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 services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—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.

13 Comments
  • ANiTOKiD

    February 19, 2007 at 5:36 pm Reply

    China represents the future of the online industry and retreating from it is losing the future. Market leaders need to play their cards right in they want to stay in the game and ahead of the competition. China’s so-called liberation has the industry and its players on their heels. The government’s drive to

  • Design Translator

    February 19, 2007 at 8:36 pm Reply

    Hi Anitokid,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. However I dont quite get what you are getting at? The discussion is about product experence being enhanced by web 2.0 experiences?
    If I make a guess, you are probably talking about localisation in my point one. Thus a great example of negative effects of over localisation.
    Please keep in touch.

  • csven

    February 20, 2007 at 3:44 am Reply

    “Otherwise what else can you design that is not already done? A better chair or mobile phone perhaps?”
    Fabbers.

  • Design Translator

    February 20, 2007 at 5:15 am Reply

    OK people you need to stop these cryptic comments! Heh-heh. They are freaking me out!

  • csven

    February 20, 2007 at 7:22 am Reply

    DT, if you read my blog or most any tech-related website like Wired, than that comment shouldn’t be cryptic. Conversely, if you don’t understand what I mean, then you might want to read my blog more often. Fabbing is tied up into Web 2.0 in a few ways and it will impact our profession in ways that are going to scare more than a few designers. Not so much now or for old farts like me, but for the younger ones.
    And btw, you might want to see what Lucas Arts cooked up recently while you’re visiting.

  • Design Translator

    February 20, 2007 at 2:28 pm Reply

    csven,
    I actually do know what it means and I am actually going to write something about it base on material I am collecting of which some are from your site.
    But perhaps you might like to explain it more in context to my post as I personally see it as relevant but not quite in the same context.
    Sure “Fabbing” has a lot to do with the customer made movement, and I see its great potential, but I see it as a lot more tactical, just one aspect of an entire strategy. Furthermore just looking just at it fails to consider the overall strategy of the front end which is establishing the community in the first place. This is what my article is focusing on, basically no community no anything.
    Actually the equipment for “Fabbing” such as SLS, SLA, 3D printing has been around for more than 10 years. I my self worked in a rapid prototyping shop for a year. In reality a lot of it is just hype, a sudden tech savvy hungry public are realizing its potential, abet a very small population.
    However if you get down to it accessing such technologies both going into it and the application of the end result will be something the user will not expect, and we all know Works In Progress is something, those not trained to see, that is difficult to handle.
    Basically what I am trying to say “Customer Made” is not really “Fabbing” (I hate that word as its not entirely accurate) it’s more “Customer Select” and the rest of the process has to be managed by professionals. Otherwise the right experience is at risk.

  • Designing products that will work with Web 2.0 Strategies…
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  • csven

    February 20, 2007 at 9:51 pm Reply

    Note the question: “what else can you design that is not already done?”
    Note my answer.
    I was being specific to that part of your post. Nothing more.
    As I don’t entirely understand what this post is about, I didn’t venture to do more than that. When I have time, I’ll come back and try again to understand.

  • csven

    March 1, 2007 at 10:59 am Reply

    I wanted to return to this – said I would – so I’ll dive in (sorry for the delay):
    One of the main issues here is no one can really define what Web 2.0 is all about.
    Actually, Tim O’Reilly is probably the person most recognized as the authority on Web 2.0. So instead of Wikipedia you might want to read his explanation (Link).
    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.
    I’m sure you remember “smart appliances” from some years back; lots of hype leading to failure. Just because something is internet-enabled doesn’t make it a Web 2.0 product. I’m sure lots of people are out there thinking “let’s connect our product to the internet and jump into the whole Web 2.0 thing”. I don’t believe that will be sufficient. Simply connecting is not enough, imo. There will doubtlessly be some that *do* take the market by storm, but I’m betting they’ll do so by understanding the underlying issues (as you’re attempting to do here, much to your credit).
    Otherwise what else can you design that is not already done? A better chair or mobile phone perhaps?
    To be honest, this line puzzles me. Isn’t a 3G phone really just a *better* mobile phone? Could not a chair also have some connectivity? In fact, do you not think a time will come when that’s commonplace?
    2) Big to small to big. Web Communities vs. blogs networks
    Not sure I follow you here. And I don’t see Flickr as part of this trend I think you’re describing.
    What I’ve been looking for – and have been expecting for some time now – is what Kaneva recently announced. In addition, I expect that between hybrid spaces like Kaneva’s and content distribution systems like Spore’s, we’ll see an entirely new creature emerge.
    3) Adsense and other web monetizing models may eventually eat itself
    Click fraud is old news. And I disagree that micro-advertising will go away. There’s too much money at play here. The ad agencies are desperate. Viewers are moving increasingly online. Television as we know it is dying and all that money is going to migrate; has already started.
    So how do we apply all this to product development?
    Look at Nike iD pairing up with Sneakerplay for an answer. I think they’re on the right track. Others will follow.
    Once advertisers realize the money spent online is not reflective on their earnings, they will pull out.
    Do you know something they don’t? And do you believe that all of them expect to transition smoothly? I don’t. I assume they realize spending won’t necessarily align to earnings during a transition phase.
    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.
    This sounds to me as if you’re still regarding Real products as distinct from the Net. I don’t do that anymore. And because I don’t, I don’t come to the conclusion that such access is “a vital selling point”. That, to me, is like saying tires on a car is a selling point. My point being that integration will be ubiquitous; everyone will have it and it will be expected. For companies, I think the question isn’t whether or not the product connects, it’s determining what the conversation is *after* it connects.

  • Design Translator

    March 4, 2007 at 10:06 pm Reply

    I hope this clears things up!

  • […] our recent discussion here, especially in the comments sections it suddenly became clear to me about some fundamental […]

  • Aaron

    October 5, 2007 at 2:45 pm Reply

    The problem with web2.0 development and social media is that it requires people to be in the same place / on the same network for it to work. This would be fine, except that when a social network or web2.0 application gets big enough, it gets bought out by Google/NewsCorp/Yahoo, and hence our opportunity to create an open source community or to promote more than once social media network becomes limited.

  • DT

    October 5, 2007 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Hi Aaron,
    Thanks for your comments, though I think that’s not entirely true. With the web you don’t all have to be on the same networks. With facebook’s new API and blog widgets, the concept of social networking or linking social networks is possible.
    In time to come, everything will be networked, personal networks (blogs) with other personal networks (blogs), personal networks with social networks, and social networks (facebook) with other social networks (twitter, flickr) etc.
    Please keep in touch?

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