Welcome to the Site-less Web

Posterous is a new service that radiates a person’s social media activity out to a network of community sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Delicious. Posterous is one of a host of new services that automate the once-tedious manual process of cross-posting information to multiple websites and social networks. Other pure-play entrants in this category include Ping.fm, Dlvr.it and the WordPress plugin Supr, but the basic capability to cross-post information across multiple social media is rapidly becoming a part of nearly every Web application. Google Buzz, which was announced just this week, has some of the same functionality.

These are the first ripples in a wave of new technology that will make the Internet effectively site-less. By that I mean that the metaphor of the Web as we’ve known it for the last 15 years is breaking down. The Internet is increasingly not about sites but about content and people. As technology makes it possible for our online scribblings to appear wherever we may choose, the task of assessing influence will become considerably more complex.

The big change in the landscape is that information no longer needs to have a homepage in order to reach an audience. Facebook kicked off this trend when it created a service that was so popular that some brands found it was more desirable to use Facebook as a homepage than their branded websites. Honda is a notable example of this. The auto maker has started listing a Facebook fan page as the destination URL in its TV ads. The tactic is a bit of a gimmick, but it’s also indicative of a shift in marketer perceptions. As Coca-Cola’s Digital Communications Director Adam Brown told me recently, “Our philosophy is to fish where the fish are.”

Only it’s becoming more difficult to figure out where the fish are. As social networks integrate their content, the contributions of individuals will become detached from discrete websites. On Twitter, for example, conversations exist in a stateless form that finds a home on Twitter.com, TweetDeck, Seesmic, blog widgets or any other listening device that catches them. How do we assess influence in this environment?

In the early days of social media (and by that I mean 2006!), online influencers used their blogs as a home base and relied upon word-of-mouth, inbound links and search engines to deliver an audience. Today, the blog is almost irrelevant. With Posterous, a blog entry can be created as an e-mail message and posted automatically to a couple of dozen social outposts, formatted for the unique capabilities of each destination. Some of these services publish fan and follower counts but others don’t. Determining an influencer’s “share of market” is a matter of picking through search results and the metrics provided by various channels to measure a person’s total footprint.

In time, services will emerge that make sense of this chaos, but for now this is a classic case of technology outpacing people’s ability to understand it. For marketers, the key point is that the website as we have known it is diminishing in importance, influencers are magnifying their voices and the rules of engagement are being reset. The good news is that everyone can use these tools, so if you’re currently limiting your publishing activities to a blog or Twitter, consider expanding your scope. The bad news is that the influencer you thought you had identified and corralled is now blasting messages to a whole lot of different audiences. Only time will tell what the impact of that new reality will be.

Welcome to the Site-less Web

35 thoughts on “Welcome to the Site-less Web

  1. Is this an example of site-less or better connectivity among all of our social media methods? Nevertheless, you raise some very good points.

    I think the Web will be siteless when URLs are no longer as important as RSS feeds. Then we will have become totally interconnected.

  2. It’s definitely better connectivity. When you think of Twitter, that service is essentially site-less. it’s really the first social media platform to open up the mobile market and I think that’s one important reason.

  3. I agree on all your points. Now how do we get marketers to invest ($) in creating the relevant content/conversations daily to attract the fish in such a huge ocean?

  4. Forrester’s Interactive Marketing Forecast from last July had some interesting numbers on that. It pointed to a major disconnect between the amount of time consumers spend with different media and the percentage of marketing dollars allocated to the media. As I recall, television and newspapers were getting a hugely disproportionate share relative to consumer attention. Old habits die hard.

    Perhaps a starting point is to look at the declining effectiveness of many of the traditional media platforms and ask if it makes sense to spend more money on a loser or start shifting some funds to tactics that are showing promise. My forthcoming research on multi-platform social media integration will show some overwhelmingly favorable experiences from marketers that have ramped up their social media marketing efforts. It’s still a small survey base, but the enthusiasm is impressive.

    Companies change slowly. Early adopters blaze the trail and then a few big brands clear the forest. I’ve spoken to Coca-Cola, Ford, Mars, Sodexho and others for this research and their social media marketing results are blowing away traditional metrics.

