Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Domain Names...?

The ICANN votes today in Paris on whether or not to approve new domain name extensions from .com and .net to dot anything. Both CNN and the BBC are following the story, but I’m wondering if this will really be a benefit to consumers. Sure brands will be able to buy out their names (at highway robbery prices) and use them as extensions, but in a world where most people have to look at their cell phones to rattle off any number other than their home or next of kin; won’t this just confuse the issue? If this goes through, I see a boom in linking services, search engines and bookmarking tools.

Another issue is lack of space to accommodate the massive growth of the Web, which expanded by 3.9 million domain names just this month according to Netcraft. It’s tough to argue with finding space for all the new bloggers, printers and VoIP phones on the block, but currently there’s 4,294,967,296 available IP addresses. This data, reported by the Korea Times (talk about sourcing fringe news), indicates that there are only 0.7 available IP addresses for each person on earth. The new system would accommodate 340 trillion trillion trillion new addresses. Now that's a lot of growth.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Chasing Technology

So I’ve got a vision for the Internet where my Web is different from yours. We may visit the same sites, but the experience in terms of the content we see and the objects we’re served will vary based on: clickstream, history, intent and other factors that constitute the context of our visits. Of course, this is already happening today, but I envision a much more sophisticated delivery vehicle that perceives what I want based on my behavior and is able to enhance the experience in a way that is meaningful for me.

I’ve described this vision to a few very intelligent individuals and some have pushed back stating that my ideas were too far ahead of adoption and that the market wasn’t ready to handle these solutions. This made me stop and think. I’ve even uttered these words myself…The market isn’t ready for it…This technology is great, but no one will know what to do with it…It’s an idea that is ahead of its time… But why do we make excuses for the “market’s” inability to adopt technology? If technology wasn’t ahead of the market, then we would exist in a state of insanely boring un-change. It’s the good ideas that transcend mediocrity and technology that enables change.

A few technologies are currently playing with the capabilities I described, which manifest in some amalgamation of analytics, multivariate delivery [explicitly not testing], and behavioral targeting. Magnify360 is one technology that’s pushing the envelope on this hyped up form of delivering content on the Web. NextStage Evolution is another that’s tackling the challenge in another way. Both combine elements of cognitive behavioral recognition to pick up on emotion, intent and human psychology to deliver pages in a way that is best suited for an individual. If you’re curious, check out NextStage’s game (I only got to page seven). Although it won’t tell you how it works, your way of thinking will become part of the knowledge base. You’ve heard that multiple learning styles exist; some people are visual learners and others logical. These technologies have the ability to pick up on those different styles and present information in corresponding formats. It’s my vision that the Web at large adopts these practices to place information at our fingertips in such a way that is most consumable by us. And delivers content and information that is relevant to not only to our historic profiles, but within the context of our visits. Granted, this is not easy to do and content creation (something I spoke on earlier this week at WebContent2008) requires resources and is often a formidable challenge. So if you’re a technologist; how do you enlist participation and if you’re a practitioner; how do you begin to leverage these revolutionary technologies?

Technology Creators:
One school of thought says that you simply wait for practitioners to accept your technology. In the meantime, show your [insert time-machine-esque technology solution here] to a few innovators, allow them to stumble through the crawl-walk-run stages of development and then spotlight their success as proof of concept. Yet, this method requires the patience to wait years in an age where behavior can advance at the speed of a commercial on Tivo. The innovative few who represent the early adopters however, have a substantial leg up on the competition.

Alternatively, provide some bite-sized access to the solution so that adopters aren’t taking a leap of faith off an uncharted cliff. This has proven out well in other technologies with managed service models. In this way, a slow leak of functionality doesn’t scare away the customer and sets a foundation for further development.

Technology Implementers and Practitioners:
Early technology adopters may tend to view new initiatives as monumental projects that require hundreds of development hours and ongoing management. This mentality fosters a state of paralysis and inaction because of the implications of such an endeavor. Technology adoption can (and does) often happen under duress which usually crescendos after consumers (or senior management) scream for change – or – the Web takes a left turn and alters course (as it’s done with user generated content) forcing compliance. Yet, hasty reactions can make for failed endeavors.

