Website v. Web Presence

a collection of interacting gears

Once upon a time on the internet, a company could hire a graphic artist to design a layout, pay Joe Compugeek $300 to throw some HTML together, direct this semester’s intern to type up a few lines of copy and presto; a corporate website was born. From there, the sales team could periodically restuff the page with a couple of hundred hidden keywords and everyone could sit back and watch the traffic flow.

Obviously, things have come a long way. For a while it was called web 2.0 (which I suppose it still technically is, though you don’t hear the term as much today) and then later the “social media revolution” (is that still happening?) but while fancy jargon is that thing we all love to hate while using as much as possible; I think something much more fundamental has swept through the world of the internet. A paradigm change in the way humanity experiences our technology.

But what does it do?

The internet is clearly popular. TV viewership is declining, fewer books are being sold, kids don’t even know what board games are these days; everyone is online instead. But if you imagine that all those billions of internet users are simply surfing from one static page to the next in some kind of Machiavellian dystopia fetish; you’ve not really been paying attention. The reality is both much more simplistic and much deeper at the same time. On the one hand, people do seem to have taken much of their lives online, opting for digital connections and experiences in place of physical ones. But as far as I can tell, we’re nowhere close to losing our humanity as some predicted. To the contrary, there are ample examples of ways in which our new connectivity has actually served to foster the shared human experience instead of hamper it (think Arab Spring for example).

The secret to how this has happened lies in the same root identity that makes Web 2.0 not Web 1.0. In other words, the change isn’t just that we’ve adapted to our new technology with amazing speed (barely 20 years, which is impressive) but that our technology has also adapted to us even faster.

Evolution 2.0

What I see happening is a form of human evolution. A sea change in the way we think about our technology. In the early days of computing (really any time before last week) the prevailing paradigm was one of adjustment, training, a learning curve. If you wanted to leverage the power of a new digital tool, you “learned” how to use it. People learned how to type, took classes on how to best use Word, and earned degrees in computer aided design. However, increasingly we now expect our technology to learn how to use us. We yell at iTunes when the music files won’t share properly (which means automatically). We bang our phones on the desk if their speech recognition can’t figure out our accents. We even expect our cars to diagnose themselves. In short, we have come not only to depend on our technology like never before; but also to design technologies that engage with us at our level.

On a device by device level, this doesn’t seem like much of a change. We still struggle to figure out the menu on each Android or iOS update for example, and it seems like computers can never quite do what we wish they would (I still can’t fling my files around from one box to the next Iron Man style). But the fact that we are even asking these things of our devices demonstrates my point; we have already made the switch in our expectations, the rest is only a matter of time.

Back to websites…

Understanding this paradigm change can help us to better design our company websites. You see, when it comes to building a great site, exceeding user expectation has always been key. Developing a truly effective web presence today requires more than a few lines of clever code; it also requires a sense of what your users need. The real difference between awesome web 2.0 profiles and the old hack sites with which we opened this article doesn’t lie in the coding, the graphics, or even the content. It lies in the service. Just as people have come to expect a new kind of output from their phones, cars, and home computers, so to do they expect a new kind of response from your company’s online presence.

All those millions and millions of web users aren’t just surfing from page to page absorbing predefined content until their eyes fall out. They’re out there doing things. They’re organizing their healthcare, hanging out with friends, consuming media, creating media, managing their money, making more money, living their lives. The internet is no longer the place you go when you want to find the phone number for the pizza shop in your town. It’s now the place you go to figure out which pizza place your friends like best, design your favorite custom pie, pontificate about the political ramifications of the chain’s CEO’s latest outburst, and then watch a movie until the food arrives.

A web presence is no longer a simple website. It’s now the sum of your communication; the media through which your customers experience your brand.  This can include a website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or a mobile phone app; but whatever the case, that presence is increasingly social… And increasingly out of your direct control!  Yelp, product reviews, Facebook likes and shares, upstart bloggers, consumer recommendations, and customer video reviews all work together to share, analyze, and even directly rework your products and services to suit the fancies of your customer base.

Websites no longer have the capacity to fulfil these kinds of user demands; but a web presence does. The difference is in what you offer – a little data, or an experience. Stick with the former, and you might as well pack it in now, your company demise has already been written.

Editor

Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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