  5. Thanks for this interesting post. In a recent german debate, we were discussing the same topic. I see this also from a designer’s perspective. The tasks and needs of classic ‘web designers’ have deeply changed nowadays. It’s not just about design, but about networking and communicating. It will be in the future like a huge online “cocktail-party” (as Steve McKee put it) where you’re chattering, selling, managing, speaking, listening a.s.o. Although it’s never the last word, but thank you for this inspiration …
    Best wishes from Germany
    Roland

  6. Paul,

    I’m really not debating most of these assertions… I’ve had many of those same thoughts myself.

    However, I question whether or not you actually believe that blogs are really “almost irrelevant” — as you post that assertion on your very popular blog…

    Without a doubt, our toolsets and along with them our mindsets are changing… However, it may be a stretch to assert this signifies the end of blogging as we know it.

    It’s also difficult to accept the notion that a brand’s central web presence (whatever that looks like) will soon be replaced by a scattered presence across the web (centrally or non-centrally controlled). I say this based on my knowledge of user dynamics — and in general of people, and how they think and use technology, the web and the social grid.

    However, this is a good debate that we’ll all soon be sick of posting and commenting on!

    Without question, the companies we serve are too often late to the party… behind the technology and the audiences that use them. As an ethical consultant, it’s my job to help them quickly make sense of the landscape and understand how to extend themselves strategically to improve business outcomes and customer experience.

    So, I’m not going to stop recommending blogging if it’s the right thing for the company…although I may encourage a different approach to it – a different toolset — more integrated publishing model… etc.

    It’s tempting to forget that social engagement is still a brand new to plenty of companies, large and small. We know the potential of these new technologies… but as stewards of their trust, it’s important to lead people at a responsible and rational pace based on what’s best for the business as well as customers and prospects.

    Thanks for the post and letting me bend your ear.

    Leigh Durst
    @livepath

  7. I may be overstating the case in calling blogs” almost irrelevant,” but the central point still stands: A person’s or brand’s online presence will increasingly be syndicated through a network of feeds that may find their home almost anywhere. Over the last decade we’ve become very comfortable with the idea of measuring website traffic, but what if the traffic that matters to our brand isn’t on our website anymore? For example, this blog entry has been viewed 275 times and tweeted 12 times today on my Posterous page, which isn’t a whole lot less than its page views on my blog. It’s also been posted on Facebook, but I have no way of knowing how much activity it’s seen there.

    It used to be we could look at an individual’s blog and analyze it for evidence of influence. Today, the blog may actually be one of the least-trafficked or commented-upon outposts a person has on the Web. This will make assessing influence really difficult.

    Blogs will be relevant for a long time to come, but I would encourage any company that was considering one today to look at other tools that can help them spread a message. If you just limit your activities to a blog, you’re shortchanging your potential.

  8. Unless you are selling advertising on your blog what difference does it make whether you know how much influence your blog exercises across the web? It all comes down to how detailed you want your thoughts to appear to people who read them, and what channels you think your readers, or customers, check. If you do research into how your customers think and feel about your brand, then you know how best to communicate to them. I thought that was what the Groundswell was all about. Also, I would add, most of the social networking tools you mention are as much about sharing links, to blogs and other interactive resources, as anything else. Collective understanding and collaborative understanding are not the same, though they are related through hyperlinking practices.

    http://skilfulminds.com/2008/04/30/collective-tags-collaborative-tags-the-long-tail-and-enterprise-20/

  9. Nice post, Paul. It makes me realize how much more difficult it will be for my peers to keep up with all the social media developments, since things are expanding and changing so rapidly. I’ve always said that one of the advantages to exploring social media tools is that at minimum, it helps you keep up with the conventions of how they work. If people wait too long to jump in, they may never be able to catch up. Finding the fish is a never-ending battle!

  10. @Paul – Thanks for clarifying your position on the blog relevance issue. It’s true that we are already syndicating ourselves everywhere — and even over devices. This will become more highly networked and complex in the future. As you pointed out – you have a blog as well as Posterous — which is like having a separate blog, really — while it may be a publishing tool for you across channels (like WordPress) it’s still yet another destination site for you.

