The Habits of Highly Effective Web 2.0 Sites

December 2, 2006

The next Web 2.0 Conference will be upon us in early November and things are busier than ever in the Web 2.0 world.  Along the way, I’ve managed to miss the one year anniversary of this blog, which I began back in late September of last year.  There have been over 2.5 million direct hits on this site since inception, a large percentage of it due to my Web 2.0 lists such as last year’s Best Web 2.0 Software List , but I also get e-mail frequently from die-hard readers as well.  Most importantly however, from all my conversations with people all over the world, it’s clear that Web 2.0 remains more than ever a topic of major popular interest and industry fascination.

While the general understanding of Web 2.0 is improving all the time, we have a ways to go before we have a concise, generally accepted definition.  My favorite is still networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects. But while most of what we ascribe to the Web 2.0 name falls out of these definition, it’s fairly hard for most of us to extrapolate meaningful ramifications from this.

People that read this blog know that I’m in the camp of folks that try to look beyond Ajax and the visual site design aspect of Web 2.0, and try to capture the deeper design patterns and business models that seem to be powering the most successful Web sites and online companies today.  Though concepts such as harnessing collective intelligence and Data as the Next Intel Inside, as described by Tim O’Reilly , most directly capture the spirit of the Web 2.0 era, it does seem to me that there are a few other elements that we haven’t nailed down yet.

At the AjaxWorld Conference and Expo earlier this month, I gave my usual talk about how to formally leverage Web 2.0, with plenty of examples coming from things happening out on the Web.  If you accept that it’s the power and size of the Web today , particularly the number of highly interactive network nodes (who are mostly people), give them extremely low-barrier tools, and we should be able to find plenty examples of emergent behavior; significant events happening suddenly and unexpectedly.  Tipping points are getting easier and easier to reach as site designers learn how to create better network effect triggers, draw large audiences suddenly, and as those same audiences increasingly self-organize spontaneously, such as in the KatrinaList project (suddenly) or Wikipedia (slower but bigger).

And it’s the arrival of Web 2.0 “supersites” like YouTube , which appear suddenly, often riding the coattails of other major Web 2.0 site’s ecosystems, and apply aggressive, viral network effects that show us the true, full scale of the possibilities.  Building a Web site worth over one billion dollars in 18 months is a very impressive result, but it’s really only a single axis upon which Web 2.0 can be applied successfully.  Another axis upon which to apply Web 2.0 focuses less on pulling in every single user possible with a horizontal network effect, but on building a difficult to reproduce but highly valuable data source, such as the Navteq mapping database, or Zillow’s real estate database.  One might argue that these are still very horizontal but these are merely just well known examples.

The variety and depth of the Web is such that not every Web 2.0 site will have tens of millions of users, nor should it.  An effective Web 2.0 site is largely powered by its users, whose feedback and contributions, direct and indirect, make the site a living ecosystem that evolves from day to day, a mosaic as rich and varied as a sites users would like it to be.  In other words, creating a high quality architectures of participation is becoming a strategic competitive advantage in many areas.

I’m often asked, particularly after one of my presentations on Web 2.0, to articulate the most important and effective actions a site designer can take to realize the benefits of Web 2.0.  As a result, I’ve created the list below in a attempt to catpure a good, general purpose overview of what these steps are.  My plan in the near future, is to dive into each one of these as much as time permits and explain how they make highly effective Web 2.0 sites not only effective, but often possible at all.  In the meantime, please take them for what they’re worth, I believe however that they are instrumental in making a Web site or application the most successful possible.

The Essentials of Leveraging Web 2.0

  • Ease of Use is the most important feature of any Web site, Web application, or program.
  • Open up your data as much possible. There is no future in hoarding data, only controlling it.
  • Aggressively add feedback loops to everything.  Pull out the loops that don’t seem to matter and emphasize the ones that give results.
  • Continuous release cycles.  The bigger the release, the more unwieldy it becomes (more dependencies, more planning, more disruption.)  Organic growth is the most powerful, adaptive, and resilient.
  • Make your users part of your software.  They are your most valuable source of content, feedback, and passion.  Start understanding social architecture.  Give up non-essential control.  Or your users will likely go elsewhere.
  • Turn your applications into platforms. An application usually has a single predetermined use while a platform is designed to be the foundation of something much bigger.  Instead of getting a single type of use from your software and data, you might get hundreds or even thousands of additional uses.
  • Don’t create social communities just to have them. They aren’t a checklist item.  But do empower inspired users to create them.

