New trends in Web behaviour

Karthik kumar Chennai | Updated on January 11, 2011 Published on January 11, 2011


A few weeks ago, discussing how browsers use the Web, a colleague observed that there are two ways the Web is being consumed. Early adopters of the Web typically surf it via search engines, URLs saved as favourites, and/or keying in the closest approximation to the domain name. Later adopters, who typically embraced the Web in the last few years, started off using Facebook or some other Social Networking Site (SNS), and since such sites have an overpowering stickiness, use such SNS to sate their information needs too. Coincidentally, around the same time we were discussing this topic, Facebook overtaking Google in terms of page views and time spent was announced.

These developments, together with the emergence of mobile devices such as smart phones, book readers, etc, — and the integration of SNS with them — have significant implications for paradigms of information consumption and interaction with the Web, and hence the emerging economic opportunities.

It's ‘App'ening

Likely to be first affected is the browser as a source of technological competitive edge on users' screens. With later entrants using an SNS as an entry point and the emergence of apps, more and more content on the Web can be directly accessed through apps, either on mobile devices or on desktops. And, since even social networking sites are in the process of being ‘appified', it is conceivable that in the not too distant future, the famed browser wars will be consigned to history books and whatever needs to be accessed can be done so with a single-use app or via a chosen SNS.

Does this mean that the browser as the means to access the Web will wither away? Clearly, the answer is not in the near future. However, a metric such as ‘share of Web access', which measures the different access points of the Web, is likely to become a reality sooner rather than later. This metric will be a key influencer of the multiplicity of digital assets that would need to be created to ensure that participants can derive the full benefit of the Internet.

Transformation in ‘search'

Search is the second area that is likely to undergo a profound transformation. Those who keep their SNS opened up or are mobile are more than likely to ‘ask around' their network via the SNS site, rather than use a search engine, as in the old days. Such ‘asking around' is not only analogous to a normal human practice but also comes bundled with intrinsically credible recommendations, since the answer is being provided by those the searcher ‘trusts'. That a network effect exists can be validated anecdotally by several incidents that have reported the spread of angst amongst teenagers and the youth. These are largely negative currently. However, it is unlikely that it will not be long before the positive impact of the network effect will be in the ascendant, as Groupon and its clones demonstrate.

Specificity in advertising

The network effect of search on SNS has the potential to challenge Google's leadership in the search advertising market. Quite simply, keyword targeting on SNS can be filtered by profiles and targeted to specific individuals. Quite the opposite of keyword targeting on search engines, where specificity is restricted to the keyword, rather than the individual. This greater specificity will lead to higher response rates to the advertising. In fact, it is surprising that SNS has not as yet exploited this potential, since it does not currently offer keyword-based advertising options. But this has not stopped savvy marketers. For example, in the US, at the start of the college season this year, a broker created pages on Facebook for the incoming student population. The broker then went on to advertise room-sharing arrangements based on profile for a small fee on these pages.

On cusp of change

So, what is likely to happen to browsers in general and search engines in particular? As earlier observed, the early generation of Web users is likely to continue using browsers for their Web needs. Even among the later generation, even if accessing the SNS, the browser will continue to be an important interface. Additionally, a large number of Web applications, e.g. online shopping, data aggregation, etc, would be more conveniently accessible via a computer screen. At the current moment a browser is the most appropriate technology for these purposes.

Similarly, the network effect of ‘asking around' is likely to be most applicable to search for immediate solutions, such as a product, a beauty tip, a cooking recipe or a formula. More involved information seeking will certainly be via search engines given their depth of data and ability to return a large volume of information to choose from.

This view is supported, notwithstanding recent data reporting that Web users spend more time on Facebook than on Google. Parsing the data shows this. In October, for instance, 26.2 per cent of India's Web users visited Facebook. However, what is significant is that 91 per cent of them also visited Google. On second thoughts, then, the two data are not at variance with each other.

Intuitively, a Facebook visit is likely to take a longer time since the visitor would be going through all the activities of the network. On the other hand, a visit to the search engine is restricted to the time taken to key in the search term and for the search results to be generated. In the light of this, perhaps a more appropriate metric for measuring Web site visits should be the number of times a site is visited by each unique visitor to the Internet and the agent (i.e. mail client, app, bookreader, etc) used.

All told, it would seem that 2011 is yet another cusp in the evolution of the Web that will perhaps lead to newer paradigms, newer challenges and newer opportunities.

The author is a Director at Rage Communications. He can be reached at >

In the not too distant future, the famed browser wars will be consigned to history books and whatever needs to be accessed can be done so with a single use app or via a chosen social networking site.

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Published on January 11, 2011
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