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Design Dogma, Mobile Musings and the Social Sweet Spot at Web 2.0

Design Dogma, Mobile Musings and the Social Sweet Spot at Web 2.0

The Web 2.0 Expo wrapped up its final round of keynote speakers on Thursday. Taking the stage were representatives from companies like Quora, Facebook and Zillow. Great design "is all the work you don't ask people to do when they use your product," said Quora's Rebekah Cox. "It's all the decisions you don't ask users to make because you've made them already."

Succeeding with social media marketing was one of the keynote topics at the Web 2.0 conference Thursday.

Others involved tips on going mobile, while some touched on the subject of design, which seems to be gaining new importance, judging from the number of keynotes focusing on that topic at the conference.

There was no shortage of useful advice on this, the last day of the Web 2.0 Expo, being held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Making It in Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is all the rage these days. Mediabistro announced an online social media marketing bootcamp on Wednesday, the same day Salesforce.com announced it's buying social media monitoring platform Radian6 for US$326 million. Just last week, IBM announced a cloud-based social media analytics package for marketers.

However, leveraging social media marketing requires -- dare I say it? -- a paradigm shift.

"Rather than orienting around categories of goods like brands, social brands orientate around a community or lifestyle, and those that will succeed will let customers shape their brand," Susan Gregg Koger, cofounder and chief creative officer at ModCloth.com told a packed room of perhaps 600 people.

"That takes the traditional retail model and flips it on its head," Koger stated. "This is great for customers. They'll get more products that they love. And it's great for retailers too, but only if they embrace this change and listen to what customers have to say," she added.

Communications with customers should be personal and not corporate, Koger recommended. "This isn't just another marketing channel for social brands, and you can't treat it as such," she explained.

Customer-driven. What a concept.

Vox Populi est Vox Dei

That notion of being customer-driven also apparently drives Facebook, nowadays at least, although those of us whose memories stretch back a couple of years will recall that the social media site often rides roughshod over basic customer needs such as privacy and only gives ground after hordes of angry customers get very vocal in their opposition.

In any event, the customer is king, at least to Adam Mosseri, the product design manager at Facebook.

His first task four months after coming onboard at Facebook was to redesign the social media giant's home page and that "was super, super bombed," with users immediately assuming an "I automatically hate the new Facebook home page" stance, among other things, Mosseri told the audience.

Much deep thinking followed, and Mosseri realized it's important to seek user feedback.

"For us, the major takeaway is that value isn't always obvious to the user," Mosseri stated. "It's obvious to us because we eat, sleep and breathe it," he added.

Let Them eat Cake -- but Bake a Good One

Not everybody thinks customer input is critical.

"People aren't necessarily the best judges of what the best experience is until you show them something different," Adam Goldstein, cofounder and CEO of the travel search site Hipmunk, said during his presentation.

Well, a really prominent advocate of that philosophy is our old friend, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Also like Jobs, Goldstein considers the user experience critical.

"A good user experience is something that people will remember, and it's something that doesn't require a huge amount of expense," Goldstein remarked. "We just focused on what people needed and they picked up on it themselves."

Startups going into a crowded market should focus on user experience rather than advertising, Goldstein suggested.

Design's All About Decisions

Design is key to a good user experience, and there's a groundswell of support for good design because it's "proving again and again to be a great competitive advantage," Rebekah Cox, product design manager at Quora, told the audience.

Design is "a set of decisions about a product," Cox said. "Ultimately your product isn't going to be defined by any one big thing ... but by all those little decisions you make along the way," she explained.

Taking a design-centric approach to products focuses attention where it matters most -- on the goals and purpose of creating a product, Cox stated.

"You can create the coolest-looking product in the world, but if you haven't spent time thinking of all the incentives and all the reasons for people to use your product, it doesn't matter," Cox elaborated.

Great design "is all the work you don't ask people to do when they use your product," Cox opined. "It's all the decisions you don't ask users to make because you've made them already."

Hmm ... smells like Apple spirit.

When and Why to Go Mobile

Although going mobile's being widely touted as the wave of the future, not everyone can benefit from doing so, Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow.com, said in his keynote.

"When you look at your business, evaluate objectively what type of impact mobile will have on your business," Rascoff urged. "I find some people whose business won't be transformed by mobile are starting to fixate on it."

Companies should go heavily into mobile technology only if it significantly impacts their business, Rascoff recommended.

Going mobile can involve quite a bit of work.

For example, Zillow.com had to change its recruiting strategy, its brand name, and its internal business intelligence systems.

Zillow.com used to hire people with specialist expertise "but this is impossible to do for mobile because developers with mobile skills are hard to find and hard to get, so we hired very good designers who are willing to learn to develop for mobile," Rascoff said.

Changing its brand name was a major exercise for Zillow.com.

"When you're a five-year-old company with a lot of brand equity; with links that look a particular way; with people that talk about your company in a particular way, [changing the brand name] is harder than it sounds," Rascoff explained.

Zillow rebuilt its business intelligence systems and implemented different types of measurements because the original systems were focused on its online business.

"We made significant resource allocations," Rascoff told his audience. Zillow has launched apps for the iPad, iPhone and Android, and on Thursday unveiled an app for the BlackBerry.


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