There has been a lot of buzz around the real time web lately. And the main responsible for that buzz has been, without a doubt, twitter. Some have gone to the extent of saying that Google is afraid of twitter.
Well, hum, I don’t think so, clearly the mountain-view gang is worried about other stuff, not twitter. Twitter does not overlap with what google does. Yet it does open the door to something somewhat novel.
One of the main differences of twitter with “chat” as we knew it is that the content is stored, indexed, and publicly available in the form of webpages. IRC, for instance (or Messenger, or Yahoo! IM) uses its own protocol to transfer, store and access information which, in most cases is not publicly available either.
The so-called “real time web” then is actually “almost real time web”. This makes a small difference to the human interactions (things happen as fast as we can assimilate them) but has huge implications from a technological and indexing point of view.
This is where google comes into play, why they shouldn’t worry and why this rumor about big G’s plans to launch microblogging search makes perfect sense.
Let me explain.
Twitter is endogamy. It is a self-contained universe. Fair enough, its API allows all sorts of interactions with the outside world and extensibility through other services and programs, but it all orbits around the same. Google, on the other hand has always been an outside-looking company and set of services.
Google’s basic premise is to crawl what others generate in order to allow people to find that content. That premise does not have to change with the so-called real-time web. That is what makes companies such as google so interesting, the fundamentals are so simple that they can adapt to changes without having to change them. As a matter of fact what google needs is other real time content-generation sites and services to proliferate.
How so? since most people use Twitter it makes perfect sense to use Twitter’s native search when looking for the latest. But what would happen if there were another big player in the scene? You’d end up using a search engine that indexes them both. That is if such two things existed. It does not make sense for google to buy Twitter, but it makes perfect sense for google to foster and help new players to enter that market.
A lot has been said about how important(sic) Twitter is in news-spreading. I remain skeptic.
I plan to blog about the Iran-Twitter affair soon (and I know most people won’t like that post), but a quick lesson learnt from the entire thing is that Twitter is neither a good nor reliable news source. It is a good alert system, granted, but if you need in-depth information, background or analysis you better seek some place else.
In what seems to be the trend with every new wave of web technologies (scrape the term technologies, this is not technology, call it “usage”) the signal to noise radio decreases. If you watch the entire river of tweets you’ll only spot a very tiny percentage that are meaningful in any way. Yet, I think enough has been said about the amount of rubbish going on in twitter all of the time.
Bottom line is: Would I buy Twitter stock? Probably not for the long run. Do I think Real time web is here to stay? yes it is, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
Last December I wrote a post on shopping process. One of the main premises on that post was that e-commerce should be entertaining, it should somehow captivate the customers and drive them through the entire thing while making it an enjoyable experience:
Buying stuff should be fun. Or as close to fun as it can get. It must be a pleasurable experience. Once we understand that our abandonments will invariably go down.
So I click the link and head over to this newly-found reading material. What do I see? The very first post I set my eyes on is talking about e-commerce, and from a perspective that has several contact points with what my personal opinion is.
(...) during my round trip to and from the milk, I munch a free sample, and grab a box of fudgesicles, knowing that my kids’ enthusiasm will counteract my wife’s annoyance.
When we build e-commerce sites, certainly we need to know what the customer wants, and give it to them. But we also need to use our spiffiest analytical tools to optimize two things: profit (dollars, not percent) and Net Promoter Score.
So, what would happen if we combine this thoughts on making the Shopping process entertaining and tempting our customers with extra treats with that other thing that has become a buzzword lately: Targeted ads.
Forget about the “ads” part for the time being. Lets just concentrate just on the Targeted part instead.
Using smart analytics, a powerful CMS and some multivariate wizardry e-commerce sites have the potential to create a unique experience for each customer that arrives to the site.
E-commerce has three main advantages over Grocery stores: 1) you don’t have to physically move products from one side to another, shifting aisles and pushing fridges, 2) you can track every single visitor and see how they behave and 3) you know where the visitors come from and, to a certain extent, in some cases even why.
With that in mind it is quite natural to imagine scenarios where visitor segmentation serves the purpose to profile each visit and build the e-commerce experience accordingly.
