Facebook My Ride

Web 2.0, increasingly known as the social Web, has pushed questions such as, “Are page views dead?” and “Is there a future for the home page?” to the forefront of issues confronting online businesses. Such issues go to the very core of what a Web application is. Web 1.0, what we tend to think of when we think of the Web, was more or less born of a page-view model. Type in a URL, go there, then click-wait-read, click-wait-read.

Web 2.0 changes this in two fundamental ways. First, the click-wait-read experience disappears. Web 2.0 applications respond in the same way desktop applications do: only the data and presentation elements that need to change do so. The presentation framework is fixed. People using the applications love this kind of functionality as it’s both faster and more stable. Yet it’s having an impact, particularly for publishers who depend on page views as an inventory generator. More page views mean more potential impressions, each of which has an economic value. Decreasing that inventory affects all online marketers.

That’s only the beginning of what’s now facing marketers looking for ways to engage current and potential customers. Another Web 2.0 issue is mash-ups. It started with Google’s open APIs for things like maps, followed by Ning and many others. The application mash-up jumped from interesting possibility to mainstream opportunity.

Take a look at Steve Hall’s AdGabber, a social network built entirely on Ning, as an example of what can be done by a smart person with a few minutes and a bit of tech savvy. The current rage is Facebook. By opening its API (define) and encouraging developers to create applications that live inside Facebook, the entire Web site concept is being redefined.

Extreme? Perhaps, but consider the marketing implications if people stop visiting big portals and spend their online time in social communities instead. Where would you advertise? How would you leverage your investment in your current site if no one visited it?

Take a breath, literally. Did you visit a Web site for that breath of air? No, air is all around us, and the transaction involving its use is as close to frictionless as it gets. Social interaction is the air that sustains communities, and online communities are building a business around the combination of free air and frictionless transactions based on social currency.

Is it realistic to believe people will stop visiting major portals in favor of social communities? I think so. Engage your nonbusiness mind and think about where you spent your discretionary time last weekend. Was it at a manufacturing plant, retail outlet, or online site for either of these, or was at your kid’s soccer game, a dinner party, a kite festival, an online game, or something similar? With the possible exception of “pleasure shopping,” my bet is your discretionary time is distinctly tilted toward social engagements. If you buy into the idea that everything task-oriented ultimately gets automated, our preferences in online and offline activities converge over time on social interactions.

OK, perhaps that’s a jump. Maybe it’s next year or the year after. But in some cases (I’d argue in most cases for millennials), it’s happening now. Google, Ning, and Facebook, to name a few, are kicking it off in a big way. This is something you need to be a part of.

How? Glad you asked.

First, if you aren’t using social applications, by all means start. Pick one. AdGabber is an excellent first choice. Or sign up on Facebook and join one of Pete Blackshaw‘s marketing groups. Check out Facebook applications, like ProductPulse, a tool that lets people share views on specific goods and services. (Disclosure: I’m an advisor to the ProductPulse team.) Add Truemers, online rumor conveyance and verification, or Eating, an app that lets you see what your friends are eating right now, and with whom. Some are business tools, some are marketing tools, and some are just good fun. But they’re all inherently social. You can also learn about what’s going on by attending ad:tech New York in November.

Where does all this lead? To the demise of the Web site, of course. Instead of going to a news portal to check on rumors, I can do it while hanging out in Facebook. Ditto restaurants: why visit one of the three dozen “YourCity360” or similar sites when I can see where my friends are eating right now? What will you trust with your next purchase: a product review written by someone you don’t know or one from a friend who actually owns the product you’re about to buy? In other words, rather than assume people will visit your site to get the information you’re offering, why not make that information available inside the social networks your audience is already in?

The logical end point is the replacement of the “Web site = information island,” a term that still characterizes most sites, with a community experience powered by social interaction. Web 2.0 is pushing the early retirement of these islands in favor of distributed social applications. Beyond their own entry points, whether through Facebook or Ning or a purpose-built site, the new social platforms are beginning to interconnect, linking the shared knowledge of the social collective in ways that has personal as well as business (marketing) value.

From a marketer’s perspective, central to the new challenge is the way in which social applications permeate the online spaces that are increasingly a part of consumers’ lives. Thinking, “Our audience is online. We have a Web site for them.” is no longer sufficient. Instead, it’s being present, like air, at the point of the (social) transaction that ensures your customers will use you. Instead of a Web site built from your own cloth, build your communications into the social fabric of Web 2.0.

To paraphrase Cracker: what the world needs now is another brand Web site…like I need a hole in my head.

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