Of course, there a lot of work in the details and these are just some of the important, general essentials.  Unfortunately, a lot of careful thinking, planning, and engineering goes into any effective Web 2.0 site and it’s having these ideas at the core of it, which can help you get the best results.

Final Note:  I’ll be on the road the next two weeks and will be at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco from Nov. 7th-9th.  I’ll be there writing coverage for the Web 2.0 Journal and here as much as possible.  If you’re going to be there, please drop me a line if you’d like to meet.

Advertisements

How to Use Digg to Drive Traffic to Your Site

December 1, 2006

Guy Kawasaki on his blog today wrote about Neil Patel of Pronet Advertising who put together a beginner’s guide on how to use Digg to drive traffic to your web site. If you are not familiar with Digg, it’s a site where users can submit links to stories they find on the net they think are worthwhile. The Digg community can then vote on the story and “Digg” it or “Bury” it depending on what they think of it. Stories that receive the largest number of votes get promoted to the front page or “most popular” page. This can have a dramatic impact on the amount of traffic going to your site in a relatively short period of time, if the community likes your page. For more details on how Digg works, click here.


Is Your PR Only Bringing You 15 Minutes of Fame?

December 1, 2006

Mark Stevens, best-selling author of “Your Marketing Sucks” (one of my favorite books) wrote a post on his blog about how your public relations efforts can turn out to be a huge disappointment when not aligned with your sales goals. After all the anticipation, all you get is 15 minutes of fame and nothing to show for it. Your photo showing up in the paper may seem great at first, but if the coverage doesn’t drive action, it’s nothing more than just your photo showing up in the paper. Today, businesses and PR firms staying on top of today’s technology (and in-tune with today’s reading habits) are leveraging news SEO, channel sites, and bloggers to push out their message to intended viewers. According to Pew Research Center, the audience for online news has jumped from 2% to 31% of Americans and the audience for nightly network news slipped from 42% to 28%. 75% of journalists search the internet for previous stories on their subject.


YAHOO and MSN join the Google Sitemaps program

November 29, 2006

YAHOO and MSN Search have announced that they will support the popular format for XML-Sitemaps which was invented by Google in 2005. In an encouraging act of collaboration, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft announced tonight that they will all begin using the same Sitemaps protocol to index sites around the web. Now based at Sitemaps.org, the system instructs web masters on how to install an XML file on their servers that all three engines can use to track updates to pages. This should make it easier to get your pages indexed in a simple and standardized way. People who use Google Sitemaps don’t need to change anything, those maps will now be indexed by Yahoo and Microsoft.’ve updated the xml-namespace definitions in the new beta version of my XML-Sitemap Generator for WordPress Plugin to the new sitemaps.org standard.

Yahoo has already updated their Site Explorer so you can submit your sitemap to YAHOO and Google. The guys from MSN are a bit slower and will do some internal tests on their own websites before they open the submission for everyone.


