Let the iWeb Begin

In my last column, I made six predictions for this year. I intended for my next six columns to explore each trend, starting with the first one: video explodes online. But when I saw Steve Jobs demo iWeb last week, I thought I would skip to the second trend — opt-in feeds take over — because the iWeb demo very elegantly articulates this trend.

Said Jobs in his introduction to the demo:

We’re introducing a new app that’s going to allow us to share our digital photos; share our digital movies and video podcasts; to share our tastes in music; and to share our blogs and other types of podcasts as well with people. And we call this new app iWeb. There are apps out there that let you build Web sites. There are some apps that are really easy to use. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that they build pretty simple and oftentimes ugly Web sites. There are some terrific apps, some professional apps, that let you build beautiful Web sites, but they are way too hard for mere mortals to use. So, in the iLife tradition, what we want to do is make something super easy to use that lets you build beautiful Web sites so simply, so easily. That’s what iWeb is about.

He then demonstrated the iWeb product, part of the larger iLife software suite. Everything was as he promised — easy and beautiful. And it struck me that Apple has done it again: taken something useful (aggregated RSS (define) and consolidated personal and public feeds and streams such as Protopage and Suprglu.com) and made it elegant, easy, fun, and friendly.

With iWeb, Apple will unleash the inevitable copycat Web applications designed to simplify and hone the consumer’s online experiences. The personal portal trend will accelerate and extend beyond the sophisticated Web enthusiasts into the mainstream Web population. Internet users’ urge to craft personal Web pages has been around since the beginning; people are natural storytellers and sharers, and the Web is a global publishing medium. The shift here is beauty, ease, and speed. The rich personal Web page has taken a big step forward.

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

Personal pages will become even more commonplace. Open and closed communities, such as MySpace.com and Facebook, will continue to proliferate. And because of lust for content, the personal portal feed aggregator trend will accelerate. Yes, users can get partway there with My Yahoo and My Web, but this is deeper, richer, and more personal. It means mainstream consumers will have even more powerful tools with which to share personal experiences… and experiences with the brands they love and hate.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

For marketers, it means even more need to engage consumers in dialogue. It means more opportunities to market in communities. And it means the opt-in paradigm will become even more important. Broadcasting rich content to a huge audience is very wasteful. Instead, smart marketers will publicize the availability of rich content, then consumers will opt in to have messages of interest delivered regularly to their personal pages.

For instance, if you are a Porsche enthusiast, you can sign up for an email newsletter or visit the site. But newsletters go to your email box along with hundreds of other messages. If you collect content about your passions (e.g., links to blogs, shopping sites, third-party research, etc.), having them neatly organized on a personal page is great. If they’re tagged and shared, you can connect with other communities of similar interests to exchange content.

That’s the opt-in connection. If you can get consumers to opt in, to choose your content, they become a key distribution mechanism for your content as it circulates through their communities.

While I was preparing my speech for this week’s WOMMA conference, I searched for blog posts on viral campaigns we had launched for Jeep, Chrysler, and Sprint. All had been successful, but I was surprised by how many people worldwide had blogged on the campaigns. Many of our viral campaigns have media support to accelerate the spread, but a recent one didn’t and 95 percent of the impressions were free. Consumers opted in to see the ad, then passed it along.

Where personal pages proliferate, communities will grow and the Web’s viral nature will explode. This will be the broadcast network of the future, and it will be entirely opt in.

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