14 May 2007 ~ 9 Comments

Jakob Nielsen on Everyone’s Favorite Buzzword: “Web 2.0”

From Today’s BBC, as pointed out by Jakob himself in his newsletter (emphasis mine):

Sadly, said Mr Nielsen, the rush to embrace Web 2.0 technology meant that many firms were turning their back on the basics.

“They should get the basics right first,” he said. “Sadly most websites do not have those primary things right.

There was a risk, he said, of a return to the dotcom boom days when many sites, such as Boo.com, looked great but were terrible to use.

“That was just bad,” he said. “The idea of community, user generated content and more dynamic web pages are not inherently bad in the same way, they should be secondary to the primary things sites should get right.

“The main criticism or problem is that I do not think these things are as useful as the primary things,” he said.

Wow. Besides that “secondary things aren’t as useful as primary things,” what exactly concrete did we learn there?

The term Web 2.0 is already burdened with Gumby-like elasticity, so it hardly needs to be the logo (pun intended) for a return to the bubble days of the late 90’s–especially, without defining what it actually is*.

Aren’t websites “more usable” today than they were then? Absolutely. So, a better question for Jakob would be, with so many of the top sites focusing on usability for so many years, why aren’t Conversion Rates any higher? According to the latest Shop.org numbers, they’re not even trending upward.

If he’s right, and the “web is a tool” users, as most usability practitioners would like to call your site’s visitors (can you think of any positive meanings to the word ‘users’?), attempt to accomplish tasks, Conversion Rates (the ratio of actions taken per total visitors) should have risen each-and-every year (until, naturally, the big-bad Web2.0 trend came to bring them crashing down 😉 ).

The web is no more a tool than a print catalog, social club, newspaper, radio, television or a brick-and-mortar storefront, but it’s far more experiential and participatory.

What’s sad about many of today’s websites is not the abstract “things” they don’t do well (nor whether these mysteries are primary or secondary); rather, that they simply haven’t taken the time to understand our [the audience’s] needs and plan the experience in advance to ensure those needs are met. Instead, they’ve been retrofitting Marketing 1.0 into a new medium, just as they have done with every medium that came before it.

It doesn’t take a “guru” to know that the Internet is fundamentally different than everything that preceded it. It’s continuously evolving and is less about technology than communicating effectively.

Online planning is simple–albeit not easy–and will help you to not confuse the forest for the trees. Don’t believe me? Let the three questions be your guide, fix one scenario on your site, or let’s work on a new campaign with you and measure the results. Be sure and let us know how the experiment turns out, though!

(*Sidenote: On the design side, I came across a great style guide for designing “Web2.0” sites, by Ben Hunt. Even though, from a conversion standpoint, I wouldn’t agree with 100% of Ben’s conclusions, any designer who exclaims “Design the content, not the page” is A-OK in my book!)

(PPS: Criticizing “Uncle Jakob” is up there with heresy in some circles, I know. Those who reside in such circles may not want to attend my talk with Todd Follansbee at the Usability Professionals Association tomorrow night in NYC.)

9 Responses to “Jakob Nielsen on Everyone’s Favorite Buzzword: “Web 2.0””

  1. Steve S 15 May 2007 at 3:10 am Permalink

    The thing about the online landscape, however, is not how different it is but how similar it is to everything else that came before it. All these iterations of the web are just taking our online lives closer to our offline lives. Social networks like Digg mimic (albeit on a much larger scale) how people interact with each other to determine what is newsworthy.

    Generally, I balk at the idea that the internet is some new medium that is entirely different than everything else before it. The internet just provides a broader scope to real world social dynamics.


  2. Bryan Eisenberg 15 May 2007 at 9:34 am Permalink

    I hope no one thinks that Howie is bashing usability. Of course you want your site to be as usable as possible. All he is saying is that we have all bought from sites that were less than usable. Haven’t you bought something you really wanted from a site that sucked (that is the Brooklyn technical term by the way)? The ‘want’ always matter more than the tool to get it.

  3. Dave Carberry 16 May 2007 at 4:26 pm Permalink

    I would agree that some sites are built incorrectly for conversions. I would tend to think though now that the industry is so main-stream that conversion won’t improve as the online population grows.

    When radio or TV was just starting out I imagine that the inventory units were limited and you had special feature programming fulling sponsored. Even though it wasn’t measured – Take for example the Amos and Andy show launching in the 1930’s with Pepsodent as the sponsor. Approximately only 40% of households had one radio and the lineups were limited as well as teh advertisers. I imagine the conversion was incredible if you could track it. Fast forward to 30 second spots – 10 second spots – 95% household ownership, in car etc. Conversion has to go down. TV has seen the same effect.

    As the Internet grows and the audience gets inundated there is sure to be some correlation to expansion. Agreed that sites could improve and do the basics before expanding to Web 2.0 but it seems like it could just be the nature of the beast?

  4. Jeffrey Eisenberg 16 May 2007 at 5:30 pm Permalink

    Dave, We couldn’t disagree more. As online media grows more mainstream it will become more expensive to drive traffic and that will put pressure on sites that don’t convert well. Are you aware of the average conversions rates as reported by Shop.org or e-tailing group, and the difference between them and the top performing sites? You compare Internet to other media; which other media performs the sales function or asks for a conscious level of interaction like a click?

  5. Hitesh Mehta 17 May 2007 at 8:37 am Permalink

    Today, the dynamic web pages are not made in any rush hour, plenty of man hours goes in to research and a lot of effort is being put in by the group of experts to make the NEXT web2.0 product / web site totally user-friendly and easy going with the millions of users on the web.

    Experts from various streams like research analyst, hardcore technical guys, business development managers, investors, Artificial Intelligence experts, SEO specialists and many others are today extremely involved in making a successful web2.0 product.

  6. Hitesh Mehta 17 May 2007 at 8:38 am Permalink

    READ FULL: http://www.hiteshmehta.in/?p=8

  7. Verizon 4 March 2010 at 8:14 pm Permalink

    one of my buddies thought it was the beginning of the apocolyps

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