CEO at Econsultancy
15 February 2006 10:28am
It has been said before (not least by Ian in this thread most eloquently) but I think the thing is to look at Web 2.0 much more as an approach rather than a specific set of technologies like blogging or AJAX.
As you say all of those have been around for a while. And, in any case, if you ask anyone who knows about progamming (not me...) they'll tell you that AJAX is a misnomer anyway - you don't need to use XML or CSS for starters. What's interesting about it is the asynchronous data transfer part - purists say it should be called just "A", or nothing at all.
But, continuing my musings about the business implications of the Web 2.0 approach, here are two further challenges it may pose:
1. Challenges for Online Publishers selling advertising
Publishers, particularly well known brands, are doing quite well at the moment with their online ad sales. Inventory is at a premium and money is pouring into online advertising.
For example, have a look at this Times Online story about Microsoft in Hotmail 'blacklisting' row (yes, a story that we broke - none of our e-mails to Hotmail addresses get through despite us being Bonded Sender Approved...). Once I've fought my way through the Land Rover overlay ad, the in-page MPU ad, the skyscrapers, the banners and the Google AdSense... I get to go to Page 2 of the article and start the battle all over again.
OK, I get the content for free so perhaps it's fair enough that I should have to endure the advertising in return and that, in order to maximise page inventory, the content is split across multiple pages.
But I'd much rather read the content ad-free (perhaps via a feed?), or at least use a nifty AJAX interface to page through the article without actually leaving the page.
I think Web 2.0 and the improved user experience it can offer will soon start to highlight to users how bad an experience some of these ad-intensive sites are becoming in comparison.
So what does that mean for publishers reliant on advertising? I guess two things principally. Firstly, start to build more subscription / paid content revenue streams. Secondly, move away from selling page views and multiple ads and focus much more on single (premium) sponsorship type deals where the sponsor can be more gracefully woven into the content. The same is happening on TV already (branded content, sponsored shows etc.)
2. Challenges for Search Engines / SEO efforts
I am currently stretching my brain somewhat by reading Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's book Linked: The New Science of Networks which, although published in 2003, has Web 2.0 written all over it. Hubs, connectors, power laws, scale-free networks, it's all in there...
So far it's one of the best books I've read on how search engines work, although it's not ostensibly about that. It is clearly the inspiration for Mike Grehan's influential piece on search engine optimisation and why hub sites do so well in search engines - see Filthy Linking Rich And Getting Richer!
All these networks, hubs and connectors, assume that there are nodes (webpages in our world) and links (hyperlinks). There needs to be a sense of place (albeit virtual) and a means to map, or architect, the web to understand the interconnections (and relative importance) between the pages. This allows search engines to rank pages.
But what happens with Web 2.0 world where content, applications and services are meshed and mashed together such that the underlying data could come from almost any source to be rendered at a single point in time, perhaps never to be displayed again in the same way? Where content from one branded source is being sucked through according to a user-configured format across multiple devices?
It seems to me that it is going to be hard, even for the likes of Google, to determine where the authority is? Sites won't really even exist in their most influential form as sites? Talk to any Web 2.0 site (flickr, del.icio.us etc.) and they'll tell you that most of their 'traffic' comes from feeds (like RSS) or via their open APIs.
I guess that's why they're busy getting us to install toolbars, set up Google RSS Readers, search our desktops etc? So that they'll still be able to try and work out where the authoritative sources of information are being culled from?
CEO at Quru Oy
15 February 2006 12:11pm
Answering from the search engine perspective I would say the onus is on the Web 2.0 industry, not the search engines.
Lets take Google Earth. Hitwise recently published figures suggesting that it has 0.19% of UK searches we're for Google Earth and that it had risen dramatically since December 05.
The full article is here
This helps illustrate that the onus from a search perspective is on the AJAX developers who would be foolish to ignore the search results.
I would imagine search friendly versions of W2 app websites will be developed much in the same way as SEO companies develop information pages designed to rank on engines.
I agree with you that new challenges will arise within the industry, but I think the challenge will be to be for the people developing new apps to also be found through traditional search methods. Search is already proven as an easy way to present consumers with the information which they want, whereas any new method being developed isn't.
Taking Flickr for instance - They have optimized their sites to be found for key terms.
Try searching "online photo management" in Google.
When sites like Flickr started their business, I imagine they utilised search until they reached a critical mass of consumers. Now probably the traffic from RSS and their API's has overtaken search but I would question if it was always the case.
To illustrate - If you were developing a new business AJAX application and had limited funds to market the product across multiple channels wouldn't SEO be a high priority?
I think like most current successful Web 2.0 apps an accompanying SEO strategy should run alongside to maximise the business model. Regardless of content displayed by the app and how dynamic it is.
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