January 29, 2010 by 8junebugs
“What are your favorite websites?” he asked us.
“IMDB.” “Google.” “Facebook.” “The New York Times.”
“Facebook isn’t a website,” he argued. “Neither is Google — that’s a web utility.”
Which got me thinking.
In concrete terms, this is incorrect. By virtue of being virtual spaces fully accessible only through URLs, they are websites. A broader and more accurate term might be web properties — Facebook certainly encompasses more than what we associate with a plain old website, and Google has changed the way we perceive and value information. It’s valid to think of them as more than websites, but websites they are…at least until I can insert a Google chip directly into my brain and bypass all this pesky typing.
Thinking more figuratively, calling Facebook and Google out as “not websites” is even less right. Doing so ignores the actual value of the internet, which underlies and goes far beyond brand promotion, widgets, and clever experience design. What gets people online? What’s the value, the draw, that has made the internet damn near ubiquitous in modern life?
It’s different for each person, and the trends vary by generation, but check out some 2009 stats for social networking (via Mashable):
My generation still tends to see the internet as a utility (“I’m gonna go online and do _____”) and KidBrother’s generation has grown up online. They don’t “go on the internet” — they’re always online. (Opinions vary about whether I’m generation X or Y. I identify as a Gen X fluent in Millennial.) But what about our parents? What about our grandparents? After 15 years of rapid construction on the information superhighway, what’s finally getting the typewriter generations online?
Facebook. They’re setting up Facebook profiles and playing Mafia Wars and chatting with friends from first grade. If they can’t find someone on Facebook, they might try to find them some other way, now that they know they can. And how do you find something or someone on the interwebs? You hit the Goog.
The value of the internet is communication. It’s connections and communities — the same interpersonal interactions that add value to our physical lives add value to our online lives; thanks to Facebook and a healthy amount of Google-stalking, our online lives can now enhance our physical lives.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’m having coffee with a friend I haven’t talked to in 18 years (and I guess we’ll find out if I’ve gotten over her liking the same boy I liked in the eighth grade). Facebook did that — without it, she wouldn’t have known that I live here, she wouldn’t have told me she was moving here, and we may never have caught up at all.
Facebook and Google are today’s gateway drugs to online life. People who go online later in life, who “use the Google,” get comfortable using the internet and become part of the online marketplace…of ideas, and of products. If you want to market successfully to the internet users that marketers thought would never get online — and they’re the fastest growing group of adopters right now — show some respect for what got them there. “Understanding your customers” is Marketing 101 — if you don’t understand what brought them to you in the first place, how will you understand what they need and how to convince them that your business, your website, is just what they’ve been looking for? How will you structure a portal, for example, that meets their needs, not yours?
Take a holistic approach to web, websites, and web strategy, or take a hike.
(This semester’s going to be so much fun. 🙂 )