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Web 2.0 Bad For The Bottom Line?

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#1 bragadocchio


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Posted 21 December 2007 - 12:49 PM

Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous...

Do too many people who build websites focus too much on building social networks, mashups, and other web 2.0 features to the detriment of their profitability?

It's really hard to disagree with this paragraph from the article:

Before throwing spending money at "2.0" features, make sure that you have all the "1.0" requirements working to perfection. Of the 149,784,002 sites on the Web, maybe a handful can make this claim. Most sites don't even use the customers' terminology in headlines and page titles if you want one quick action item to improve site profitability through better SEO ranking, more clickthroughs, and better understanding of your services, rewriting the first two words of your microcontent will beat any technology any day.

But, there are sites that do the baseline minimum for SEO in page titles, in headlines, and provide a good user experience, and yet don't do much to make their sites engaging, and interactive.

A good rebuttal here:

Jakob Nielsen on Everyone's Favorite Buzzword: "Web 2.0"

What's sad about many of today's websites is not the abstract "things" they don't do well (nor whether these mysteries are primary or secondary); rather, that they simply haven't taken the time to understand our [the audience's] needs and plan the experience in advance to ensure those needs are met. Instead, they've been retrofitting Marketing 1.0 into a new medium, just as they have done with every medium that came before it.

So, I have some questions:

1. What are the handful of websites that Dr. Nielsen might think are doing all of the web 1.0 things right?

2. What Web 2.0 features are ones that "either hurt users or simply don't matter to users' core needs" that sites add anyway.

3. Are the four trends that Dr. Nielsen points out as defining ones for Web 2.0 really what defines it? Thos would be:
  • "Rich" Internet Applications (RIA),
  • Community features, social networks, and user-generated content
  • Mashups (using other sites' services as a development platform)
  • Advertising as the main or only business model
4. Is AJAX too complex for most users?

5. Are most business tasks too boring to support community features, or in other words, is there a way to make most business task interesting enough so that a community will get involved?

6. Are mashups just too confusing when they involve more than one brand?

7. Does advertising only work on web sites when it involves search (like Google) and classified ads (such as eBay and real estate listings), and possibly video?

Thought that this quote from Dr. Nielsen's article was funny, but I'm not sure that I agree completely about how he characterizes Facebook:

Like Iron Chef, Facebook has much drama that makes for good press coverage, but most of its features are worthless for a B2B site that, say, is trying to sell forklift trucks to 50-year-old warehouse managers. Instead of adding Facebook-like features that let users "bite" other users and turn them into zombies, the B2B site would get more sales by offering clear prices, good product photos, detailed specs, convincing whitepapers, an easily navigable information architecture, and an email newsletter.

What do you think? Is Web 2.0 bad for the bottom line?

#2 Guest_Autocrat_*

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 01:51 PM

Okay... many may disagree with this... but regardless ;)

Web 2.0 is a rather stupid little term, and a prime example of hte complete "marketing and sales" spin on most things today. It's not new, it's not phenominal, and it won't make your busienss a success by simply using it.

If you define sites by functionality... where does Web 2.0 begin?
Does it start with Guestbooks, Shoutboxes, scolling marques?
Does it incorporate any site that makes use of a database (flatfile or heirachal) to hold content?
Does it only include sites that permit visitors to interact?
If so, does it include Feedback forms... send to friend links... or does it have to be things that woudl get saved, such as reviews, ratings etc.?
Would it distinguish between 'plain old boring' presentation, or does it need to make use of 'ajax', 'json', 'jqery' and lots of little clickable extra's?

It's all merely smoke to me... slapping a fresh coat of paint and selling the vehicle on does not make it worth a whole lot more... unless you get marketing and sales folk involved (and/or advertising ;)), in which case they have to justify their charges/wages some how :)

In regards to the initial, (and ignoring the whole Web 2.0 wash!), "modern" sites are no more worse off than many sites 2, 4 or even 6 Years ago.
Most people still completely misunderstand that you have to handle the 'virtual' world not differently than the real world.
They ignore the common courtesies, and treat people like strangers.
They do not consider needs, wants nor desires of others, and focus mostly on their own perception of such thigns.
They are often ignorant of even standard busines sapproachs, practices and processes, let alone any that would have to be adopted for a sucessful migration to the 'virtaul' world.

