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IMS5023 : Information Enterprise Management and Marketing

Week 5




This week in class we start to explore the four themes focusing on information enterprise as it relates to categories of information that we derived from the Information Communities model introduced in Week 1, i.e.:

  • Information for pleasure;
  • Information for awareness (non-profit);
  • Information for awareness (for-profit/ commercial); and
  • Information for accountability.
The intention is to take a brief look at some of the types of 'entertainment' sites that are being developed, and then to introduce some of the concepts and techniques used by Web site developers in the 'infotainment' business. These are useful because they apply in all areas of information provision, but with different emphases. It is not the intention here to delve too deeply into what constitutes 'information for pleasure' but to suggest some of its characteristics that make it useful to study.

Information for pleasure - 'Communication to enhance living'

The far end of the spectrum is characterised by uses of multimedia primarily for entertainment and amusement. Just a few examples are the Disney site, and radio stations MIX 101.1 FM and FOX 101.9 FM. As mentioned previously, the overlap between this area and the knowledge base has been highlighted by mergers of newspaper companies with pay TV operators. The video and arcade games industry is very active, as is the application of multimedia to electronic gaming.

Furthermore, there are valuable opportunities to be found in 'migrating' information along the spectrum, eg information collected as accountability records such as births, marriages and deaths, can be transformed into knowledge base or even entertainment products for the exploration of family history. The Walt Disney organisation is immensely successful in taking what Richard Dawkins calls 'memes' ideas and cultural artefacts from the accumulated body of awareness information, and transforming them into entertainment. The Disney theme park can be interpreted as a pre-digital form of virtual reality.

Within and across the bands of the spectrum, in short, there are opportunities for 'value-adding' transformations.

The first question to ask in this context is "What forms of entertainment work on the medium of the Web?". Clearly areas such as pornography, music, sport, film, games and hobbies do. Which suggests the follow-up question "What forms of entertainment don't work on the Web?". This is a much harder question to answer, because the fact is that most forms of entertainment have some existence on the Web. Successful Web developers know that they can present almost any subject area as long as they provide an appropriate mix of access to online and offline activities and if they are aware of their audience and its needs - particularly whether these are local, national or global in scope. After all, the Web is as much about communicating as it is about providing information and this must be borne in mind when analysing their aims and performance.

It should also be remembered that the Internet is still a comparatively new environment, and that usage patterns in the broadest sense are still subject to quite rapid - and seasonal - change. Just as with other forms of media, traffic to websites is monitored and 'ratings' are produced by a number of organisations, providing valuable market information for both publishers and advertisers. HitWise is one example of this and you should take a minute to check out the information published on the site. Other companies, such as AC Nielsen also conduct online information, but because of the value of the information they do not make it publicly available online. While these reports indicate that the Top 10 sites visited by Australians remain relatively steady, there are marked fluctuations in popularity (e.g. movies and the Big Day Out site are popular in January while Football is popular in September). Also note that while there are occasional articles reporting that the top ranking search topics have shifted from entertainment and sex to information on business and travel, a quick look at Google's Zeitgeist shows that entertainment at least is still top of the charts.As information professionals you should be aware of these sites as they can provide you with much valuable information about the state of the market or relevant industry sectors.

Other companies focus on more specific sectors. For example, NetRatings from APT Strategies, monitors the performance of search engines. You can also find rankings on anything else and Newslink ranks US-based news sites. However you should be wary of who is providing the rankings and why - they often have vested interests and often only report on sites they are connected with. As with anything else on the Internet - don't take information at face value - check the credibility of the publisher and read the fine print

If you look at the NetRatings report on the top 14 search engines accessed from home or work by Australians, it is interesting to note the rapid drop in the number of visitors and page views as you go down the list. In particular, the site ranked at Number 11 (LookSmart) receives only 4% of the traffic of the top ranked site (nineMSN). When this pattern is repeated throughout the ranking, it is called a logarithmic pattern, and research suggests it may be a standard characteristic of the Web, whether measured in terms of traffic or concentrtaion of sites. Matthew Zook has undertaken a significant amount of work in this area, demonstrating that despite the hype, Internet publishing in concentrated in key cities, regions and countries. Read his article 'Old Hierarchies or New Networks of Centrality?' for a more detailed examination of the question.

Other sites and services that provide invaluable data on all matters relating to the Internet include NUA, the Pew Internet and American Life Project and http://www.clickz.com/stats/.

Patterns of usage may well change again when broadband access becomes more generally available, bringing with it the ability to deliver rich multimedia services to the desktop. This excites a lot of interest with the major players within Australia, for example Telstra, and while the area does hold promise, the business model for broadband delivery has problems. For example, broadcasting services over the Internet requires significantly different business models in comparison to free-to-air broadcasts because each user requires additional bandwidth at the server end. That means that the cost of the service is proportional to the number of users and so a "high rating" site must generate proportionally more revenue, either from advertisers or from viewers. There is work being undertaken on multicasting and on establishing networks to relay these types of services, but there is no reasonable solution in place at this stage. My own (Tom's) experiences in the area provide a good case study of a small-scale foray into broadband service provision, and are outlined in the draft article: Webcasting Live Events in Australia: The Kick-Art Experience

When considering these issues, one obvious follow-up question is: What does success mean from a web developers' point of view? The answer must be in terms of engaging the intended audience, but exactly what that means and how it is measured varies considerably across the spectrum of available sites.

