Thursday, June 19, 2008
Botox Season on the Web
By David Berkowitz
Earlier this week on "The Daily Show," Larry Wilmore reported on how Beverly Hills is coping with today's economic hardships, where women are waiting longer to get their Botox refills and plastic surgeons are taking on reconstructive surgery cases just to pay their golf dues.
That's hardly the case in digital media, where the plastic surgeons of the Web have their hands full. It seems like every other major site and software program is getting its digital version of Botox lately. These sites want to look better, and generally more youthful, without calling too much attention to themselves. We'll review the latest round of e-Botox projects and see who wears their new looks well.
MySpace performed cosmetic surgery across its browser and profile pages Wednesday.
What's better: There are fewer sections on the homepage, with some other elements hidden in tabs, and more rounded corners. Members can more easily rearrange applications on their profiles, and site navigation has been improved.
What's not: The massive ad space on the homepage is overpowering, even more than the takeovers were before. The notifications settings that can lead to email overload haven't been fixed, so it's still an all or nothing opt-in approach. Lastly, it's still MySpace, and while it's extraordinarily popular, there's a vocal contingent of former members who have moved on. If you're in that camp, this isn't enough to make you come back.
Value for consumers: Consumers who are into MySpace will generally appreciate the tweaks, though the overpowering branding on the homepage could be a minor turnoff.
Impact for marketers: There's more visibility on the homepage, though you could still do homepage takeovers before. The profile ad space hasn't changed.
This week, Mozilla officially released the new Firefox 3 browser, setting a record with over 8 million downloads in 24 hours.
What's better: You can go to Mashable to see a great recap of features, including a few I didn't realize were there. The biggest difference with the Web browser is the aptly named "awesome bar," the location bar where you enter URLs. Now you can type in keywords and it will bring up a list of pages and links ranked by how recently and frequently you've visited them. For instance, to find that Mashable article, I typed 'mashable firefox' and it led me to the link, rather than requiring me to scroll through some often-meaningless URLs.
What's not: It's still a memory hog, though it seems better than before. Some add-ons aren't supporting it yet, though that will largely change (except for Google Browser Sync, which is closing up shop).
Value for consumers: Easier Web browsing, bookmarking, and downloading means more fun and productivity while surfing.
Impact for marketers: I haven't seen this explored at all, let alone documented, but I'd wager that direct navigation will increase as a percentage of overall web visits. This could adversely affect brand term searches from repeat visitors, and it could in turn mean marginally less revenue for Google. I wouldn't expect this to show up easily, but that's something to look for in the server logs (post a comment if you've seen anything already). Google has been promoting Firefox aggressively; if this effect takes hold, will Google reconsider?
Those are just two from this week. Here are a few other emerging examples:
Next month, Facebook is significantly overhauling its profile pages along with the site navigation. You can see details on the official Facebook Profiles Preview page. The new, cleaner, faster-loading design relegates applications to separate tabs on profile pages, which will make it even harder to market apps. This could wind up benefiting Facebook advertising and app ad networks as marketers invest more to promote the applications.
What does a $53 million investment buy? Polls! Okay, maybe there's no direct correlation between the funding and the new feature, but LinkedIn is testing out a sponsored polling function on the site, with Forbes as an initial advertiser. It could be good market research for marketers, but will they bite? Facebook has had sponsored polls for awhile, though I haven't heard of any case studies here and haven't seen a poll in a long time.
Actually, there hasn't been any recent redesign. Despite popular belief, the " Twitter is over capacity" error page is not the site's new homepage.
That's just one sign that the Web's version of Botox specialists still have some work to do.
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David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can read his blog at MarketersStudio.com.