Granted, the approach would require massive investment in both Analytics and CMS, but the payoff should be huge. If the analytics team can profile and breakup visitors into smartly differentiated groups (natural search visitors, ad visitors, affiliate program referrals, coupon page referrals, etc.), pass along that information to the publishing / developer / user experience people and they, in turn can create experience that present stuff in ways that maximize the buying potential of each segment you’d have a winning recipe.
Multivariate tests should help determine what works for each segment.
In-site behavior should also be tracked, studied and used to present the visitors with different options according to the path they take.
This can be taken to various levels of complexity, and an investment & experimentation to revenue ratio would be determined. In other words: how much to invest, experiment and segment to obtain the highest return.
Another ingredient comes from a suggestion Mark made in the comments of my December post:
Reading what people write about your site shopping experience can fill in the gaps in analytics. Sites like Bizrate gather customer comments, and of course, blogs and forums are another great place to learn about the barriers to purchase one may have unknowingly created.
So Social Media (monitoring) can also play an active role in enhancing conversion rates and customer spending on e-commerce websites.
The final piece would be a dashboard that "adjusts" the settings under special circumstances. It is not the same to have an e-commerce site during the seasons than in Mid September when nothing happens. Since such events can be planned, they should be planned.
Stir together, cook for 90 minutes and you’ll end up with a “Fluid e-commerce experience”.
We don’t all have the same tastes, why should our shopping experience be dull and unique for all the population? The tools exist, the expertise exists, and some sites already run similar experiments.
Finally I encourage you to go ahead to his site and subscribe to the feed. It looks like we have another very eclectic blog at hand.
People in the ranks of alltop, so-called "gurus" such as Scoble or Jeremiah are what we consider as "influencers" in the under-under-under world of web-oh-two(too)-cool. This guys have crept out of the background noise of the bloggosphere and twitterati and made themselves more prominent than the Nerdy Average Joe that lurks the very same services this influencers use.
With raging ranks of followers and some fans that would make Tommy Lee jealous (I've seen commenters praise and sustain some of the most outrageous and, dare I say, dumb remarks) the influencers get an amplification power similar to the one achieved by Spinal Tap's "mine go to eleven" boxes.
The effect of this is quite simple: more people listen (and reply) to this guys than they do to the other "participants in the conversation". Some call that higher reach.
The outcome is a paradox.
Remember the days of mass media? Remember all the Social-web-2.0-power-to-the-masses fuzz? The premise was that everyone could be a Journalist, everyone could have a voice.
Certainly everyone can have a voice. But not everyone's voice can be heard. Since there is so much content out there there is no way everyone can get an audience. I'll agree that there is content out there that is of little or no appeal to most of the audience, but there is quite a deal of excellent and original writing that goes unnoticed.
The issue becomes that the same means that was (allegedly?) allowing a revolution in communications is now fostering individuals and groups of people that resemble more and more traditional media. The only difference is that they never had their content in print to begin with.
All the top-ranked blogs out there have heavy editorial lines. On the other end of things many newspapers and magazines are relying heavily on blogs and have opened comments on their usual content. The difference between those is becoming harder to tell. There are hints that tell them apart, such as very segmented content (most blogs deal with one general theme, whereas newspapers cover tons of different topics), very visible faces / personalities behind blogs and a general lean on the side of bloggers to share opinions more explicitly.
The way Marketing bucks have to deal with this popular blogs is resembling more and more that of traditional media. Or maybe worst. But that's ok.
Now, to round up the paradox idea -if you haven't understood what the main paradox is so far: bloggers resemble journalists and vice versa, even when they both shout out loud that they are quite different- yet another issue pops up when bloggers monetize their content, and while doing so their so-called transparency is put to the trial. I'm affraid many have succumbed to journalism's worst sin: selling of. Of course this is not the case with all bloggers.
The other fairly visible tendency I see in some of this influencers is that they are tending to rely on repeating themselves and using the same couple of formulas over and over again. One of the overly-used ones is deceiving the readership into believing they are participants when, all truth be said, they are being leached.
There is a fine line between calling for interaction and dialogue and abusing those who follow you to get content and ideas.
It might be just that I am a cynic. Very cynic.This post belongs to the shifting times, blurring lines series. Read them all or learn what the series is about.
Edit: David, makes some similar remarks over his blog as well.