It’s the end of the web site as we know it

RethinkI was thinking of that indelible REM song as I was consuming my usual fare on the blogosphere yesterday.  Maybe it was because so many professed at how great it was to be disconnected over the long weekend, but it was odd to see two long posts in the same day putting out a call for radical changes to the approach to web sites.  I guess being disconnected gives time for deep thinking.

Jeff Jarvis started it out by outlining in detail how newspapers and other media properties should rethink the home page.  Rightfully pointing out that the vast majority of readers go to publications’ web sites via links from e-mail, RSS readers and Google searches, he advocates a site so dynamic and flexible, users shouldn’t need to leave.  It would be driven by dynamically updated widgets, feeds and "shows" — using all forms of media (video, audio, text/images) — with content from the media properties themselves, as well as competitors.  The sites also would be radically customizable by readers because they should have control over the content, not the publications.  Many properties (e.g. USA Today, BBC, Washington Post) are starting this rethink, but Jarvis states that the possibilities are endless.

Jeremiah Owyang, meanwhile, called the current corporate web site "irrelevant."  He expresses his belief that because most corporate sites only contain static content filled with hyperbole, customers and prospective customers don’t use it to make purchasing decisions.  Rather, they trust the information they get from peers in blogs and discussion forums, in addition to off-line conversations.  It is not until after they make their decisions from this interaction that they go to the corporate web site to obtain factual information about the company and its products.  He proposes a rethink centered on giving a company’s community an opportunity shape the content on the web site through such things as customer testimonials (good and bad) and wikis.

Many marketers may react to the proposals put forth by Jarvis and Owyang as radical, but an implicit point made by both is that the technology that has been used by bloggers and other "new influencers" is there for corporations to use to establish brand loyalty and trust.  I believe all should be considered and if anything, to start small with RSS feeds, podcasts of customer commentary on news, etc. and build from there.