Web Evolution – A History of Web Design Over the Past 20 Years

Below is a graphic developed by KISSmetrics outlining the evolution of web design since the world’s first website was launched  in 1991.

In only 20 years the definition of a “web presence” has evolved to the point that today, many argue that traditional websites are becoming obsolete.  When discussing the promotion of his new book, Guy Kawasaki recently suggested that he didn’t need a website to reach his target customers, but a Facebook page instead.

Static websites are a thing of the past and concepts like collaboration and crowd sourcing are becoming web standards.  Of course, the evolution will continue and even these concepts will become old news (probably even faster than traditional web pages).  The infographic below is a great reflection of where we’ve been in such a short period of time.  One can only speculate what this chart will look like 20 years from today.

Top 5 Ways to Stay on the Cutting Edge

With the pace at which the online landscape is evolving, it’s easier than ever to become complacent and fall behind competition.  Businesses that are making the transition online need to recognize the importance of paying particular attention to factors that are likely to affect the future direction of their industry.  The following is a list of what I believe are the best ways to stay on the cutting edge and position your organization for the future.

1.  Know What Your Competition is Doing

While we’d ideally like to be ahead of our competition, knowing what they’re doing today will give pointers to where they are headed.

2.  Listen to Your Customers

They may not be able to tell you exactly what they want, but gaining insight to how they’ll use your products is essential to building irreplaceable solutions.

3.  Hire for technical expertise

Today everything is happening online.   If you don’t have the technical expertise, you’ll be left in the dust.  Even worse, the longer you wait to adapt to new technologies the harder it will be to get back into the game.  

4.  Do as an Entrepreneur Would

With the pace at which businesses and technologies are moving today, bureaucracy should be avoided at all costs.  Put decision making in the hands of people capable of making the right decisions and give your products a chance to grow.

5.  Involve Organizational Youth in Decision Making

A colleague recently told me that he heard “if you want to understand why Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is so popular, you’ll have to ask your kids”.  The youth may not have as much experience, but in many cases they’re closer to the innovations that will allow your business to flourish. Don’t forget their voice.

Where Do You Post-It?

If you’ve seen 3M’s latest efforts to sell Post-It Notes, you might be puzzled by what seems a non-traditional approach.  Post-It Notes’ current marketing campaign has targeted what was once a secondary customer group; the at home user.

In an increasingly paperless world Post-It Note usage in office environments will undoubtedly continue to decrease forcing 3M to proactively consider what other potential customers will contribute to revenue going forward.  While it may be some time before Post-It Notes are considered completely obsolete, the brand is smart to push for market growth in alternative customer segments.

Facing similar problems to the publishing industry, 3M is clearly attempting to make the most of it’s traditional business model while it searches for new revenue streams to fill the void that will one day exist in it’s office product line.  Innovative publishers must take a similar approach as they search for new opportunities in the digital space.

Aflac Looks for New Voice

Known for it’s strong social media presence, Aflac (and its trademark duck) recently entered some unfamiliar waters… hot water.

After making a number of insensitive cracks about the recent disaster in Japan, the voice of the Aflac duck was relieved of his duties.  As a result, the insurance company was in need of a new voice to represent its brand through the various social media platforms that it has been active on over the last several years.  However; what could have been a public relations disaster has been parlayed into a creative social campaign designed to find the next voice of the Aflac duck.

Aflac’s quick response to the situation distanced the brand from the opinions of  the its former spokesperson.  While incidents like these are unfortunate, the company’s deep involvement in social media allowed it to reach customers quickly to involve them in a search for a new voice.  This involvement has not only helped people forget about the recent comments, but will also undoubtedly lead to a voice that customers can resonate with.

Failure to Launch

Today, the Harvard Business Review featured an article by Umair Haque on the importance of failure.  While it is often difficult for people to look at failure positively, it’s usually failure that allows us to grow both personally and professionally.   Failure gives way to new learnings, new solutions and ultimately, innovation.

“A system that fails to fail lacks the capacity to evolve — much less to gain resilience, or, above all, wisdom.”

Similarly, Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” discusses the importance of knowing when to quit.  A product marketer that spends too long on projects that are likely to fail will have less success than a person that identifies the projects that are unlikely to succeed earlier in the development process.  The difference is that the second person fails faster, allowing them to get to the good ideas quicker.

In a perfect world we’d all be successful at every attempt we made.  Unfortunately, without failure we’d never gain the insight required to come up with truly innovative solutions. 

Besides, without failure we’d never have discovered the post-it note!

Would You Pay for Online Content?

A recent poll conducted by SmartBrief on Social Media asked readers if they believed media companies and publishers should charge for online content.

No, content wants to be free – 48.73%
Online content should be based on a “freemium model” – 28.48%
Yes, there will be buyers for all kinds of relevant information – 22.78%

The results weren’t surprising, but point to a couple of issues that publishers need to be aware of going forward.

  1. The increasing availability of content online is making credibility an important element of a publisher’s ability to charge for use.  Almost 30% of respondents thought that a “freemium model” was an appropriate approach, meaning potential customers would have access to a limited selection of content free of charge.  This approach gives exposure to the content and let’s potential purchasers see the product quality before making a decision.
  2. A person’s willingness to pay for content is partially dependent on their demographic and the type of content they’re interested in acquiring. For example, a professional that needs credible information as a part of their work responsibilities is more likely to pay for content than someone look for casual reading.
  3. The missing piece to most content you can find online (other than confirmed credibility) is the context.  Generally facts are easy to come by; however, the explanation of a trained professional is likely to have a much higher perceived value.  (See http://www.newmediacy.wordpress.com for  more information on the New York Times new pay-for-content plan).

My answer to whether or not publishers and media companies should charge for content is, it depends.  Customer demographics, the purpose of the communication and the ease of acquiring similar information elsewhere are just a few of the many considerations that need to be made before making a decision.  Content marketing has become an important component of the marketing mix for companies hoping to gain credibility with their target market, and the social landscape is increasingly used to facilitate the conversation.

The Daily

On February 2nd, the Daily became available on Apple’s iPad app store with a mission to provide a unique online news experience specifically for the iPad.  For some time the publishing industry has struggled to monetize online news content because of the availability free information on the Internet, but the creators of the Daily appear to be taking a step in the right direction.

Below is an overview of the Daily and some of it’s unique functionalities:

Described as living news, the Daily “combines text, image, sound, video and movement to tell stories that come alive the more you touch, swipe, tap and expolore”.

3 Reasons It’s Different

  1. Much of the Daily’s content is opinion-based, differentiating it from free sources of information that focus primarily on “the facts”.
  2. The Daily has been built specifically for the iPad, offering a superior viewing experience to competing offerings.
  3. It’s customizable and interactive; customers can indicate preferences including local weater and their favourite sports teams.

Recognizing that potential customers may need to experience the Daily to understand it’s value, the product is available for free on a two week trial.  Regularly the Daily is sold for only $39.00 a year or $0.99 a day.  If you don’t yet see the value proposition, I suggest you give it a try.  If nothing else you’ll get a taste for the direction the publishing industry is heading and the new formats publishers are testing to enhance the value of their content.