Consider how bad sites where 5 years ago.... there were sites that completely failed to realise who their audience were, that seemed to ignore the common precepts of business practice and didn't provide any real information... they just had the equivelent of a pretty leaflet, rather than a true brochure.

Well, things haven't really changed much, not at all.
Basically, the children still haven't figured how to make a Galleon out of lego... they still make silly little boats.... but now they are using Lego Technic or Mechano!

It isn't the tools that are the problem (mostly), it's the usage ... or lack of.

Examining hte whole 'social' aspect of hte web... I still cannot see how having social features on a business site can be considered as being a very good move for many businesses.
Think of it in the real world...
A Lounge area, filled with comfy seats,
The daily News Papers,
Several trendy magazines,
A Wide Screen Telly,
Selection of popular books,
Catalogues form certain companies,
A Telephone book as well,
A specialised Directory,
Post Board filled with little cards with the contact details of other companies on,
A public phone, free call,
Several Arcade Game machines, Fruit Machines and Pinball machines,
A book filled with previous customer - a little picture, details of hobbies, interests etc.,
Post board filled with comments from some of the previous customers,

Now, what would your reaction be if you went to your local dentists and saw all of the above?
How about the local Mechanics?
Imagine it at your local Florists... Chinese Take-Away, Doctors, Hospital, Solicitors etc.?
What about the Main Ford CAr plant... or where they make Steel Girders for Bridges... or a Home DIY Store?

In most cases, only a few of the above would be conceivable, and fewer still would be crediable, viable or even safe.
Yet people are suggesting that the 'virtual' equivelents are used for company websites!

Only, and I do mean only, should such things occur for niche businesses, or those with large, centralised user bases. Otherwise it is not only a waste, it is liekly to be seen as deficient and pointless, and in my mind, could actually be damaging to a business.

As far as I know, most people go to a companies website for several main reasons...
Find information on the company,
Find out about products/services,
Get in touch, or get contact details,
Find details about employement oppurtunities.

After that, there may be little extras that can be done... provide updated information, press releases etc... Direct online contact, bookings/orders/requests, tell others about a page or what not...
after that it gets more than a little silly.

People need basic things, and want some extras to make their life easier.
That means give them what they want, make it easier to find it, and include some extras that they may want and cannot get easily else where.
Any thing else, ask them about it... find out their desires, and if there are common ones, incorporate them.

Simply slapping in a forum will not help your business, unless your clients/customers are going to use it.
Letting customers have their own blog is not likely to work, unless the business is willign to gamble on posters not losing them business, causing offence etc.

Sorry about that - but the whole Web 2.0 thing drives me nuts - it's a complete sham, and they sucker so many people in it's unbelieveable.
Add to that all the spin, re-invented wheels that get sold as solid gold etc... it's more than frustrating for anyone trying to convince a business what is realistic and worthwhile, providing them with details and liks for informatio nthey should already know/have, without having to point out all the lies, misdirections, misconceptions etc. that plague or various fields.

Okay... Rant over :D
Apologies to any I may of offended, either with what was said, or the tone it was said in.

#3 DCrx


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Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:09 PM

By and large, if you aren't doing 1.0 stuff right, you won't get 2.0 right either. And most of 2.0 is 1.0 with a reflective gloss of eye candy. Witness the thread right here about catalyze.org - a purported social site for usability.

Mark my words, Perpetual Beta will be as lame as Under Construction was for 1.0. Based on my experience on signup for catalyze, they're using perpetual beta as a "get out of usability, Free" card. Unfortunately instead of answering each and every one of these questions, they serve as an example in support of Nielsen.

