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 mktg brainlog » The new web - revolutionary evolution: Web 2.0 for affiliate marketing
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The new web - revolutionary evolution: Web 2.0 for affiliate marketing

At the risk of upsetting the webosphere by publishing yet another post celebrating the birth of bubble 2.0 web 2.0, I am now posting an earlier article of mine that appeared in April 2006 in Affiliate Classroom magazine. The goal was to introduce the concept of web 2.0 to the affiliate marketing world, so please don’t be upset if you all know this stuff by now. :)
This article was the first installment in a series of articles on web 2.0 and affiliate marketing, that appear monthly in the magazine. I will be posting more of them regularly on this blog, and be sure to check out the latest one at Affiliate Classroom!

The new web - revolutionary evolution

by Katalin Török

From the cover of the latest issue of Newsweek magazine to your favourite marketing blog, it seems like everywhere you look, a new article or discussion pops up on the new trend, ãweb 2.0″. The web is debating whether it actually exists or if it is merely some kind of a thought bubble kept alive because we keep taking about it so much. And there is the unavoidable comparison with the dot-com bubble of the nineties. But deep down web 2.0 may be a revolution in the making. Ignore it at your own risk.

What is web 2.0?

The term was first popularized by a 2004 O’Reilly Media conference titled, well ãWeb 2.0″. The glitterati of the internet world gathered to talk about ãthe next web”. Rather than merely being a networking session of the rich and famous of the e-business, this conference jumpstarted discussions on the evolution of the web, the social trends driving changes on all levels of the internet business environment.

After years of discussions around it, it is still hard to find a concise definition of what web 2.0 actually means. It is still very much a developing concept, or rather a group of concepts. And yes, it is a buzzword as well. It is a trendy trend, and thus it attracts endless attention. The term is stuck on logos of ambitious start-ups in hopes of attracting media and investor attention, and written up in articles, forums and on blogs all over the web.

One approach often used to explain the concept is to list companies that are definitely and unanimously considered to be web 2.0. Flickr (http://www.flickr.com), del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us), 37Signals (http://www.37signals.com, makers of the popular project management tool Basecamp, and related web-based productivity software) come to mind as the poster childs of web 2.0. Another approach is to compare technologies, tools and services of the ãold web” and the ãnew web”. Contextual CPC vs CPM advertising, tagging vs centralized directories, blogs and user participation vs traditional publishing are often cited differences between the old and the new web.

The old web and the new web co-exist. Encyclopedia Britannica still exists next to Wikipedia, and email newsletters are still an important tool despite the increasing importance of RSS. But a revolution is in the making on the world wide web and the affiliate marketing world had better take notice.

We could fill this entire issue comparing every nook and cranny of the old web to the new, but others have done it for us before. A search for ãweb 2.0″ brings up 71 million hits in Google, and even page 86 of the results brings up interesting articles analyzing the importance - or the existence - of the trend. A trip to the newsagents and you will have a library of web 2.0 material to process.

As an affiliate marketer, you want to keep track of the evolving web, the trends that affect your business environment, user behavior and competition, web services and software. So let’s look at the trends, features and concepts that affect the web at this moment, the ones that have a direct impact on the affiliate playing field.

The trends

The social web

One of the building blocks of the new web is social software, social websites, social everything. Whereas personal websites, traditional bookmarking services or photo galleries merely provided an outlet to publish or store your content, bookmarks or holiday photos, the new incarnations of these tools have an added social aspect. They give users the ability to give and take, and leverage the value of the aggreagate activities of the community of users, to derive value from sharing.

The new web is open for user participation and collaboration, explicitly - as in Flickr user groups where people voluntarily join to talk and share photos on given subjects - or as a welcome side-effect of seamlessly aggregating the activities of users - as in browsing photos on Flickr by tags aggregating the user base’s records of every subject from kitchen cabinets to interesting shop portals. The resulting mass of content is elevated to a new level by the collaborative organization (tagging!) and evaluation (voting, commenting, backlinks) of the users.

