Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Local review sites: Qype.com, Welovelocal.com, Trustedplaces.com and Tipped.com

Love them or hate them – local review sites such as Qype.com, Welovelocal.com, Trustedplaces.com and recent entrant Tipped.com are growing rapidly and are here to stay in one form or another. Qype.com the market leader in this field in Europe, have more than 1.5 Million unique visitors per month and growing. Google also jumped onto the local review bandwagon but so far have had limited success.

Traditional local directory companies such as ThompsonLocal and Yellow Pages have yet to capitalise on this growing market in web 2.0 The market leader Yell.co.uk & Yellow Pages recently looked into creating a social networking site based around local reviews. They approached the team who created Jobster.com - a social networking site based around job ads. Unfortunately those plans came to nothing and there has been no further news of any developments or partnerships.

What is the attraction of these sites? Well first, it’s the ability to share your experiences of particular places with members of a community. People generally like to impart ‘wisdom’ and in this case ‘experience’ is key. The more you contribute, the more authority you have. On one particular site, a criterion for measuring authority is based upon how many people found your review ‘helpful’ or ‘well written’. Therefore this quality factor dispels the notion that we are only interested in quantity.

A number of these sites are beginning to offer incentives in the form of vouchers, special offers partnerships with loyalty cards such as welovelocal’s recent partnership with Wedge.

User content contribution – can result in good SEO for the site itself but more importantly for businesses that are featured on the site. The more users content generated the more listings picked up by Google’s search results.

However if the site wants to bring businesses on board with a subscription charge, it would need to provide a very high level of search engine optimisation. This would require significantly more than the 1.5 million unique users each month. Perhaps even 10 or 20 times this figure, before businesses can really see the benefits of paying to advertise.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Business Social Networking- Active and Inactive Users - Xing, LinkedIn and Viadeo

Business social networking site Xing posted some impressive user growth figures; by the beginning of September Xing’s membership reached 4m, helped by its acquisition earlier this year of two Spanish networks.

With the acquisitions of Spanish social networks eConozco and Neurona, Xing said it had managed to further boost its membership. Both networks have continued to add users, with eConozco doubling its membership since the acquisition.

The company said the membership growth could also be attributed to an increase in the number of email invitations sent out by existing Xing users.

According to a recent survey (PDF) by the social network, 87% of respondents have recommended the network to friends and colleagues.

Viadeo, another ‘professional network’ surpassed the 1.6m mark this September and recently received a cash injection of £3.4m from existing investors - AGF Private Equity and Ventech. Viadeo have expanded into Europe and across Asia by forming a strategic partnership with Tianji. Together new members are joining these sites collectively at a rate of 140,000 per month.

LinkedIn, arguably the biggest 'professional network', surpassed the 10m mark earlier this year. New members are joining LinkedIn at a rate of 130,000 per week.

These companies face the tough question of…What proportion of users are currently active?
For example, of LinkedIn’s 10m users – How many of them have:
  • Abandoned their social network – due to lack of suitable contacts, being bombarded with too many requests or had too few invitations thus leaving a ‘dormant profile’ on the network
  • Provided ‘work’, ‘Hotmail’, or ‘Yahoo’ email addresses which often expire due to inactivity or a change of job, thus making notification and contact impossible?

Users are frustrated when after paying a subscription fee, they find that their exisiting contacts and newly requested contacts have abandoned the social network site, thus effectively contacting dead links.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Webjam....in the spotlight

Webjam.com offers many powerful features, the ability to build communities, business and personal sites and being able to manage them with ease and efficiency. I like the flexibility in being able to use ready made templates, create a site from scratch, adopt a Webjam site or create a Webjam with content in seconds.

I like the idea that Webjam is not a closed social network group such as Facebook. Anyone who is not a member can view whole or parts of my Webjam and interact. This is an amazing feature for business users wanting to interact with potential customers and its growing niche (we recently had a project request asking if it was possible to create a site allowing non Facebook users to interact with a community on Facebook, which in its current state is not possible!)

Webjam has a bright future ahead, in that users will influence the way it evolves and will be able to request and develop many different site platforms to suit the needs of the users. For example a family may want to create family tree site enabling many users to collaborate on building a family tree using a mix of content rich media. It is applications such as this that bring in users from the outside and enable them to be part of a social eco-system.