    To @Larry’s point — only you can decide whether what you’re “putting out there” is exactly the same from channel-to-channel – or designed to drive to a single channel or measurable outcome. In the long-run, for any major brand, these dynamics are making managing customer dialog and interaction very complex – because the communications are poorly integrated – because we’re writing once and publishing EVERYWHERE. It’s a bit of a problem, actually. In the long run, I believe there will be a call for “noise reduction” = and an expectation that a presence in any given channel will result in resulting “in channel” value – rather than seeing the same posts and communications repeated everywhere.

    Like any brand, influence will be measured by contribution, presence, reach, sentiment and a host of other stuff – and it will (as it always has been) be much more a measure of an individuals Digital Footprint rather than a single channel metric.

    There’s a ton of discussion about Social Media Influence and how it is replacing SEM/SEO or competing with it today. In the end, the winners will be the ones that practice what they preach, provide value, and understand how to measure it and drive bottom line results with an eye toward serving others well.

  11. Leigh:

    I think you’re right. I just finished a draft of a big research report on multiplatform social media and one thing that was clear from interviewing name-brand marketers is that they are being careful to customize their message to the medium so that it doesn’t appear they’re just making noise.

  12. Now I understand the trend is definitely moving toward Content + Identity as unanchored entity. No one orchastrated it – web entrepreneurs tried to move one step ahead (or behind) what customers wanted as a whole. I am thrilled to see that this might be an instance of collective wisdom.
    When a service that makes longer articles (blog post, photo albums, news articles) into Twitter-like movable content, then this transition might complete?

  13. One piece of the puzzle that a site-less Internet is missing is the concept of authority. With web sites the search engines assign relative authority (aka – believability) based on links and other factors.

    That concept will need to come to the social side (aka people) before something like this can replace sites.

  14. Wayne, I’ve only spent maybe two hundred hours, starting last November, learning about social media first hand with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts and stimulated by several books relating to social media. It all began over a birthday dinner for a mutual friend, during which I spent 90 minutes trying to disabuse this old marketing dog of his notions regarding the value of social media.

    I was wrong and he was right, if not all that convincing in the specifics. I figured that even if he couldn’t land a telling blow for social media conversationally, his effortless resistance to my best arguments was itself convincing that, even if he couldn’t make the case, it sure had a grip on him. That alone drove me to attempt to understand as many of the implications as I could come to understand.

    Now the thing that impresses me most about social media is that it replaces search.

    Wow! Siteless and searchless!

    Now there’s a revolution … replacing sites and searches both. We each get to pick those we friend and follow and thus filter the web through. In reality, we have replaced machine filters with human filters. It has already happened. My contemporary old dude advocating the value of social media at the birthday dinner began the conversation by pointing out that all the latest tech talk I was sharing was old news. He claimed that he has already seen it coming across his Facebook feed.

    Well, for the first time, I believe, we are directly tapping the power of the web as web. Old fashioned search is sterile and increasingly unable to deliver desired results. Links are rusty. Tweets and comments are fresh and shiny.

    Perhaps Buzz is Google’s acknowledgment that social media will, and soon, kinetically impact its atomistic search business. I’m thinking the word Buzz sure feels ominously hopeful to Google. I’m wondering if Google is too late to the dance, or if it will in the end be the DJ once again.

  15. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Bill. I agree that social search is the future because it adds a layer of context beyond machine search. We are interested in knowing what your trusted sourced think. I don’t think Google is late to the game. It’s been evolving search aggressively over the last couple of years with experiments like Searchwiki, Sidewicki and its social search experiments. Buzz is an effort to get into the social game where it’s been behind, but I don’t see any immediate threat to its core competency.

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  17. I think the point you are making is that expertise no longer needs a hub, or central repository. the explosion of cross-post-ability – be it through posterous, ping.fm, or other channel – certainly gives content creators the chance to disseminate their flavor of thought leadership hither and yon.

    I still think personal brand, the linchpin of freelance nation viability, requires a known point of origin. one big reason for this need is another consequence of free-flowing content – the question of ownership. last fall I described an example of this phenomenon in which the chris’es heuer and brogan were overshared by a self-appointed social media expert down under: http://btrandolph.com/2009/11/double-take-sharing-and-social-media/. it may be true that information no longer needs a homepage to find an audience. but a coherent personal brand does need a hub to be the sum of its various parts.

