I’ve often wondered how web 2.0 is really different from web 1.0. Most seem to agree that web 2.0 was an evolution in which we went from portals and destination to data and interactions. Web 2.0 is about interaction, social media. Everyone connecting in one big network. Data is the currency. It’s all true and sounds great to me. But why do we then still have huge destination sites? Why is there still a battle over users, eyeballs and visitors? Why is Facebook essentially a vacuum service, sucking everything in, and letting nothing get out? Why does Techcrunch report Friendfeed has a million unique visitors? We mash data up, connect it everywhere, but still force people go somewhere to fetch it.
If you think about it, the sexiest services right now are nothing more than old fashioned destination sites with some conversation added to it. In terms of business models, nothing new there. Business wise it’s not web 2.0 but web 1.0++ in disguise. I believe that the main reason behind this is that, although technology wise we have innovated many aspects of the web and its services, our online business models haven’t evolved with this change.
Just to be sure, I’m not talking about the huge impact online business models had on offline business models (e.g. tradition print getting killed by online media). I’m talking about online business models that existed say 5-8 years ago, compared to the models used now. Essentially investors and web entrepreneurs seem to be web 1.0 thinkers. They think in terms of destinations, eyeballs, unique visitors, traffic, advertisement, CPC, CPM. All of these elements have been around in online business models for ages. Nothing new there.
As a result of this there is no fundamental revolution taking place, it is more of a logical evolution. A tiny step given the potential that is really out there. Don’t get me wrong. The way the web presents itself to us, and the endless possibilities for us to connect online, has changed our online experience considerably. The question remains though. What if business models would evolve with that technological and behavioral change? What if we would stop thinking in terms of advertisement display or cpm, and would focus on other value drivers? What if we would care less about keeping users sucked into a database, and set them free because you don’t need to hold on so tightly to make revenues? It is this ‘old school’ thinking that inhibits us from starting true revolutions. Technology wise we can revolutionize our experience on the web. Business wise we are held back and forced to take smaller steps.
One could argue it is because current web business models are perfect and need no change. But that seems incorrect as many companies have problems creating sustainable revenues. My biggest concern however is that current (often advertised based) business models are in most cases network centric instead of user centric. By that I mean that the business model works when the network that is being exploited gets larger. As a result the company executing that business model is forced to think in network value. I prefer business models that focus on user value. It is the cleanest and simplest business model. It works out best for the user (as he gets most value), and the company (as they receive revenues based upon that user value).
But here is the catch. Since 99% of current business models are network based and most web investors and entrepreneurs are trained to think that way, we can’t easily make the switch to a user value business model. And because of that we are stuck in our own trap of web 1.0 business models and unable (yet) to unleash the full potential of our technological capabilities to create user value. We end up with more destination sites and customer lock in. Customer lock in fits really well, wouldn’t you agree?
There are counterexamples of companies that did make that switch (e.g. 37signals, smugmug) and generate sustainable revenues. But we need more leadership in this direction. We need investments that step away from current practice and take a more user-centric approach. It would set us all free and help us build a User-Centric web.