Users access a growing number of sites on a daily basis and there is a serious need to have connectivity in one place - allowing for IP calls, networking, emails, eBay bids, RSS feeds, instant messaging, potential for online banking, online groceries to be accessible from one site. Webjam have realised this need and are beginning to provide users with their own personal 'dashboard' to the web - this of course will develop to offer an array of powerful features.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

What Shall I Wear Today?

I am seeing a trend in the web 2.0 sector where start-ups are forgetting about the actual web product but are focussing primarily on externalities in order to compete with the latest competitor.

You can ‘dress’ up a website with a whole range of the latest (and the not so latest) buzzword technologies such as the very useful APIs, microformats and development packages such as AJAX, Ruby on Rails…etc It will certainly woo the web technologists, journalists and early adopters. But one needs to ask, am I relying too heavily on latest buzz around our new facebook app, widget or development language to bring in mass users?

Am I focussing too much on reacting to our latest competitor but missing the bigger picture of the end user?

Web connectivity and reacting to competition are both important. But are not as important as having a site which has an intrinsic mass market appeal - i.e. a site which is not only understood by the early adopters – but its objectives are easily grasped by general users. If a site doesn't have this, then however much you may boast through PR channels about the latest web connectivity and competitive advantage - is all futile!

Focus on getting the web product right - by developing and marketing a web product whose features are readily understandable and accessible by all users and not just a small niche - then you can think about the clothes with which to 'dress' it!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Barriers to Entry – Content Contribution

In reply to Phil Wilkinson’s comment about my feature on Crowdstorm.com – I agree - there are growing numbers of content creators in the UK. I appreciate that your reason for creating Crowdstorm was to get users to become content contributors – by discussing and collaborating information about new and existing consumer products, thus building a social network around consumer goods.

However when a social networking site is based around a particular interest, one needs to consider the barriers to entry with regards to contributing content.

Let me illustrate my point…

On Crowdstorm (in its current state), users can share information on those products they own or on those items they’re currently researching. - A user may want to contribute more to the site ‘but the user doesn't own 99% of those items featured, doesn't have the necessary background to advise others on particular items and nor does the user have an interest in purchasing the item in question. Then you inform the user that he/she can add a range of items he/she owns – well I am now looking at a user who has listed 270 items without a single comment, recommendation or discussion! I am sure there are other users who have done exactly the same! If everyone lists items they own –how much social networking is realistically going to take place from this alone?

Therefore users will find a high barrier to entry – from the perspective of having to own or have interests in particular goods. This prevents further interaction with other users which will inhibit the ability to create a vibrant social network. The majority of activity will come from a small niche of contributors made up of gadget freaks, early adopters and review journalists – interacting with the likes of Bob Jones who replies with a ‘thank you’ message for advice or recommendation but behind the fa├žade will be thinking, ‘I wish I was able to contribute more to this community’.

Not only is there a high barrier to entry, but it creates a social class divide of content contributors –those who can and those who are limited. Instead of everyone being on equal footing – you create a site (using an extreme example) for Rolls Royce owners who not only take pity but actually network with the likes of Lada owners (not that there’s anything wrong with Lada owners – it’s just an example to illustrate my point).

If we compare this to sites which are based around experiences or interests of a non tangible nature - then the barriers to entry are lower. Everyone has the ability to visit a shop, bar, restaurant or discuss topics of interest such as news, music, tv, sports, lifestyles, values and beliefs and build relationships with people interested in similar places or interests.

In terms of barriers to entry: Consider this example - I might not have bought the same product as you from Dixons, but I will happily tell you what I think about the service I received in the Oxford Street branch.

Barriers to entry: The lower they are - the more social networking is the result

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

US Websites Looking for a Piece of the Action in the UK - PART 2.

The next important aspect to consider, is the look and feel of the site. How can I create a site that is aesthetically pleasing but appeals to the cultural sentimentality of a British market? The British do not like that dark, pretentious look with a touch of 'gloss' - which is often a winning formula for attracting a US audience.

A good example of this is a new upcoming social networking site MOLI.co.uk. It's a social networking site with a twist in that it allows the user to have multiple profiles with complete control over who can see those profiles. It allows the user to have a personal and business presence with a website attached to each profile. It certainly has some unique capabilities which go beyond facebook.com.

However, the site is dark, uses shades of grey to define zones which is definitely a turn off for a British audience. It looks pretentious - in a sense that you think you have come to the latest indie band's website! One is confused, in a sense that you wonder (in a state of bewilderment) How will this site help me?

