Archive for March, 2007

The Future of the Internet is Offline

Friday, March 30th, 2007

A true leap in the evolution of the Internet will occur when the line between online and offline is blurred. As we stand, there is a gaping void between the two worlds. A business usually classifies itself as an Internet company or an offline business. Having said that, I do not know how this transformation will take place, but it will be a magical moment and a step forward in the history of technology.

When online actions begins to have offline consequences, we will be moving in the right direction.

Some organizations with an online presence, such as charities and non-profits, benefit not only from the added exposure and awareness, but also via a more streamlined fundraising effort. These groups are a good example as they essentially do not ‘exist’ offline (offices aside). Therefore, online and offline collaboration are very important to them. This may be one of the few examples where the void is starting to be filled.

Shopping is a totally different story. Research has shown time and time again that consumers research products online, then purchase offline. Tracking this discrepancy is nearly impossible. How is a company to know that an offline purchaser performed research and due diligence online before making the ultimate purchasing decision? Without some sort of questioning or survey, it is impossible. I expect big changes to occur in this industry. Offline conversion tracking will be the Holy Grail.

Once the integration and interaction between these two seemingly separate worlds can occur, expect behavioural changes to be next. Just like any action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Opposition to the new changes may result. Furthermore, adaption and education around new systems will be necessary. But in the end, offline may very well be the last piece of the online puzzle.

V1agra, L0se W3ight, W0rk fr0M H0me, fR33 iP0ds… zzzzz…

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

SpamNo, this isn’t a spammed post. Nor did anyone hack my blog. It’s me expressing my frustrations and angst with SPAM. Though my blog is being protected by Akismet and junk mail gets filtered from my e-mail inbox by Hotmail, I still take the time to peruse these discarded posts and messages. There is a rare occurence when a legitimate message gets filtered out. However, I may not be able to do this soon, as I am receiving over 300 spammed messages per day.

In other words, even with these counter-spam methods, time and effort must still be put forth to overcome this societal burden. I can’t imagine the cost these time-wasting messages have on our economy. I’d imagine in the hundred of millions of dollars, if not more.

Almost all the messages are focused around a few key areas that pull in huge Internet revenues. They include:

  • Erectile dysfunction drugs
  • Weight loss solutions
  • Online gambling
  • Free giveaways
  • Business opportunities
  • Porn (who would have thought?)

Not only are these messages annoying, but they are also hard to read. The cryptic combinations of letters and numbers used to try to combat anti-spam measures is perplexing to say the least. Even if I did want to start a home-based business or order some weight loss pills, I wouldn’t know which link to click…

Add phishing to the mix and we have yet another another obstacle to overcome.

Obviously, this is not a problem that is going to go away anytime soon. I guess for the time being all we can do is bite the bullet and hope that ‘our’ technology can overcome ‘their’ technology… if that makes any sense. As long as there is money to be made online and ‘gaming’ is present, spammers will make the most of the opportunity.

Note: I expect this post to get SLAMMED with spam due to the nature of the content and the specific words contained within.

Frequent Fascination With The Unknown

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Question MarkAs a consultant, I do a fair amount of work around web strategy and creating ‘sticky’ web experiences. After all, this is key to creating loyal, repeat customers/users. Subsequently, every once in awhile I come across an idea or theory that boggles my mind to no avail. Having said that, one of the best ways to create a strong user base who return on a regular basis is by leveraging the power of the unknown. 

Why do we check our e-mail everyday? Every hour? Even every 5 minutes sometimes? Because there just MIGHT be a new message waiting. We do not know for sure. But it is fair to say that we are internally motivated by what is unknown to us – we are a curious species, always looking to delve deeper and uncover the mystery.

RSS feeds work in much the same way. I, personally, open my reader numerous times a day as new blog posts are cropping up at all times. This movement toward ‘dynamic updates’ is what drives repeat visits to a given web property. Stale content is a thing of the past. Why is Digg so successful? Fresh, frequently-updated articles. It keeps the kids coming back for more.

