The consumer Web is a cool place to hang out. But be advised: the rules of advertising are changing.
Is the consumer Web another bubble? Entrepreneurs everywhere suddenly think they know what the next next thing will be, and consumers, especially young consumers, are center stage. Venture capitalists are chasing consumer deals again, egged on by some big recent acquisitions. The recent sale of MySpace, after just two years of operation, to NewsCorp for $580 million is the latest example everybody is talking about. (Sorry, Google!)
It seems the Web is a cool place to hang out. "Fortune" magazine's cover this month proclaims, "It's time for Madison Avenue to stop worrying and learn to love the Web." Web advertising isn't dead after all. You know by the time something makes it to the cover of "Fortune," things are heating up. But the rules may be changing.
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, community sites are growing faster than any other category, with a 214 percent year-over-year increase in online advertising. I'm not too fond of the label "community sites," but the Nielsen number captures a clear trend: people are spending lots of time online socializing and connecting.
So what's actually working: community sites, blogs, personal sharing, hookups, soapbox-ware? Here are some themes to help us understand what's going on and to predict success:
"What about ease of use?" you ask. Most sites I've tried, with a few exceptions, are complicated. It takes effort to learn how to use this stuff. That's OK, as long as there's tangible benefit on the other end. When there is, people start using the services to hook up, share, collaborate, and just plain old gloat.
The consumer Web is hot. Though I'm fascinated to see how many copycats take good ideas and wrap them in ever-fancier window dressings, there are some novel ideas, too. I love the Wikipedia phenomenon. Backfence is good, too. Del.icio.us introduced a neat hack in the social bookmarking space (but the space's killer app isn't yet apparent). I like the idea behind EVDB, too. There are many others. Lots of neat tools and some good technology... and waiting in the wings there'll surely be some that will defy gravity and take off.
As that happens, new online ad models will emerge. Keep you eyes peeled. "Fortune" may be telling Madison Avenue to stop worrying. What it didn't mention was this party has barely started, and the rules are still changing.
By the way, I'm one of those people with a great idea for how to make the consumer Web easier to use. My new company will soon launch its beta service for helping people make more sense of the Web. Stay tuned.
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Hans Peter BrØndmo has spent his career at the intersection of technological innovation and consumer empowerment. He is a successful serial entrepreneur and a recognized thought leader. His latest company, Plum, is a consumer service with big plans to make the Web easier to use. In 1996, he founded pioneering e-mail marketing company Post Communications. His recent book, "The Engaged Customer," is a national bestseller and widely recognized as the bible of e-mail relationship marketing. As a sought-after keynote speaker, he has addressed more than 50 conferences in the past three years, is often featured in national media, and has been invited to testify at two U.S. Senate hearings and an FCC hearing on Internet privacy and spam. Hans Peter is on the board of the online privacy certification and seal program of TRUSTe and several companies. He performed his undergraduate and graduate studies at MIT.
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