Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Social Networking

This is a good post to follow the previous one. About 3 years ago, I switched my focus from Web 1.0 to Web 2.o and 3.0 research. Of course, the words don't matter - the hype around using version numbers is kind of silly. But the basic idea (at least as I define it) is that in Web 2.0, things are more interactive (using Ajax etc.) and allow users to contribute (upload content, tag content, respond to content, etc). Web 3.0 takes it up a level, with semantic analysis that helps to organize all the masses of content out there. Web 2.0 + Semantic Web = Web 3.0.

Right now, most social networking is Web 2.0. Anyone can add content (with some filters and restrictions), but finding what you want relies on older search tools (no offense Google). I suspect it will only be a few years until we have real Web 3.0 social networks to use.

So it was interesting to see Google announce its sort-of rival to Wikipedia. Knol (I am not sure who drummed up that name) is also an on-line encyclopedia-type resource, but instead of a wiki, users upload their articles as units, each one associated with the bio of the author. They are not editable by others. So readers get a sense of how much they can trust the content based on the credentials of the author. Readers can also rank each article and higher ranked articles will bubble to the top. Google added reputation management but removed the "wisdom of crowds."

It will take a while for Knol to catch up to Wikipedia in the amount of content. Until then, it is impossible to compare the approaches. But when (if) it does, it will be interesting to see the difference. I am sure there will advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Usability and marketing

As anyone familiar with my Web 1.0 research would know, I am very interested in the relationship between usability and marketing. If marketers really understand their users/customers from a deep usability (my research domain) perspective, then the line between the two fields really blurs.

For example, if I know that a customer is price sensitive when it comes to desserts (a marketing insight) and time sensitive when it comes to shopping (a usability insight), then presenting an ad for my low-price cookies in a way that is easy/fast to redeem and during the dessert-shopping activity, satisfies both goals. The customer doesn't see it as intrusive and frustrating (like the general population is starting to do with many ads these days) because it is a direct match to the current task and is customized to her personal preferences. Its not perceived as advertising but as assistance.

This comes to mind as I read an announcement in MIT Technology Review describing Microsoft's new business designing software for screens on shopping carts. Basically, the software would know who you are if you swipe your loyalty card and where you are in the store based on RFID tags. If you pause in front of the cookie shelf, it can present the ad I describe above. Of course, this only works if they effectively mine their loyalty card database well. If they present an ad for the expensive cookies to the price-sensitive shopper, it will be perceived as an annoyance. But I wish them well. When marketing becomes truly integrated with usability, we won't see another "ad" ever again.