“Web 2.0 is a marketing term, and I think you've just invented Web 3.0,” Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, at the Soul Digital Forum, May 2007
When it comes to the internet, hype is pretty unavoidable. In 2008 the hype is about “Web 3.0” but consumers continue to ignore internet hype, favouring new technology, sites and applications that offer them genuine benefits. Let’s tale a look behind the last pile of interhype and see just what it may tell us about this one.
Sites that look the same but are very different
The social networks have dominated the internet hype of the last two years. 2006 was the year of Myspace hype and 2007 was the year of Facebook hype. Let’s take a closer look at these two competitors and what they actually offer users.
In Myspace, you can visit almost any stranger’s page, with all their details and friends, and ask them to “add” you as a friend. This openness makes it the ideal host for businesses. It also makes the network great fun for kids, who can safely quest for popularity, belonging or just acceptance.
As well as being a social network, Myspace also offers a highly customisable webpage as well as being a de facto game – how many “friends” (cool, sexy, or famous) can you collect?
That structure also left Myspace open to challenge. In Facebook, you can’t customise your page as elaborately and you can’t look at stranger’s pages, only their name and picture. This limits “stalking” and mirrors our offline social lives, which take place in silos or echo chambers. It also makes Facebook not a game, just a social network.
Offering greater real world-style anonymity enabled Facebook to corner both a cohort of Myspace users and a market that had not been engaged by Myspace. Ignoring hype, these consumers sought out the real utility that suited them. They’re both social networks, but of critically different kinds.
Sites that look different but succeed for the same reason
Social networks are one of the biggest stories, and these examples show how other similar-looking web offerings can be useful in very various ways. This is mirrored across the history of the Web – in fact, the vast bulk of sites aims to be useful in one of two ways.
The first makes the Web itself easier to use, e.g. Google. The second uses the Web to do something better than was possible before the Web was invented, e.g. Wikipedia. It’s almost a pure “pull” model – pushing can only get you so far – and pulling with the right kind of utility generates loyalty.
Take an ancient application such as Tinyurl, which abbreviates web addresses so your links don’t get broken. This is the URL (web address) of Google’s results for the phrase “google search”
That’s 123 characters, perfect for a computer. But 15% of links on the web are broken and don’t work because computers aren’t the end-user, we are. This is the URL above abbreviated by Tinyurl: http://tinyurl.com/2phtfh
That’s 25 characters – it won’t get broken, and it’s more recognisable to the human eye. Tinyurl is a magnifying glass for the web. That’s why it’s outlived sites that were huge when it launched in 2002 and still gets 18 billion hits a year.
Another example is Wikipedia. “Wiki” is software allows lots of users to create, edit and link web pages, so it’s the perfect way for thousands of people to create an encyclopaedia. In December 2005, the science journal ‘Nature’ announced that Wikipedia was as accurate as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now, the site has ten times as many entries and unlike Britannica it’s searchable and free. Essentially, encyclopaedias are better with wiki technology than they could ever be without it.
The other big hits have equally simple explanations. Google made the internet properly searchable for the first time. Youtube offers a searchable archive of entertainment “moments”. The big dating sites offered searchable mates better than offline dating agencies ever could. All we see uniting these different internet hits is increased utility – either using the internet to do an old thing much better, or making the internet itself easier to use.
The CEO of Google doubts all the Web hype. 2008 and 2009 will see more fads but deeply useful technologies, sites and applications will set the standard, just as they always have. Consumers use technology, not the other way around, so look behind the hype.
As Naughton’s Law has it, “We invariably over-estimate the short-term implications of new communications technologies, and we grievously underestimate their long term impacts.” Every brand should be online in the best way, know its consumers, and maximise the benefit of its online offering to those consumers.
For feedback or comment, please contact Insight Manager, OMD UK, Michael Tully on Michael.Tully@omd.com
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