Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Michael Geist shows me the true meaning of Web 2.0

Social networking sites are often the very definition of web 2.0. But an editorial this morning describes many of these services as walled gardens, and calls to open them up. And now that I think about it, I agree. As usual, I think I always have agreed, and just didn't know it. Of course all information should be free, and so on. However, in the real world, there are other problems. Disregarding technical difficulties, I see two:
  1. Monetizing it: An excessively open structure is hard to make money off. How is twitter gonna make anyone rich? Okay. Skype, Flickr, etc. do have a plan, and are (for as much as I follow things) possibly going to profitable with their businesses for the long haul. This model won't work for everyone, of course, so it takes a forward-thinking company to just be nice enough to start opening their data. It took some effort to just get Sprint to move all their help info in front of signon (and people are still suspicious of it). Feeds and tagging and other "2.0" features are a step beyond, and "to be nice to customers" or "its cool" will not sell them to the guys with the checkbook.
  2. Legal restrictions: Or at least, security restrictions. I've dealt with scads of them, but how about Netflix? They recently discussed why they cannot disclose your rental info. Its a law, and is what has caused the extra burden of customer-acting disclosure, and limits on how far their social network technology can go. Similar concerns (or, if we're unlucky, laws) will dog the pure social network services, especially when we think of the chidren. Sure, its mostly theater and hype, but there are some risks to just releasing all your info for search, or getting RSS feeds, or allowing any schmo to build a plugin.
Like everything, it seems we've gone too far, and not far enough all at the same time. So, how to do it on a legacy product?
  1. Pray you are not in a highly regulated industry.
  2. Okay, even then its not a huge deal. Customers can release information, delegate others, etc. Within limits, but its possible. Everyone needs to get used to this sort of security what with increasing fear or the increased maturity of the internet (take your pick)
  3. Find a value proposition. A direct one is best, some way to either sell the service, sell access to other services as a result, or find some part of it to be sold as a premium service.
  4. Improve your brand. If there is no direct way to monetize the new features, sell the improvements in trust, stickyness and interaction. Some marketing guys will object to missing their goals for page views in their current model, so you will need to work around that to make sure other sorts of interactions count, and get them the traffic they need to support your case.
P.S. The lists above are supposed to be numbered. The are showing as bullet lists to me though, so just pretend. Or tell me if they work for you. Bah, blogger!

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