Start somewhere and keep your eye on the deep end. An appetizer perhaps, before eating the entire elephant? Others may leapfrog this stage and go straight to mind-boggling innovation, yet there’s room for many models. Getting your house in order requires looking toward the future. Technology will facilitate the future of Web evolution and if your organization isn’t thinking about how these percipient means of delivering content will come to fruition, then you’re already lagging.

What do you think? Have you ever turned your back on technology because you weren’t ready for it? Are some technologies too far out there?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Buying Offline, Virtually

So I was on my way to the airport and had about 30 minutes to spare. In need of a new book, I stopped into the closest bookstore (a Barnes & Nobles) and decided to treat the experience as an offline rendition of an online exercise. I marched straight to the help desk as if it were the search bar on the homepage. The friendly clerk found my book (Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger) within about 30 seconds and kindly asked me to follow him to Business Technology / Social Sciences bookracks. Hmmm…I never would have found this on my own…I pondered, following my searchers lead to the back of the store.

He whisked me past the coffee bar area, where a community of folks shared tables, presumably chatting about literature and noble worldly issues. Looked inviting, but I was on a mission. To the racks, my guide quickly located the book in my query, good fortune I thought, as he grabbed the last copy from the shelf. I viewed this book online at both Amazon and, so recognized the cover in an instant. I thanked him for his help and briskly proceeded to the checkout. I weaved between the tables of discounted books as I navigated my way to the checkout counter.

The line was just long enough for me to pick up a strategically placed book near the point of sale, which I abandoned upon the startling “next” call and walked to the register. The clerk adeptly processed my transaction and without needing a bag, I was off and running. Not too dissimilar from an online experience, I was in and out of the store in just under 10 minutes. Off to the airport and nestled into my exit row, I was into chapter one. I tell you this because as much as online attempts to mirror offline, sometimes you can treat an offline experience with the blatant efficiency of an online transaction. Am I nuts or has this ever happened to you?

JupiterResearch Facts:
• 42% of all retail sales in 2008 will occur online or be influenced by the online channel.
• 71% of online buyers visit the site of purchase multiple times prior to purchasing.
• 56% of online buyers visited multiple different Web sites prior to purchasing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Multivariate Testing Moves Further Upstream

Two press releases crossed my inbox yesterday that made me smile. The first was from Clickability, a hosted Web Content Management solution and the second was from Google. The information was largely the same, announcing Google’s Website Optimizer Technology Partner program, where they’ve made their testing solution widely available to content creators using Content Management Systems (CMS). Partnering CMS providers can automate page tagging enabling more testing and easy setup.

These releases made me smile because I’ve been preaching the merits of moving testing upstream in the Web site optimization process for a while now. All too often, multivariate and A/B tests are performed as a means to identify problems and address issues, rather than a method to create better pages from the start. Interwoven was the first company to key into this potential and snatched up industry leader Optimost back in October of last year. They’re doing a great job of promoting the benefits of multivariate testing and including testing as a part of the content creation process. The caveat here is that testing should not impede progress. Even for sites that do move testing upstream, testing should start after a control page (build on best practices of course) has launched. This will establish a baseline for optimizing and ensure that sites get to market with something, rather than testing themselves into oblivion.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Leung of Google Website Optimizer this afternoon who reiterated the synergies between testing and content management. We both pondered on why all content management companies don’t offer testing capabilities? When I asked about the basis for the new partner program he referenced Marqui as the company who really drove the project based on the initiative they took on integrating Website Optimizer into their own platform. They leveraged the IT Guy link to parse tags for clients and get them started with testing online advertisements. The idea snowballed and with Marqui’s initiative and Google supporting the effort, the partner program was born. Different levels of the partnership exist from simply certifying that the CMS and Website Optimizer systems are compatible and won’t break each other to automated implementations that permeate across an entire CMS solution. Down the road some partners will likely make the integration even more seamless to achieve one-click testing and optimization nirvana.

Tom agreed with the upstream concept and took it even further to state that testing shouldn’t be a big deal to set up. In fact, his vision is that testing becomes inherent to content creation and as ubiquitous as spellchecker or print preview. As with Google’s Analytics tool, Website Optimizer is free and their mission is to raise awareness of testing and make it available to the masses. The key takeaway here is that testing shouldn’t be something on your long term roadmap. The tools are here and there are increasing resources ready to help you get up and running.