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  22. While digital sharecropping may suit the casual social networking masses, web entrepreneurs will want to remain master of their own domain for the foreseeable future (with all apologies to George Costanza).

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  24. Wow, what a discussion you have sparked here, Paul, and elsewhere! (I arrived here through Steve Rubel’s post about the AP using Facebook to distribute content ( http://www.steverubel.com/ap-is-visionary-they-see-a-siteless-web-comin ).) I am absolutely seeing the lack of importance in any one site if it’s pure “thought content” we are talking about. Seems obvious that The Siteless Web would not apply when it’s commerce or private/secure interaction (such as managing client account data) we are talking about, right? Small quantities of any product could be sold in a variety of sites, I suppose, but for any catalog of product, or an array of services for that matter, the “company site” will still be necessary, will it not?

    And will it not be search still that leads us to the hooks people and brands place in the many pools when we don’t know who to ask for a referral, or we want to compare options or offerings? On the one hand, this supports the rampant, even indiscriminate, distribution of “thought leadership” content across the Web. (Investment tip: server and storage companies will never see a declining market demand. Ever.) On the other, it raises the staffing demand in order to:
    * Keep ahead of the list of new sites that attract appropriate audiences, and
    * Tailor the content to each community so as to be perceived as sensitive to the interests and needs of each audience, and
    * Monitor comments and feedback through each placement in all sites.

    And what of metrics and measurement? Is it overly simplistic to see the industry reverting to the classic, monotheistic measurement of success: sales? Why would you rely on traffic tracking to continue publishing to a site if it only takes one reader to call and order to justify the time and talent invested in the posting to the site where they saw your post? The folks at Gomez and Hubspot aren’t going to like hearing that, but I wonder if the siteless Web frees marketers from having to be left-brained technologists and returns them to the creative side? Not that such a scenario is all roses for the aforementioned never-ending list of new social networks, bookmarking, photo, video, opinion sites and blogs. That volume is actually terrifying to visualize.

    Thanks again, Paul. Hope we cross paths again soon.

  25. I don’t mean to imply that websites will disappear from the scene. We all need a place to call home. However, the content we create will increasingly find audience in other places and in many cases those out-of-home audiences will be bigger or more important than the audiences on our websites. There’s going to be an “influence land grab” in the meantime while people seek to out-syndicate each other and build awareness. There’s also going to be a lot of noise as the volume of published information grows geometrically. And I have no idea what the search engines will due. Duplication has always been a no-no for the search engines in the past, but it’s becoming part of the landscape very quickly.

  26. Good questions. The site-less Web could also lead to the site-less user. Perhaps we start subscribing to people, ideas and communities without regard to where the content appears. If we want to participate via a mobile e-mail client, then so be it. A lot of active users have already abandoned the idea of visiting websites in favor of aggregation, whether that’s provided by technology or human editors.

    And the metrics question is good. If my blog entry syndicates to Facebook, I have no idea how many people have read it there. Same thing if I sent the full entry is in an RSS feed. But who cares how many people read it, really? As you point out, the important metric is results, whether that’s sales, media visibility, Net Promote Score or whatever. This siteless Web may actually push marketers to abstract their metrics to a higher level, which is actually more along the lines of what they already do with mainstream media.

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  29. Paul,

    The push back I have received has been from companies invested in brands, thought leadership, large amounts of content, and secure client logins. For them, the idea of a site-less Web makes no sense. And for them, it may well be true that their one or more proprietary, content-heavy sites will be necessary. At the same time, most who have spoken to me have agreed that the demand for more nets in more pools calls for commensurately higher management of the content they are distributing in order to lead prospects and clients back to their “home” sites.

    The example of the AP and other content syndicators is interesting. Why does a site-less work for them? Is it because their brand is known, meaning a new player would not be able to live on Facebook alone? Or is it the temporal nature of the content, meaning it is either current and germane to what the user is looking for or it is not? What other content and business models seem well suited to the site-less Web model?

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  33. Just started the siteless.org blog – I arrived at the same conclusion after working with lots of clients for the past two years. I feel that this evolution of the internet will be just as important as the site-full internet was before. Interesting to see how it unfolds!

  34. This website need something more. And the posts that are focusing social networking site and their relevant subjects, are lacking something. Not only the financial facts but something more.

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