Thursday, February 22, 2007

Web 2.0 - What does it really mean to you?

There’s a slow revolution going on right under our feet, and unless your eyes and ears are open, you might miss it entirely. And that’s a dire warning, because if you do miss it, you’ll be like the story of the guy sitting at the empty train station wondering where everyone is, and when the train is arriving, long after it already left.

The change is being dubbed “Web 2.0”. The implication is that it’s an upgrade to the “previous version” of the ‘net. The problem with calling it that, is that it’s not really a tech upgrade, though advances in technology is certainly helping it move forward. What’s really happening is that the people who are moving the web, and using the web, are doing it differently than they used to. The shift has been so gradual and gentle, that I really have a hard time calling it an “upgrade” and I think of it more like the seasons turning from winter to spring.

There’s a lot of discussion and debate over what “Web 2.0” really means, and when you get down to the nitty gritty of definitions, it’s pretty difficult to pin down, but here’s the main difference:

  • In Web 1.0, the user searches for information or products from a website. The site gives them that information, sells them that product, and the user leaves. With the exception of the search, the user is passive. He or she simply receives what the site presents.
  • In Web 2.0, the user is an active participant in the site. They may leave comments on blog entries, or set up their own blogs themselves. They might contribute information to the site, or they might make corrections to information already there. They might create lists of favorite products, they might join a community of other site visitors. The user becomes an active part of the ongoing development of the site.

Let’s look at some cool examples.

  • is an open-ended web-based encyclopedia. Anyone with some knowledge to share can post an article on a topic, or edit an existing article.
  • At, I don’t just find music I like and buy it, I can also submit my own music for sale. I can also choose my own list of favorites and share those playlists with other users.
  • At, I can post a review (glowing or panning) of any book, CD, or video in their stock. When I buy something, I see a list that shows me what other people that bought that book also liked.
  • allows you to post your own videos and share them with the world. There are book publishing sites, poetry sites, music sites, opinion sites that are all based on the model of user-created content.
  • And many others too numerous to mention.

So, how can you as a small business owner make your site more and more in line with the new model? Some of these examples require some extensive back-end programming to accomplish, more that most people can afford to invest.

Still there is much you can do.

  1. Create an internal blog on your site and encourage your readers to submit comments. Not only does this create a constant flow of changing content, but it allows your visitors to feel like they are a part of something bigger at your site.
  2. Set up a forum, a bulletinboard community, at your site. There are many places where you can host a message board on the net, and they all link into your site. Set one up and encourage visitors to join in the conversations. You might have to post a couple of thought-provoking comments first, so that people have seeds from which they can grow dialogues.
  3. Ask for content contributions that are relevant to your site. Let’s say you’re running a site that’s selling cookware. Wouldn’t it be great to ask visitors for their favorite recipes? Turn around and re-post those on the site. Then they have an interest in coming back. They feel like the are a part of your site and your business. I once worked with a lady who sold Angel figurines and crafts. She had a form where she asked her visitors to tell about an experience where they felt like they had been guided by or helped by an angel. Then she shared those on another page.
  4. Web 2.0 sites don’t update in versions like software does. There’s not a release date for a lot of new features, they just happen as they are finished, and they enhance the user experience. In your site, make constant changes that show your site as a growing, living document. Something should change at your site at the very LEAST once a week.
  5. Be a part of “the long tail”. Even in the bigger sites, they’re learning the value of niche and smaller-demand products and information. There are a few high-demand items, but much of the revenue comes from the vast number of niche products being sold online.

Most of all, be creative as you build your site. Consider how the user will react with the site. Will they passively read it, or will they become an active and contributing part of it? It’s easy to see which one of those will bring in more orders in the long run.

Friday, February 02, 2007

An Internet By the People, For the People…

A bit of musing today…

Back in the early, heady days of the ‘net, many people talked about how it was “the great equalizer”, and how it would “democratize the world”. Not so much in terms of rulers and politics, but more in terms of people interacting with people in ways that sidestepped traditional power structures.

As the web and other peripheral technologies grow, people get access to more and more media and information. And with that access comes opportunity.

It was said before that there is only freedom of the press for those that own presses. If you didn’t own a print shop, or if you couldn’t afford to pay someone else to print your material, your voice and opinions stopped. Alternatively, you could go to journalism school, and after years as a cub or beat reporter, finally get a chance to be an editorial columnist. Of course, you could just write letters to the editor, but who knows if they’d get published? That wasn’t up to you!

Now, if you have access to a computer, you can make a blog and share your opinions, experiences and beliefs with anyone that can find you and wants to read you!

When I first started making music, to record a song cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in a studio. Then, you’d have to pay more thousands of dollars to press a few hundred copies of the record you’d made. Then they sat in your basement because nobody knew they were available to buy. Alternately, you could practice a lot, get noticed and signed by a major record label and have them record and promote you. Not a big chance of that, right?

But now, I can record my songs on my computer in my basement. I can put those songs out to the whole world from my website. With my own promotional effort and savvy, I can get my tunes in the ears of people from, literally, all over the world.

The same thing is now happening in the world of video. Video production is, by its very nature, even more difficult and expensive than music production, and way more so that simply writing. And once your show is done, what are you going to do with it? Is the local TV station going to put it on at 2:00 in the morning? Only if you pay them to!

But now, with the advent of YouTube and other video hosting sites, you can shoot a funny looking video clip with your cell phone, and within minutes it could be downloaded, and bring a smile to, a kid in Singapore or Russia! And it can be found just as easily by a friend next door.

It used to be that to set up a business you needed to buy, build, or lease a building in a great location. You needed to staff it, wire it, and heat it. You needed to fill it up with products that you bought up front. You needed to buy lots of advertising and hope that people from all over town would come in and buy from you.

Now, forget about the building, and forget about the overhead. Put up a website, get some product sources (rather than the products themselves), and start selling! Yes, it still takes work, and yes, it still takes investment of time and/or money in promotions and advertising. But now, you can bring people from all over the country to your store, maybe even from all over the world.

So, what’s happening is that the power is shifting. Old systems and traditions are falling away. It’s getting harder to sell a music CD, for example. Even legal downloads are cheaper and easier than that. Newspapers are faltering. People are reading their news at RSS-fed portals. Radio? Streaming music sites! Why stress over missing your favorite TV show, or struggle to figure out how to TiVO it when you can just download it whenever you want? You can watch it on your iPod, or even plug your iPod or media player right into your TV and watch it the same way!

See, what’s happening is that people still want the same things. They still want news, they still want songs and shows. They still want to buy things. What’s changing is how those things are being provided. And, what's also changing is who is providing them. The old power players are being undermined by ordinary people putting out great content. They no longer hold the monopoly any more.

So, what end of that curve do you want to be on? Do you want to be a part of the old guard that’s fading out, or do you want to learn how to provide the same old stuff in a brand new way? To be a part of the new wave, you’ve got to keep informed, you’ve got to keep scanning the horizon and watching trends. Some will come and go as flashed fads. Others will stay and make a change. If you ignore them all, you get left behind.