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.)

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