1. Reddit seems to have search working, something Digg has perpetual problems with.

2. Where are the tests? For all the opensource this, and social user-driven that, where is the data? I think the belief is slapping social on it automatically just makes it usable, by default. There is a illusory belief slapping up a comment box will fix all your problems. This despite knowing user feedback is three layers of abstraction away from user observation.

Social sites which don't to the social work of user observation aren't social -- by definition they're engaging in social avoidance. As anyone who has been flipped off on the highway can tell you, it doesn't take much distance for the "social' element to devolve rapidly.

Autistic, maybe. Not social.

Read Autistic Social Software.

Check out:

The password anti-pattern one of the only discussions on antipaterns in Web 2.0 you'll find.

Usability for Rich Internet Applications may be the first and only article people who have read dozens of ruby and AJAX tutorials ever read.

And of course there is the inevitable Usability 2.0 discussion. With perpetual beta as an excuse, almost everything should be relabeled 0.2 instead.

From the article linked, Web 2.0 is:

* Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
* Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
* Trusting users as co-developers
* Harnessing collective intelligence
* Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
* Software above the level of a single device
* Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models.

This shifts the load onto the user, who is now a co-developer. This is decidedly anti-Krugian "Don't Make Me Think" and all that. If you're talking from this point of view, all Web 2.0 is a net negative. From comments (and on the other side, policing comment spam), to voting, it's all additional cognitive load.

Customer self-service is as good as your design, but is exponentially harder than static 1.0 types. Your design is as good as your methodology and testing. If you're using the beta badge as a loophole -- you have your answer.

What's more usable, full service or self service? User tagging is inherently a chore. The only reason to do it is accuracy. And user tagging isn't all that accurate. Here, again, is one of the few articles which dares suggests improvement: Multi-User Tagging

And, if anyone did testing of these apps and widgets, we might know something. Since the user is the "co-developer" the tendency is to not test.

3. Compare that to OReilly immediately above.

4. Most users will never know or care about AJAX. Just like you can make a usable Flash site, the tool is irrelevant, rather it is the culture surrounding the tool which strongly influences how the tool will be used.

Here’s my working definition of Ajax: The use of scripting to cause portions of a page to refresh without reloading the entire page. That usually happens after the user does something, but it can also happen automatically.
-- Joe Clark

All this is is time-lag, probably the most machine dependent part of the user experience, and arguably the most primitive usability feature known. With broadband the one thing Ajax had going for it, page refresh, is trivial for actual user experience. Again, most actual Ajax articles stress server load with only a passing nod that the user may get something out of it as well.

Luckily the Joe Clark article Build Half a Product: Is Ajax accessible? At all? is one of the few which suggests programmers should have any contact with humans -- ever.

Unfortunately he sinks into the accessibility garbage of WCAG guidlines rather than user test. When he does, the findings are applicable for the target group, the blind, numbering 1.1 million people in this country. Fewer actually have a computer and are online, but making this figure any less really makes the whole process of designing for Less Than One Third of One Percent of the people in America a little odd.

Because guess what? Just because the blind can access the site in no way, shape or form means they can use it. And even then, you just spent that time on a fraction of one percent of the users. Like the perpetual 800x600 screen resolution debate, how many of your best target customers are on a 486 with 64megs and 800x600? Same question I submit to the accessibility people. Show me the customer database showing the 0.3% of the population you're spending so much time on are your best customers.

My guess is Colorlovers spent more time on WCAG guidelines than user testing. The point is there is absolutely no understanding of who the target user is. It's simply assumed that if you make the site accessible for $25 monitors where 800x600 looks about right the user with a $500+ widescreen will be well served. Sorry, but it does not follow.

Neither does it follow the 50-year-old warehouse manager is going to provide free Information Architecture with user-driven tagging.

Face it, the user making Web 2.0 work is someone with nothing better to do. Usability, in contrast, is for a target user with a lot better to do.

In other words the user testing for the roughly 99.7% of users who can fully use Web 2.0 apps might take a while.

Edited by DCrx, 21 December 2007 - 03:07 PM.

