Designing Products That Will Work with Web 2.0 Strategies
Here at Design Sojourn I like to explore the extent of the Web 2.0 and its impact on industrial design. These days we are starting to see many products positioned as windows to such Web 2.0 environments. For example Nokia N-Series multimedia phones allowing you to share your photos on the Internet via Flickr are only just scraping the tip of the iceberg.
However as Industrial designers we need to understand how this Web 2.0 thing works so that we can have a better understanding on how we can take advantage of Web 2.0 strategies to actually enhance our product’s experience instead. I believe sometimes the best way derive the right answers by looking at what not to do.
Web 2.0 is big business, venture capitalist are jumping in, and even the Singapore Government through their Media Development Agency (MDA) is putting money into the whole Web 2.0 thing.
One of the main issues here is no one can really define what Web 2.0 is all about. The good news we do have a rough idea, if we look at Wikipedia they define it as:
Web 2.0…refers to a perceived or proposed second generation of Web-based servicesâ€”such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomiesâ€”that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users.
So really Web 2.0 is about creating, sharing, leveraging and even supporting these communities and a whole lot more! So if we consider this, tangible products can make the perfect “windows” for people to access such communities and experiences. Potentially I see a whole host of internet enable products, starting with 3G phones, that will take the market by storm in the next few years. Otherwise what else can you design that is not already done? A better chair or mobile phone perhaps?
However before you run off to create or share your next big Web 2.0 product design or idea perhaps do consider the following points on what I think are Web 2.0 product experiences that don’t really work.
1) Creating a different version of (enter your fav web 2.0 name here) but localized to my market, or has a different technology, or different marketing twist etc.
Localization was a big word a few years ago when marketers and designers figured out that the world was a big place and no one product fits all. In the pursuit of mass manufacturing where volume rules, the need to sell as many products as possible was important to the bottom line and profits. However this meant products that don’t quite fit certain individuals, such as numeric keypads for a Chinese language speaking population, or forms that don’t appeal to that market. As a result with clever marketing, branding and modular platform design, products started to get “tuned” to meet the requirements of certain individuals.
However in my opinion this has changed to a certain extent. With web 2.0 communities localization a product would probably only go so far. Simply, with fast and ubiquitous internet access making the world a smaller place, it’s too easy to go to the market leader and leave the “niche” players behind if they do not have a unique selling proposition. The marketing rules have changed if you want to go niche, you really have to identify areas the leaders do not do well, and all marketing strategies of poaching market share still applies. For example LinkedIn vs Friendster is a much better proposal that Friendster vs MySpace
2) Big to small to big. Web Communities vs. blogs networks
With the advent of blogging and Web 2.0 communities, communities are fast becoming fragmented and smaller. Communities within a community, or a community of networks made up of individual nodes. I expect a decline of sites such as discussion forums, as a blogging, and sites such as flickr or deviantArt allows users to create their own space while still networking with others of similar interests. Forums would still be around, but it would likely become more informational and FAQ while the larger networking work will be done physically thru the blog or individual website.
There would likely be less communal sharing like swap meets (forums) but more garage sales (blog web portal), where with the ease of the internet, people from all over the world can come and visit.
3) Adsense and other web monetizing models may eventually eat itself
On of the big reasons people blog today, besides personal entertainment, is to earn a few extra dollars thru online-advertising. Similarly just like the first dot-com boom, there are many sites that are just middle men or online shops, or just an aggregator of information. Such companies don’t really provide much in the way of a products offering with value, but are optimized to generate revenue thru Adsense. Thus advertisers are starting to find that online advertising is not what people think it’s all cut out to be. As it is the cracks are stating to show here and here.
Furthermore the most popular internet browser Firefox has a simple java script blocking mechanism, or pop-up blocking, that will filter more than 90% of online adverting anyway. Once ad blocking becomes a significant movement, advertisers will start to leave and as quick as it started the whole Adsense industry will die.
So how do we apply all this to product development? We don’t, not right this moment, but we need to understand what is happening in the internet industry and apply this thinking accordingly. My feeling is product design at this stage will likely be in a big wait and see mode, often test marketing to see how it goes or have very generalist applications.
Furthermore I advocate caution, as I am in the view that everything in this world moves in cycles. The weather, the moon, fashion and design trends and I would even hazard a guess, the internet. So this Web 2.0 could be a bubble that will implode. Once advertisers realize the money spent online is not reflective on their earnings, they will pull out. Suddenly then there will be a consolidation of websites. Link sites, site aggregators, and facilitators will all suddenly die. The curse of intangibility makes the destruction of such things too easy.
The product’s ability access to Web 2.0 communities, either their own (Xbox Live) or a partner (Nokia + Flickr), will be a vital selling point in time to come. That’s why I think companies and products like Nokia, Chumby Industries and Nintendo Wii are way ahead of its time.