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Users: Your Website’s Most Valuable Resource

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© O'Reilly Media, Inc.

I personally don’t like the phrase “Web 2.0”. It has some great meaning behind it, as outlined in our reading from Tim O’Reilly, but ultimately ended up as just a marketing buzzword. Other words have become simple marketing tools as well, ‘social’ for example. An app that lets me drop pins on a map to mark the exact location of where my dog pooped and allows me see where the most popular poop spot is by aggregating data from other dog owners is social, but to what end? Another more technical term that is mentioned as part of Web 2.0 is AJAX. It may not be something that’s thrown around to the average web surfer, but if you’re looking through scripts to power your website you’ll see it quite a bit (content management systems, forums, blog platforms, etc). AJAX is a combination of several different web technologies, as O’Reilly mentions in his article, but for administrators not everything needs AJAX behind it.  It’s just become some sort of buzzword that makes a product sound better.

Cutting through these marketing terms and determining how to take your website to the next level is difficult. In my opinion, user engagement and interaction is paramount to success and is really about what the next stage of the internet is all about. Even better is if you can get users to contribute to your site. The mammoth Wikipedia is an extreme example, but that’s written all on user generated content; there’s no webmaster typing up hundreds of thousands of articles about almost everything known to man. For people looking to make advertising dollars this can be a huge opportunity since it allows for the owner to crowd-source content and be able to place advertising on those pages. This can be a bit shady if not done transparently, but if you need to pay a large yearly or monthly hosting cost those dollars might not even be personal profit, they can be reinvested in the website.

I have two points that I think are very important when dealing with users/website visitors and how to make a website more forward thinking when it comes to web presence:

  • User interaction: I like to put polls on my sites; they’re a simple way to get the visitor to feel more like they’re a part of your website. They can submit an opinion and see the results of other users who are visiting the same site as themselves. This gives your viewers a shared experience and a sense of involvement.  Other ways to encourage user interaction are comments for blog posts and articles.  This is a much stronger way to engage visitors than a simple poll and allows them to express thoughts and interact with other visitors on the site. The comments may also get read by a fair number of viewers so it will add to the amount of time people stay on your website.
  • User generated content: Comments could also fall under this category as well.  Whether it’s comments, wiki pages, or guest posting… user generated content can increase a site’s content and also help make the website a more personal and approachable experience. I think a great example of this is Amazon‘s review system. I often go to Amazon for reviews, even if I’m looking at a physical product in front of me at the store.  This does sometimes lead me to find a much cheaper price available online and could dissuade me from making a physical purchase if I’m not in a huge hurry.  This sort of user generated content makes Amazon a great place to go for looking up product information… and Amazon’s not even responsible for these pieces of content I frequent the site for.

Not every site needs to have a Facebook-esque level of social content, but making your site more than just a static piece of paper on the internet is something that’s very important in my view. In the 1990s we had website viewers. Now we have website users.  There’s a very dynamic shift from people reading a website like a newspaper article to people being able to have a conversation with others while reading that same piece.

On the main site I run, I always encourage comments because it really makes my posts come alive when you have people reacting to it and then reacting to each others’ reactions.  It’s a chain reaction.  A reaction of reactions (I’ll stop now). I think that’s probably one of my favorite parts of managing a website, the users.

– Paul

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