An important driver of this trend is that every single day more and more of our lives are ported to the web. The ãubiquitous web” - there is a phrase for every trend within a trend - means that we can access the web everywhere and anytime and we will use the web for everything and everywhere. Your bookmarks move from a file on your computer to del.icio.us, your calendar moves from your day planner to a web productivity application, and lately, office documents move from your shared drive to web-based collaborative word processors. And once our life is on the web, why not share it and benefit from the added value of aggregation?

You may recall that ãcommunity” used to be the buzzword of the 90s internet gold rush. User particiation is not a new trend, rather social software is extending it to all aspects of web life and building the tools for sharing and collaboration into the software and services themselves.

The rise and rise of data and related services

One of the strangest sounding new words that emerged around web 2.0 is ãmashup”. A mashup is a website that combines content and data from several different sources, integrating them seamlessly in one central web site. This is the realm of web services and APIs, from big merchants like Amazon and eBay to services like del.icio.us and Google Maps, data services provide a mindboggling selection of data to combine in every imaginable manner.

As more and more merchants and services offer APIs or other methods for data and content syndication, endless possibilities emerge for twisting these data sets into niche products, be it mixing ebay ads with maps showing listings in a certain neighborhood, or complementing product data from a web store with related links to reviews and manufacturers, or even photos of the product in use by actual users from Flickr.

Some affiliate marketers have been riding this wave for years, since datafeed sites that combine several merchants’ products are in a way mashups - slicing and dicing different data feeds for added value. Complementing such sites with new data sources - especially aggregate data from services like social bookmarking sites - can result in rich and colorful new sites creating unique content from external data.

Clear design is good design, the rise of the web app

The strikingly similar look and feel of some of the web 2.0 companies and services is the subject of many jokes about the web 2.0 hype: ãbuild a site with big bold type lots of pastel colors and gradients, and you are web 2.0.” But behind the looks there lies an important trend: the new web sets new standards for usability and design.

Good design has never been so important in society, and the web isn’t left behind in this trend. Web 2.0 is as much about good design as it is about user participation and data. Clever uses of new techniques (e.g. AJAX, which we could easily call ãJavaScript 2.0″, not meaning to the exact version number) make websites more responsive, easier to use, faster and sleeker than their web 1.0 predecessors. The clean and polished look of current web design trends accentuates the things that create the real value of a website: the content or service it offers, resulting in a better user experience.

A good illustration of the power of web 2.0 features is the rise of collaborative word processors. Web apps, or web applications are web-based versions of applications like calendaring programs or office suites. The new breed of web 2.0 office web apps combine two important trends: usability - being easier and faster to use than traditional desktop word processors-, and social software - the ability for multiple users to collaborate on the same document seamlessly, even real time, and to share it with coworkers via the web. (See www.writely.com or www.writeboard.com for examples.)

Affiliate marketing 2.0

This article barely scratched the suface of the web 2.0 trend, in future issues we will explore each aspect more closely. But as a take-away from this article here are a few thoughts on how you can start leveraging the new web environment for your affiliate business:

Web 2.0ify your site design: and we don’t mean to copy the bold fonts and gradient pastel colors. Think about how you can make your site more usable and more responsive. As more and more of the biggest websites take on the new trends (and they already are!), some of these web 2.0 design trends and techniques will become the standards, just like the 3-column layout did a decade ago.

Web 2.0ify your business model: It has never been a better time to get into datafeeds. And by datafeeds we mean all kinds of data. Bookmarks, photos, maps, ISBN numbers, news articles, the web is chock full of free data sources ready to be integrated into your site. Complement your merchants’ product feeds with free data from other services to build up a content-rich site, think about your niche and which kinds of data your users will benefit from.

Web 2.0ify your site features: open up your site for user participation. Does your site have features that allow sharing and participation? Do you allow visitors to share their views and comments on your content? Do you have a blog with an RSS feed to initiate a conversation with your visitors? Add links like ãAdd to del.icio.us” or ãDigg this” to help visitors share your link with one click. Can your users build their own version of your offerings to share with their peers?

It pays to be an early adaptor. Learn about the trends and how the new web functions. Web 2.0 is rapidly going mainstream, so adapt your site and business now to reap the benefits of the new web environment!

Originally appeared in Affiliate Classroom magazine

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