Favorite WordPress Plugins

November 28, 2006

What follows below are some of my favorite WordPress plugins and why. Many of them I have in common with Cavemonkey’s excellent Top Ten WordPress Plugins list. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • PodPress – makes it super-simple to post podcasts; includes an inline media player
  • Popularity Contest – offer a leaderboard of your Most Popular posts based on views and ratings
  • Google Sitemaps Generator – creates a Google Sitemaps XML file. What’s killer about this is that it uses Popularity Contest’s ratings for the priority scoring that Google uses to determine how frequently to spider your pages
  • Akismet – you’d be a fool to run a blog with comments turned on and not use this plugin to stop the flood of comment spam. ’nuff said!
  • Adhesive – gives you the ability to flag certain posts as “Sticky” so they float to the top of the category page regardless of whether it’s the most recent
  • Ultimate Tag Warrior – creates tag pages and a tag cloud. Great for SEO as I’ve said before.
  • EmailShroud – an email address obfuscator to thwart those evil email harvesters. Scans for email addresses in posts, but won’t work on email addresses hard-coded into your theme.
  • Transpose Email – another email address obfuscator. Doesn’t automatically scan for email addresses, but can be used from within your theme files.
  • WP-EMail – “Email this post to a friend” functionality
  • WP-Print – Printer-friendly version of posts
  • Subscribe2 – let your readers subscribe to your blog updates via email
  • In-Series – link posts together into a series, regardless of dates posted or categories selected
  • Permalink Redirect – fixes the canonicalization problem where the same page loads whether the slash is there or not. Important for SEO.
  • Gravatars – puts the commenter’s “Gravatar” image next to their comment
  • Subscribe to Comments – a commenter can check a box on the comment form so that they get notified of further comments to that post
  • WP-Notable – places a row of buttons alongside your posts so the reader can easily add your post to their favorite social bookmarks service (del.icio.us, digg, etc.)
  • A Different Monthly Archive – a pretty way to display links to archives by month
  • Related Posts – link to related posts automatically based on the content of the post
  • Related Posts for your 404 – your File Not Found error page can now suggest related posts to the misguided user. Cool!

What are your favorites? Did I miss any important ones?


Getting Contacts into Contacts the Fastest Way Possible

November 26, 2006

Do you have stacks of business cards and not enough time to enter them into your contact manager?

If so, you might want to have the Internet come to your rescue in the form of “www.egrabber.com”. You’ve probably heard about card scanners, but this site offers a something beyond scanners. Instead of typing information from a business card, many folks have discovered that it’s faster to copy and paste web site information into Outlook or ACT!. However, Egrabber’s software is even faster than that – just one click captures any form of web contact information. But, these guys don’t stop at one contact. If you are working with any sort of database of leads – just try their ListGrabber, which will scoop up the entire database (hundreds or even thousands of contacts) and land them neatly and tidily into your Outlook, ACT! or any other top-notch contact manager. Talk about time savings!!


Advertise Yourself – The Flat World Way

November 26, 2006

Thomas Friedman’s bestselling book, The World is Flat, continues to sit high atop the New York Times Bestseller List – and has for the past 71 weeks. That’s not too surprising when you realize (as thousands more do each week) that his book explains how technology and the Internet are empowering small companies to compete with, and even surpass, their bigger rivals.

But there are two Flat Worlds out there, folks. The first is Friedman’s “Flat World of Competition.” The second is the much seedier and less well documented “Flat World of Hucksterism.”

Somehow, technology seems to breed hype and hucksterism. When it comes to the Internet you know hucksterism all too well – “We’ll Boost Your Web Site to Number 1 on Every Google Search” “1001 Ways Google Adwords will Make You Rich”“I Made $2,765, 230 in 2 Days, and You Can Too!” This kind of hogwash and horsefadoodle entraps thousands of poor souls every day. You may well know someone who shelled out their life savings in pursuit of instant Internet fortune (or you may be that person). The sad truth is that most of the time the only person getting rich is the person hawking the dream. Don’t believe me? Just go to www.gurudaq.com if you’d like to travel through the world of the Internet carnival barker. This site, created by John Sikora, gathers hundreds of “Internet marketers” in one place, ranking them like the NASDAQ ranks companies and comparing their methods. I think you’ll be surprised and I think you’ll agree it’s eye-opening to see how similar (and often cynical) the techniques of Internet sales exploitation really are.

One way to test if someone is trying to “sell you” is to do a simple test we call the “Elbow Grease Test.” Just ask yourself – “are they selling me something that doesn’t involve me?” Weight loss hucksters have done this for years. In many weight loss programs you are sold an “easy” weight loss system and the results are always the same – they get rich and you stay fat. It’s the same with technology. If you are offered first place ranking on Google without any elbow grease on your part – well, just beware. If, however, your upcoming fortune comes with some considerable effort on your part, well then, maybe, you’ll want to keep listening. This “Elbow Grease Hucksterism” test is an almost foolproof way to separate the hustlers’ promises from the legitimate products.

One example of a company that passes our test is ARA Content (www.aracontent.com) – a company that delivers true value for a fair price. ARA Content could not have existed just 15 years ago, but today they offer a way to get your articles published in hundreds of newspapers around the country – at a fraction of the cost of advertising in those same newspapers. ARA Content is so good we feature them in our seminar, Hidden Sales Treasure of the Internet.

