblog and Photobucket have multimedia solutions for saving and sharing Halloween memories online. On Scrapblog, users can upload their own images, music, sounds, and video to create a personalized Halloween album. The site offers ready-made Halloween themes, including seasonally themed background images and music. Extra-creative users can also build their own themes. The scrapbooks can be displayed almost anywhere on the Web, including Facebook and Flickr.

Photobucket not only allows its visitors to build slideshows from their photos, but it's also promoting a photo contest, the "Freakin' Friends Halloween Slideshow Contest," in partnership with TiVo from October 17 to November 7. The winner will receive a TiVo HD DVR with wireless adapter and three months of free service as a prize. Photobucket's contest capitalizes on its very active 14-24 user base, as well as its popularity during the holiday. "Halloween is one of our biggest, most active holidays. It kicks off the winter holiday season," says Alice Lankester, Photobucket's VP of marketing. Last year, the site experienced a 24 percent spike in traffic during the weekend before Halloween and an 18 percent increase the day after the holiday.

KickApps helps other companies generate revenue by helping them build social networks. For Halloween it will power ABC Family's "13 Nights of Halloween" site. In addition to advertising the channel's Halloween programming, the Chrysler-sponsored site hosts a sweepstakes where visitors can enter to win a 2008 Chrysler Town and Country auto. In only the first five days of its launch, the site attracted more than 55,000 entrants. The "13 Nights of Halloween" site also makes good use of KickApps' Web 2.0 platforms by allowing users to upload their photos -- pumpkin carvings, decor, costumes -- to the site's gallery for others to see.

Halloween Fun in the Office

Halloween isn't just for the customer; it's also for the employee. To christen its New York office, which it first occupied in April, Hakia will hold a Halloween-themed "floorwarming" party. Over in L.A., 85 to 90 percent of Pricegrabber's 160 employees will participate in the company's Halloween festivities, which includes a costume contest and a sponsored lunch. Kaboodle's Halloween party also includes contests -- for costumes as well as offbeat feats such as eating candy the fastest on one leg. The company gives an award for the most unimaginative costume as well as for the most imaginative.

The staff at imeem can look forward to bobbing for apples and playing "guess the weight of the pumpkin" at Gordon Biersch Brewery. "In honor of our site, we will be dressing up as famous TV, film or music personalities," says Steve Jang, the company's CMO and head of business development. "Personally, I’m looking forward to a couple Britney Spears parody costumes, and I also heard that a couple of employees are going to do a caricature of me, which should be interesting."

Thanks to its location Photobucket's Palo Alto office is well positioned to enjoy the Halloween spirit -- it's right above a costume shop. "I'm sure people will pop downstairs to grab a costume," predicts Lankester. She says Photobucket's contest has given her extra inspiration for dressing up. Widgetbox's interim CEO Michael Dearing loves Halloween, says Webber. "He's worn a clown costume with full makeup, wigs, you name it. One time, he dressed up as an ogre from Shrek. He even had his hair braided, like dreadlocks, almost." Another Web CEO, Twitter's Biz Stone, prefers "celebrating with a bowl of popcorn and some scary DVDs."

For other companies, Halloween celebrations encourage solidarity inside and outside the office. Scrapblog CEO Carlos Garcia believes that "getting the team in the mood for the holidays" enhances his company's seasonal content, much of which comes from the staff's outings to pumpkin patches and costume parties. At kyte, employees wear the company's orange T-shirts as a sign of company and holiday spirit. Many members of Eventful's staff plan to celebrate the holiday by supporting their city, San Diego, which was plagued by intense fires in the region. Many company employees may use the holiday to volunteer or even simply to pass out candy to bring some much-needed Halloween cheer to the community, says Anderson.

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