Wikipedia.org defines Web 2.0 as “a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration and sharing between users.” Gibberish? Yes. Forget the jargon. Web 2.0 is is simply a new wave of using the Internet for users to get what they want and need in a more dynamic way that promotes interacting with other people on the Web. More important, this new age of the Internet is about developing mutually beneficial relationships between users and website owners, users and users, website owners and website owners, etc. Remember the days of static, non dynamic one-way interactions with websites where you searched, found, read and moved on with your web surfing? Well, they’re gone, even if you are still using Internet Explorer. Now, you have a hell of a lot more options and have a hell of a lot more control over how much or how little you can receive, share and contribute to websites, and blogs. You even, on some level, have more choices with how much advertisement you get exposed to. That alone is reason enough to embrace this new Internet age. The most appealing aspect of Web 2.0, the current generation of all things web is the perpetual interactivity and interconnectedness of users to the site creators and the content created. It’s like the wild west, digitized and Digged.
Content is King and So Is the User
The goal of the new Internet age, whether it’s Web 2.0, Web 3.0 or Web 5.0001.01 (ha ha) is to get the user to interact enough with a website or a blog that she either subscribes to whatever your selling and tells all her friends (viral marketing) and comes back for more (like a crack fiend). A lot of websites are using the new attitude of web as platform to promote their websites and blogs as more than just informational portals or places to buy things. Websites and blogs now fall into four major categories:
- E-learning centers offering lots of free information and how-to guides via videos, podcasts, articles or document downloads on specific subjects
- Social networks for friends, acquaintances, businesses and so forth to find each other and mingle
- Web services that provide often free or low-cost online based services that make your life easier in some way
- Vertical (Specialty) Search Engines and Directories providing searchable listings for specific types of websites
Notice anything about these new types of websites? They’re all user-centric. Whereas before Web 2.0, websites were all about what the website owners wanted the website visitors to do, to see, to buy, to know. Now, websites are all about what giving the user what they want in the form they prefer. Elearning centers like about.com, problogger.com and copyblogger.com are all about providing free information on topics that interest Internet users. The information is free to read, bookmark, share, etc. About.com even has e-courses via email. You sign up for a particular course and every few days you get another installment of the course until it’s completed. What’s in it for them? Advertising and viral marketing of course. First, the ads placed on these websites are often relevant to whatever page your own so it’s relevant to you as a user. Second, people like free stuff and like to talk about getting something for nothing.
Social networks like Facebook.com, Friendster.com, LinkedIn.com and Ning.com are all the rage ’cause they’re useful, practical and fun. It’s easy enough to get overwhelmed by which ones do what and how. All you need to know is that they pretty much have the same purpose for the user as well as the site owners. For the users, social networks are ways to connect with people or promote themselves. For the creators of these networks, the g0al is to get as much information about you as possible. Why? Information is everything. They have your information, they have a target audience they understand. They know which ads to put on the websites to get you to click the ads. Besides, social networks are user-driven vehicles that harness the power of the masses to create value for the network. For example, Facebook is worth billions because it has over six million college students (and others) who belong to the network. These days, value is in the consumer base of an online business/network because consumers are hard to market to and hard to gather into large groups in one place for a long period of time.
Web services sites are basically regular websites that either exclusively provide online services or that have online services as additional components to whatever else it is they sell or do. You see the latter in banking with options in managing your accounts and paying your bills directly, and other sites like say The New York Times that now offers “free exclusive online access” to breaking news and classified ads and so forth. Those web services sites that are exclusively online services are great because they provide something you need for convenience sake. Mint.com provides a sort of “aggregator” for all your online banking and credit card accounts. If you have lets say 3 credit cards and 2 back accounts all with online access at their respective websites, you can create one account on Mint.com to see all your credit and bank accounts in one place. You also get to see how and where y0ur spending your money because your purchases are listed and automatically categorized. And thee is an education section with articles and other resources for spending and investing your money better. All this, and it’s free. Of course the reason it’s free because they’re counting on the users to click on ads placed and suggestions made for their affiliates and sponsors.
Specialty search engines and directories provide searchable listings as an alternative to major search engines like Google and Yahoo because it makes sense. Google and Yahoo are major search engines filtering millions of web pages. Your search results depends on how good the websites are optimized to find you, and not how good you are in determining what search words are best to find what you’re looking for. Crazy, huh. Directories like Dmoz.org and Specialty search engines (genre or subject specific search engines) like findlaw.com, download.cnet.com and orbitz.com cut down on surfing and get you to the information quickly without filtering any where near as much irrelevant content as a major search engine would. Specialty search engines and directories are user-centric because they focus on specific types of websites only and so are already targeted to a smaller target market. Therefore, ads can be more relevant and less annoying to the users so they’re more likely to click on them.
The goal for all these new types of websites in the dawn of this new Internet age is to generate content the users find useful and relevant. It’s a hard won battle to know what the masses want to read or buy. That’s probably why niche marketing does so well. That’s probably why free sells. You give stuff away, you’ll get to see what people want and hell, what kind of customers you want. No matter what type you want, I’m sure they’re always the repeating kind. What good is a one-time sale to a service business or hell, a product business? Even as a blogger, what good is a one-time reader? Not good. Useless, in fact.