I first learned about ARA Content when a news alert for the “invisible web” landed in my e-mail inbox. This particular article from the Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper wasn’t quite a news story and it wasn’t really a press release. It was something else I couldn’t quite figure out. Checking more closely, I could find no byline – just these words at the end of the article: “Copyright © 2005, ARA Content.”

When I read the article again I noticed something else. Although the article was informative, it also appeared to include an (ahem) “advertisement” for the James J. Hill Library in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now, the folks at the Hill Library offer a search service and a web site (www.jjhill.org) that is one of the crown jewels of the Internet (and another example of the flat world of value – and a service that passes our hucksterism test with flying colors).

But, why had a Pennsylvania newspaper published an article that was such a great promotional piece for the James J. Hill Business Library? Who wrote it? And what the heck was ARA Content?

By now you probably know that doing a simple Internet search for “ARA Content” will lead you to www.aracontent.com. Let’s talk about what makes this site a true Hidden Sales Treasure of the Internet. The main benefit ARA Content provides to businesses both small and large is the chance to promote their own business or new product by writing articles that may be featured on the news web sites and real “hand-held” paper editions of newspapers around the country.

How do they do this? Newspapers often need stories to fit a particular section, topic or even an empty space. With reduced reporting staffs these days they often feature content written by other experts or specialists. Newspapers will do this because for them it’s easy and it’s free. ARA Content is the broker for such articles to something like 50 of the 100 top circulation newspapers in America – such as the Los Angeles Times, the Kansas City Star and the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

So, if the Los Angeles Times doesn’t have to pay for these articles, how does ARA Content make money? Time for the bad news now – and welcome back to the world of reality, boys and girls. If you are going to have ARA Content feature your articles in such newspapers you’ll have to pay for their services (I know, the world just isn’t fair). However, they will be completely up-front with you about whether or not your company should even buy their product.

And, you’ll have to invest some considerable elbow grease before you should even consider their service. You’ll have to make sure you have a product or service that is not only different, but newsworthy. And you’ll have to write the articles, making them informational and not just a press release (although their editors will help or even write the content for you if you don’t write that well). ARA is not selling you easy money. What they are selling (at a fair price) is one of the craftiest, sanest and thriftiest ways to promote your business, new product, or special expertise that has ever been invented.

Big deal,” you say, “I’ve tried those article sites and they never get me any business. It’s a waste of time and money.” ARAContent is definitely not like those sites. Those sites are a perfect example of the Flat World of Hucksterism. ARA Content, however, is an example of Thomas Friedman’s Flat World – the world that is revolutionizing the competitive marketplace. The value of being published as an ARA Content article is what they call “ad dollar equivalency.” The short explanation of ad dollar equivalency is what it would have cost you to place an ad for the same space as your article. What would it cost you to place an equivalent ad in the Los Angeles Times? The cost of your ARA article is peanuts compared to the cost of “equivalent” ads.

Yes, it will take work (and money) on your part to be featured in these newspapers, so ARA passes our “hucksterism” test with flying colors. Start your work by going on their site and reading some of the articles in categories similar to yours. Then, begin the work of deciding if you have something that is different enough and newsworthy enough to be picked up by newspaper editors.

What kinds of things might you write about that would get your company more attention? Here are some of the approaches we saw when we visited their site:

• Products – promote your new invention, game, or even groups of products (CompUSA wrote an article about hand-held gadgets – and many smaller companies wrote of their new inventions)
• Contest or Fund Drive – an association fundraising for a new program to send students to study in foreign countries or a company sponsoring a contest around a newsworthy topic
• Service or Expertise – newsworthy service or specialty
• Differentiation – almost any thing that sets your company, product, or event apart is fair game

Let’s be clear here. ARA’s services pass our hucksterism test, but their service is not for everyone. You might say that ARA is for the “big dogs.” By that I don’t mean mega-corporations, but in the context of the NSA convention, likely ARA customers might be the National Speakers’ Association itself, some of the bigger speakers’ bureaus and some of the more established, newsworthy and differentiated speakers and authors. The keys are a newsworthy hook and a differentiated product, book or service.