Another great example of this phenomenon can be witnessed in the form of Facebook. Why has it vaulted into the top 25 sites (according to Alexa)? It is driving a tremendous amount of page views thanks to its ‘social feeds’. These irregular, unscheduled tidbits provide a detailed picture of your social networking activities and behaviours, as well as those of your friends and colleagues. Those unfamiliar with Facebook note that these feeds provide information updates with respect to events, friend statuses, profile changes, groups, photos, etc… These snippets of information help provide a detailed map of users’ lives. Finally, due to our human nature to stay current and ahead of the curve, many users frequent the site 10+ times per day to be ‘in the know’ at all times.

Funny enough, as more people are able to add old friends and classmates, grad reunions may become less exciting as you can passively follow the life paths of your friends via a social network feed.

This concept just just makes sense. It leverages our psychologic habits and yearns. After all, who wants to log-in and see their own profile? Lame. That was sooooo web 1.0. It’s not sticky. It won’t work nowadays. Perhaps web 3.0 is what we believed it was all along… unknown. 

Widget Fever

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

WidgetsI love ranting about things that don’t make sense to me. Having said that, I think we (the blogosphere) need to take a serious look at widgets…

It seems that new start-ups are popping up on a day-to-day basis with what they think will be the next ‘killer widget’. Hopes for an outcome like that of MyBlogLog are slim. MyBlogLog had a simple concept, pinpoint execution, rapid adoption, and good timing (sale to Yahoo). This was definitely a special case.

Anyone and their dog can create a widget, but getting people to use it is another story. Furthermore, the value and function of the widget needs to be congruent with the purpose of a widget itself. If the fit is not there, failure is inevitable.

From an alternative point-of-view, the pro’s of a successful widget are immense. Obviously, they are a great way to drive viral adoption among other things. Please read my post entitled Widget Marketing for further in-depth information about the advantages and disadvantages of widgets. In essence though, the widget MUST be useful. It seems rather straightforward, but many are more focused on simply creating a widget rather than making it useful and relevant.

One of the biggest problem to have arisen is a focus away from the site content in favour of the widget. This is not the optimal outcome for most site owners. Moreover, these embeddable devils slow down page loading times. For this very reason, I have removed several widgets from this blog, most notably a chat widget.

Now I’m definitely not condemning widgets as I see their place in the blogosphere and the new web. What I am condemning is the misuse of a widget as a marketing strategy or business model altogether. There must be a stunning value proposition for both the reader/visitor/user, as well as the site author for the widget to be successful. If ambiguity is present and value cannot be presented in a logical manner, it is probably time to adopt a new strategy.

When Is 37signals Going To Get Acquired?

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

37signals logoIs it just me or is anyone else puzzled as to why 37signals hasn’t been bought over yet? Their compelling story, ingenious management team, and legendary product line are more than enough to wet the appetite of any major investor or large company. Let’s take a look at their current state:

Their product suite looks as follows:

  • Basecamp – Project management and collaboration
  • Highrise – Track leads, clients, vendors, and more
  • Campfire – Real-time group chat
  • Backpack – Information organizer and calendar
  • Ta-da List – Simple to-do lists
  • Writeboard – Collaborative writing

To read more about other company offerings, read The 37signals Way.

With such a diverse suite of productive offerings (that actually produce revenues) it’s no wonder a large software application company like Microsoft, SAP, or Computer Associates hasn’t scooped them up already.

Several software giants have tried to create web-based apps, but failed miserably. The simple, clean approach taken by 37signals seems to be forming the basis for a new generation of web-based software.

Furthermore, the interfacing is congruent among 37signals products, decreasing the learning curve and familiarization time for existing users of their new products. Hence, this is a great way to garner a loyal user base and maintain their business. 

One reason the company hasn’t been acquired thusfar may lie in an expensive price tag. My guess is that this new web gem would be looking for several hundred million dollars in order to seal a deal. What’s funny about this is that they may actually deserve it. As opposed to many hyped web 2.0 fly-by-nighters, 37signals has:

  • A loyal customer base
  • Industry acclaim and credibility
  • A diversified, compelling product line
  • An actual revenue generation model that doesn’t involve Google AdSense

All of this points to one thing: this is an ACTUAL company with ACTUAL products. The same cannot be said for a majority of new web start-ups.

Once again, the prospects and future of this company look salivating, even to the most amateur observer. Their formula has worked time and time again. With all this momentum, it is only a matter of time before someone steps in and makes them an offer they can’t refuse.