#4 iamlost


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Posted 21 December 2007 - 05:24 PM

Interesting questions, about two books worth to research and answer. :study:

Many people have a problem with Dr. Nielsen's 'findings' because they take his general observations and critique them on a specific site or app basis. Never take a general comment personally nor extrapolate from an instance to the general. And of course he is reporting his view; based on his studies but still one man's considered opinion.

So much for that, on to the questions:
1. What are the handful of websites that Dr. Nielsen might think are doing all of the web 1.0 things right?
Mine :angel:

2. What Web 2.0 features are ones that "either hurt users or simply don't matter to users' core needs" that sites add anyway.
In their current implementations just about all of them.
We are in the fun, this cool, let's take it for a spin mode. Coupled with a general lack of perceived business model nothing much works well. That will slowly change. Slowly.

3. Are the four trends that Dr. Nielsen points out as defining ones for Web 2.0 really what defines it?
* "Rich" Internet Applications (RIA)

The provision of a downloadable 'client engine' specific to running a web app has incredible potential especially for copyright and 'pay for view/use' issues. Very much in it's infancy if there is ever to be a real Web2.0 this will probably be its backbone.

* Community features, social networks, and user-generated content
What is new is the extent: the rate of development, prior art recombination, and subsequent uptake by the young. This intercommunication nervous system is the best developed, most recognisable Web1.0-evolved feature. In my opinion it is not yet Web2.0. Soon, evolution while we wait...

* Mashups (using other sites' services as a development platform)
A current technological toy. Whether it will survive the uptake of RIApps is problematic: is there a viable business model when the content base must be paid? I suspect that it can but both copyright and micropayment methodologies will need to evolve concurrently.

* Advertising as the main or only business model
This is Web0.0 in all its glory. Web2.0 may well adopt it as has Web1.0 but there certainly is nothing 'Web2.0 special' about advertising as a main revenue stream.

4. Is AJAX too complex for most users?
The whole idea of AJAX is to hide the complexity, to simplify the user experience as well as speed data transmission. What I would say instead is that AJAX is far too often poorly designed and poorly integrated by people who poorly understand the visitor's wants and needs, the site's requirements, and the company's goals.
In other words, AJAX is too complex for most implementers. :spanked:

5. Are most business tasks too boring to support community features, or in other words, is there a way to make most business task interesting enough so that a community will get involved?
Yes, no, maybe. :D
It quite likely depends on (1) how you present the information - Dr. Nielsen shows that with his Christmas tree example, (2) who presents the information - there is good reason theLisa writes rather than theBruce - she looks cuter in toed-knee socks, (3) what information you select to share - cherry picking is basic marketing, (4) how you mesh it with your business model, (5) time and cost concerns, etc.

6. Are mashups just too confusing when they involve more than one brand?
Not so much confusing as diluting.
Some people will remember only the first mention, others the last. Just as you should ask only one question per email to ensure an answer. Remember the folks is a-skimming, not a-reading (except for me and iamlost).

7. Does advertising only work on web sites when it involves search (like Google) and classified ads (such as eBay and real estate listings), and possibly video?
I and my sites are the living proof. :D

Extra Bonus Question:
What do you think? Is Web 2.0 bad for the bottom line?

I think Web2.0 is still in development. How each site/app implements features, be they Web0.0, Web1.0, or Web2.0, and how those features assist or hinder visitor conversion will determine on an individual basis whether they (and not any Web Version) are good or bad for a given bottom line.

#5 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 07:12 PM

Web 2.0 is a rather stupid little term, and a prime example of hte complete "marketing and sales" spin on most things today. It's not new, it's not phenominal, and it won't make your busienss a success by simply using it.

I'm pretty much 100% in agreement with this statement. The biggest problem sweeping statements like "Web 2.0 is bad for the bottom line" is that the definition of Web 2.0 is incredibly fuzzy.

A better statement, and one I could stand behind, is that "not considering the needs of your users is bad for the bottom line."