For example, making material freely available on the Internet is a contentious issue. Doing so may lead to Web site popularity, but is that the same as "success"? Many copyright holders are quick to publicise alleged cases of piracy and the impact these have on their profitability. In the music industry, Napster and more recently Kazaa are perhaps prime examples of this, but while being wildly successful and a brilliant use of Internet technology, they effectively ignored copyright, and it could be argued, damaged music sales. (See the ZDNet article of January 21 for a recent report on the issue). Partially in response to this, the music industry has thrown its weight behind sites such as Apple's iTunes, where visitors can buy music downloads. The movie and book publishing industries have also expressed concern at this type of development, but not all copyright holders take this view, with some arguing that having their work freely (and legally) available on the Web actually increases sales. For examples of this, see Eric Flint on copyright, ePublishing, and the Baen Free Library or visit Kuro5hin: technology and culture from the trenches for a list of legal music download sites.

Examples of Entertainment sites

When it comes to raising revenue, the traditional media of print, radio and TV often have a significant advantage over purely online sites, because they have the ability to combine and cross-promote activities and programs, and re-use content, as well as having opportunities for cross funding. This is particularly important if a site's business model relies on advertising revenue which, despite its early promise, is extremely difficult to raise in the online world. Prominent examples of these include: Rolling Stone and Dolly (print); Big Brother, nineMSN, SBS, and the ABC (TV); and The Basement , TripleJ, and MMM (radio).

There is a huge range of sites that cater for all interests and exist almost completely online. These range from dedicated fan sites to those pursuing the most obscure hobbies. Successful examples of these include Rootsweb, GuitarSite.com, Urban Legends and Folklore, memepool and MetaFilter, the last two being popular examples of blogs. Other popular areas includes games sites, for example Game Arena, and art. See jodi.org for an example of a successful site which breaks every rule of good Web design.

Finally, for examples of what the industry considers to be the best, you should visit the various awards sites. The two most prominent worldwide are Prix Ars Electronica and the Webby Awards, while local sites compete for the AIMIA (Australian Interactvie Multimedia Industry Association) Awards.


How to get visitors, engage them and get them back

Getting traffic

The most common tactics here are:

Engaging visitors

Web developers make large investments in order to attract vistors to their sites and once there need to capitalise on that investment by providing them with 'compelling' content - as is the current buzzword. Site owners see this as important because they regard all visitors as either

a) in the commercial world

  • leads
  • sales
  • return visits

b) in the non-profit world

  • community members
  • return visitors

In order to achieve this, Web designers need to pay attention to a number of areas in addition to the content itself. The aim here is to avoid providing visitors with a disincentive to stay at your site - the competition is fierce and if users have a frustrating experience they will go elsewhere. The main areas which need to be considered in these terms include:

Design. Slow load times, poor layout and navigation can all turn users off. Much work has been done in this area and is readily available, for example from the World Wide Web Consortium and Useit.com.

Technology. Software issues can, too. If you design for the latest versions of browsers or the latest plug-ins, you can assume that the majority of visitors will not get the full benefit of your site. A happy medium needs to be struck and at the moment this would include at most the use of Java, Flash and audio.

Content and freshness. Content must be interesting, easy to find and up to date. It must also change regularly.

Traffic analysis. Most activities on the Web can be measured. High volume commercial sites keep enormous amounts of information on who is visiting, when, how often, how long they stay etc. This also includes details on what pages are looked at, what pages are missed and by inference - what visitors like or are interested in. This is an important source of feedback which can be used to optimise a site.

Capability. Sites which promise what they can't deliver - whether it be goods, services or content - are a major source of frustration and soon deter repeat visits.

Getting them back Getting a high proportion of visitors to return is seen as essential because it is the single cheapest way of building and maintaining traffic - which is important whether you come from a commercial or non-profit background. Why? Because repeat visitors are more likely to buy or interact. Repeat visitors optimise the return on the investment on the site and for this reason building a recognisable brand or destination becomes vital. It is for this reason that most Web sites talk of building their communities - by which they mean the tactics they employ to encourage repeat visits. Common strategies and concepts in this area include:

'Stickiness' - that is providing information which requires frequent visits - daily if possible. Personal portals with regularly updated information are one way of achieving this.

Branding - that is providing a ready means of identifying a site, focusing creating features (usually design features) that are memorable - even the URL, because if this is difficult to remember it will lead to traffic loss.

Recommendations - many sites provide the functionality for visitors to recommend the site to a friend. Personal recommendations have long been recognised as the most effective way of getting traffic to a site as people will trust the opinions of those they know rather than impersonal advertising campaigns, whatever form they take.

Free resources - providing free resources has long been a strategy of choice on the Web and the Internet in general. Free software, screen savers, competitions etc are all aimed at raising the profile of a site as a useful resource.

Interactive software - guest books, mailing lists containing news or updates, chat groups or the ability for visitors to submit content are all ways in which visitors are encouraged to feel that they are a part of a site. If visitors feel that they are part of a site they are more likely to return.

Week 6 Activity 5

The ease with which online content can be downloaded and copyright laws ignored has long been a source of frustration to producers of all forms of entertainment, not least because it requires that they develop new business models. Yet not all publishers and artists see this as a threat - some see it as a golden opportunity. Visit either the Baen Free Library (and read the related article Eric Flint on copyright, ePublishing, and the Baen Free Library), or Kuro5hin: technology and culture from the trenches, and identify services which embrace this new environment. Make notes on the types of services offered and the rationale justifying the business models presented.


Tom Denison