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.

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