In the early days of the web, web site interactivity was pretty much limited to simple forms. (Remember “Sign my guest book!”?) As technology advanced, greater and more meaningful interactivity became possible, and the idea of “Web 2.0” was born. The term “Web 2.0” doesn’t refer to a new version of the World Wide Web, but rather a shift in the way web sites are presented and used.
Generally, Web 2.0 features include the capability for web site visitors to provide the content. At one extreme, there is Wikipedia, in which substantially all the content is provided by site visitors, and the content is mostly self-policed by the user community rather than site administrators. Other sites that feature mostly or completely user-generated content range from Myspace and its successors, Facebook and Twitter; to advertisers, such as Craigslist; and review sites, such as Yelp. Most major retailer sites, including Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, enable users to post reviews of their products.
Web site owners who don’t already incorporate Web 2.0-ish features in their sites may reasonably ask, “Should I?” The technology has advanced to the point where adding such features to a site is not overly complicated or expensive, so the answer, is usual, is a big fat “it depends.” To give you some food for thought, here are some common “Web 2.0” features to consider:
Blogs and Comments and Feedback, oh My!
One way to connect with your visitors is with a blog, like the one you’re reading, which enables you to share your thoughts as frequently as you want. Blogs are also an effective SEO tool, enabling you to place keywords that can bring new visitors to your site. To further connect with your visitors, you can (as we have!) enable them to add their comments, thereby stimulating discussion in your community.
There are various controls you can put on blog commenting: You can allow anonymous commenting, or you can require users to register with the site before they can add comments. You can allow comments to be posted immediately, or have someone check them first before posting. Allowing anonymous commenting and immediate posting is less work for you up front, but has to potential for abuse, such as off-topic flame wars and spam content. You should determine how much effort you want to put into it and decide from there.
Reviews — For Better or for Worse
If you sell products, you may want to consider allowing visitors to post their reviews. Like blog commenting, reviews can have various controls applied. Most retailers steer clear of anonymous reviews, and even registered users can cause problems. Of course, you have to appear to be as hands-off as possible — if the user community suspects you are hand-picking the positive reviews or intentionally deleting the negative ones, your reputation will suffer. Look at the negative reviews as opportunities to improve your products or services.
Amazon, and other retailers, have programs that recognize and reward high-volume reviewers, and allow other users to rate the usefulness of every review. These features can help minimize pointless or thoughtless reviews.
Tagging (without using pink sticky notes)
“Tagging” refers to the practice of enabling users to attach their own keywords to your web content, to make it easier for them and others to more easily find the content in the future. This requires almost no intervention or maintenance. There is a risk that users will add unrelated terms or nonsense words, but research shows that as the number of tags increases, the majority of them stabilize to an appropriate set of tags.
At bottom, you need to weigh the advantages (and potential pitfalls) of each feature with what it costs in terms of maintenance effort. Web 2.0 features are a great way to engage with your users and encourage them to build a community around your business. If you have the time resources to manage them, they can be a useful tool for building loyalty and driving new customers your way. Talk to your web developer about more ideas for incorporating Web 2.0 features in your site.