The design and colour of the sign up box and its placement gives the impression to a user to 'sign up or else!' - in bright red! There are options to 'learn more' and 'tour' - where the user sits through 20 minutes of video footage about the benefits of MOLI and what MOLI can do for you. But if I was an American then yes - this is helpful! However for the British we like something a little more discreet, less in your face and more to the point! A simple guide or very short video feature using a British actor is more than adequate. (a side point- there is nothing more annoying or hideous than a presenter saying 'MOO MOO MOO MOOLY!') The next important feature is the ability to look at other British MOLI sites - Where are they? This is an vital part of the evaluation process before a user signs up.

The British like bright, pastel coloured websites using neutral hues. We love white backgrounds, not only is easy on the eye for reading text but its a web cultural norm which sits well with the British market. I could go into more detail about how to create a British look for MOLI.co.uk but I don't think they are interested in feedback.

You may argue there are some successful websites that use dark colours for UK audiences. Take for example Primelocation.com - (Sold to the Daily Mail for £48 million) the site uses a black background, white text, a cumbersome search engine and is designed to give off that pretentious look. However, it has a monopoly over £1million plus properties in the UK and overseas markets. The user has no choice but to look up properties on their site whether they like it or not; therefore they have no need improve the visual aesthetics or usability...

Why not?...Well where else are they going to go to view such properties online...?

Few sites have the ability to get away with poor visual aesthetics.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

US Websites: Looking for a Piece of the Action in the UK - PART 1.

London (no...not San Francisco) is seen as the 'in' place for launching a Web 2.0 start up. US companies are looking to capitalise on the strong focussed consumer markets, advertising revenue potential and the ease in which to establish brand presence when compared to the US.

However to apply the same formula of a US site to a British site -will simply 'not cut the mustard!'

A usability report carried out in the US showed that nearly half of US Internet users are content creators; this includes postings, maintaining websites, blogs, contributing music, photos and videos etc... This report was carried out in 2004. Recent usability reports show that the figure today is around 60% for US Internet users.

British users in 2007 (whether they would like to admit it or not) are still conservative in terms of they browsing habits and posting habits. We may top the European charts for Internet usage (Source) but we have little interest in contributing to online postings unless we have real incentive or a personal connection to the site and its users - an obvious examples being Facebook.com and Linkedin.com

Sites which rely on user postings alone are going to be difficult to establish:
1. It is difficult to get people to post to a site which is initially unknown,

2. Even if you are pumping content 'to give the impression there is activity' why would any user want to come to your site, when Gumtree is around the corner with an established market?

3. What's the incentive? In the US a number of community posting websites use a ranking system, for example - you will receive a 1000 points for 100 postings - you are currently ranked - moron - sorry maven - You contribution is worth $1.98! At some point we will offer you free hosting once your account reaches $100. This system works well in the US but in the UK most people would turn their nose up to such venture.

There is what I call a 'Can I Help You' culture in the US; online users (I'll use the term strangers) are willing to help each other. Not only that, but they are willing to give and receive advice on number of different issues from lifestyle decisions to consumer purchases.

In England, on the whole this is 'no no' - although now we are beginning to open up to strangers - but its a long way off before we can tap into this market.

For advice on a range of topics, we primarily use family, friend and professional connections. We would even be happy to discuss these over the Internet - as long as we know who we're talking to.

In my mind, it makes no sense to release a UK version of a site such as Crowdstorm.com where users help each other make purchasing decision on a range of consumer electronic goods:

1. Would you really want to take advice on purchasing from someone you don't know? - Wouldn't you rather ask your family member or your friend 'Mr Gadget' who knows about mobile phones, digital cameras...etc Maybe he/she don't know about a particular item or have expertise in a particular area of technology - but a friend of theirs does? You would happily speak to him/her.

2. OK, so you don't have a family member or friend (or friend of a friend) who knows about the new Nokia 6300 - We are a nation who love magazines! - You could look up a review of the mobile phone - in a dedicated magazine, online technology website or ask one of the helpful members of staff in Carphone Warehouse. There is nothing like human contact!

3. The British response - Why would I want to offer advice to a stranger? I quite frankly don't have the time or patience...

So you might ask...What about eBay.co.uk? Users from the UK regularly post questions, problems and solutions in their discussion forums....How can this be?

  1. There is a profit incentive.
  2. Their is a sense of community among sellers as a collective group, among buyers as another group and amongst the combined groups of sellers and buyers. There is a culture of 'I'll scratch your back if you will scratch my back' which works across all cultures....
PART 2. COMING SOON...