Why are the features of Facebook what characterizes Web 2.0? I agree --- a firm selling truck parts adding the ability to "bite" your friends and turn them into vampires on their site does not help the bottom line. This is not, however, because it's "Web 2.0" --- it's because it's a stupid idea and their customers won't benefit from it. (Unless they sell very unusual truck parts, I guess.)

It frustrates me that experts will point their fingers at some grandiose and undefined concept and suggest that that concept damages the business value of a website rather than simplifying the problem to point out that it's really a failure to focus your development on the needs of your business and it's customers which causes the problems.

Adding a feature using any technological means can be done well, or it can be done badly. Social sharing, glassy buttons, bright colors, AJAX --- these have all been characterized as "Web 2.0" at some point or another; but no one of these elements is really new, and none of them will inherently damage your bottom line. How you choose to implement them, on the other hand, may WELL cause you problems.




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Posted 21 December 2007 - 07:47 PM

My opinions are very close to Autocrat's. If you are a LARGE tech or software company with great reputation and user base you might be able to add a forum and get value back from it. It can be a place where non-employees answer questions for you.

However, if you are a small company adding a forum to your site might actually cost you a lot of money. You will get questions that need answering, have spam that needs cleaning, all on top of the expense of creation. If you have a forum lots of people will ask a question that is answered in the first paragraph of the instructions and users guide.

You might be much farther ahead to write an EXCELLENT user's guide, detailed FAQ, a few articles and put them out for consumption.

#7 Guest_Autocrat_*

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 10:02 AM

Groovy - was worried I'd stepped over the line... and would get spanked so close to Xmas Santa wouldn't visit me (again.... for the Nth nubmer of years in a row :)).

Oh, and sorry for forgetting the questions... but ...iamlost... answered basically how I would have, so I think I'm safe :).

An interesting point raised is also why is it that Web 2.0 only seems to incorporate hte ""Social Media" sites... and never the "cold line" of business.
Would not an internal usage system for FAQ's, Tech help, PRoduct information packs, Staff idea box etc. be a good use of the same techologies?
Adding staff ratings/reviews could also be nteresting (though only if done politely/privately).
Enabling hte public to respond in such thigns would also be, in my mind, a viable option...

But otherwise, to quote ...joedolson..., I deem most of hte ideas to incorporate such thigns into a business sites being

a stupid idea


I'm beginning to think that as well as generating documents to explain design ideas, possible layouts, the reasons for accessibility etc.... I may have to widen my resource library and include links and references to numerous business model systems, practice docuemnts, legal sites etc... as it seems so many businesses have got as little clue about the benefits of correct research, bsic practice and legal requirements as they do about web-dynamics and programming.

It's not Web 2.0 at fault (though I think it may not be helping), nor is it really the thought of the numerous spin-doctors out there making money of hte completely ignorant.... it's the complete ignorance out there, and the refusal to get informed that damages the bottom line.
It's not that smart people don't make dumb mistakes (sometimes the smarter you are, the bigger the msitake ;)), it's the amount of mistakes that can do the real damage... and people simply do not realise it.
Then again, I think most of us have enough learning all the extra's we need, let alone becoming professional business advisors as well :sigh:.

#8 DianeV


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Posted 23 December 2007 - 11:55 PM

I have to agree with Autocrat, and EGOL and Joe. Web 2.0 interactive stuff just isn't applicable for every site, not by a long shot.

I do think "Web 2.0" was a brilliant term for sales purposes, as it implies advanced ... advanced something or other.

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 05:43 AM

Yup.... it shows that the web has reached a certain point in it's growth... the point where peole believe they can make a fortune out of it with paint and clever words.

As soon as you start seeing non-technical abbreviations, you know someone is rubbing their hands together (picture of suit rubbing hands together with dollar signs in eyes) :).

What really worries me is I have emailed numerous companies that claim to have experts in such fields as Web 2.0... Social edia Networking and Development, External Expansionists etc... and not one can actually give me statistics or facts in regards to how their numerous ideas improve a sites performance or generate additional revenues for a business, other than public hooks and adverts.

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