Thursday, February 01, 2007

Web 0.0

Let's take a little time out from all the buzz about Web 2.0 and talk about Web 0.0. What's that? It's an online business model that's alive and well, and it consists of continuing to do things that probably seemed reasonable in 1997.

Here here in the marketing wing of New Blogshire we tend to talk about what's new and hot and interesting. But what real marketers are actually doing lags a bit behind that... sometimes painfully so.

I'm not going to knock anybody who's got a good informational web site with lots of ways to contact them for more information, who does basic email newsletters with content that customers value, or any of those standard but un-sexy things. For an awful lot of people, that's exactly right. They should be paying attention to all of the news things coming along, but not everyone needs to be an early adopter.

But there are things that have just become bad ideas that nobody should do anymore. These are things that aren't even Web 1.0. Thus they get ticked down another digit.

A few I've noticed recently:

1. "Welcome to the Web Site California." You can sign up, but you can never leave.

Sorry, this doesn't fly. If you can sign me up for services online, you can let me turn them off from the web site too. In fact, I want complete control of everything that doesn't really require human interaction, right there online. Maybe that's demanding, but the technology's there, and that's how I want to do business with you.

Some offenders I've stumbled across this week:

  • Sunrocket, where not only can't you cancel service online, you can't even get through on the phone. After several half-hour on hold experiences with them, I played a game of email chicken ("I'm not calling. You call me." "You have to call us!" "OK, but I'm billing you for hold time at $150/hour." They no longer had a valid credit card from me, so it was sort of a game to me - they couldn't really charge me anymore! - and eventually someone did call me.)
  • Cingular Wireless. You can add features to your mobile phone from the web site. You can't ever remove them, though. Stupid. I know whether I no longer need discounted Canadian calling, and your agent isn't going to talk me out of it dropping it, so stop wasting my time and let me change it online.

2. "OMG, like, you'll send me email? Really?" Folks, signing up for an email list was sort of cool and futuristic once. Today, not so much. Consider this offer from the Houston Business Journal:

The Houston Business Journal invites the HTC [Houston Technology Center] Community to receive breaking local business news every weekday afternoon around 3 pm FOR FREE. Hot off the press Houston news headlines about local businesses would be emailed to you. Get the breaking news before it hits your mailbox on Friday morning.

I can join the mailing list for free! Nifty! Nobody ever offered to send me email before!

Even worse, I already get that 3 PM newsletter. (I like it.) Really, de-duping isn't that hard.

Yes, email newsletters with solid content are good. But we expect them to be free, and the "FOR FREE" under a subject line about a "special opportunity" is kind of dumb. (Especially because HTC has lots of good events, and the subject line had me thinking that perhaps they were going to have HBJ editors speaking at a breakfast, or some kind of roundtable, or perhaps some opportunity to pitch stories. I was quite let down.

3. "We know you want it. Now just relax and it won't hurt a bit." In an age where smart marketers are figuring out how to connect with and motivate communities of customers to engage them in dialog, an email informing you that you're getting email, and you're going to like it, dammit, is pretty strange. Apparently GM didn't think so; David Berlind at ZDNet talks about getting an email from GM telling him that he's about to start getting advertising via email from them - with a nonfunctional opt-out system, for bonus fun!

Of course, it did inspire some user-generated content; it motivated David to talk about the crappy experience he's had with one of his GM vehicles. And to pledge never to buy a GM vehicle again. (Though I would have thought owning a Pontiac Vibe would have had that result.)

When email marketing was new, you could forgive these mistakes. Everyone was still figuring it out. Now, we've figured the basics out. Somebody tell GM, please.

4. "It is better to look good than to feel good!" Or work well. It's fascinating to me to look at some of the most successful things on the web - Google, YouTube, Yahoo! - and notice one common factor: they're really freaking simple.

Whenever I come across one of those Flash-based monstrosities of a web site with some kind of strange navigation that makes me put down my coffee cup, squint and the screen, and think, "What the hell am I supposed to do now?" I think about Google. Whenever I find a site that makes gratuitous noises, I think, "Why did they think it was cool to interrupt my music that way?"

And then I click over to my Google homepage and say, "God, that's good." (This is what I do when a web site makes me work too hard to figure out how to use it - I decide it's time to go see what the headlines are and what's popped up in my RSS reader.)

Guess what - one of the nice things about the web is a common "language" of layout and navigation. It makes it easy for us to find what we want. It makes us feel like we're in control of our experience. It makes it easy for us to talk back to you. If you decide to tinker with that, have a good reason for it.

I'm not opposed to sites that are completely off the wall. It's just that 99% of them have no reason to have disrupted everything and made me have to work so hard to use them, other than a bored designer.

Again, when the web was newer and we were still figuring things out - and when sites were more like an unconnected bunch of billboards - this was more acceptable. Now it's about interaction and letting the user create her own experience. She's driving. Don't rearrange the damn dashboard, OK?

There's always someone at the tail end of the adoption curve, and that doesn't make them stupid or clueless; it means that their business hasn't required them to be on the cutting edge. No shame in that.

But there are things that have dropped off the back end of the adoption curve and gone to the marketing history graveyard, where they are lying next to big piles of corporate videos on VHS, piles of mechanicals with type (from the typesetter, delivered in their little truck!) spray-mounted on to them, and stacks of outdated corporate brochures.

Any other Web 0.0 practices still hanging on?

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1 comment:

Eric Rumsey said...

Good thoughts. Google's simple page design is a little-discussed reason for their success, I think. The Google home page, as you say, keeps the same simple design. Search results screens, however, are getting more cluttered -- I hope Google is able to avoid the temptation to fill them up more.