Web 2.0: New wave of work and profits
By Brad Howarth
Just as the first tech boom created of a range of new job descriptions, so too the latest crop of technologies is generating specialist roles.
The demand for web designers, developers and producers has been augmented by the need for more specialised skills such as search engine optimisers, community administrators and usability experts.
Just as many of the Web 2.0 technologies are based in human behaviour, so too many of the new roles are oriented towards influencing human behaviour rather than simply working with technology.
According to the futurist and chief executive officer with the consulting group Future Exploration Network, Ross Dawson, the rise of online communities has led to the need for people to work as permanent moderators to direct discussion and weed out undesirable elements.
“Whether they are internal communities or customer or public communities, a facilitator role is really critical,” Dawson says.
These roles are well suited to people with a background in psychology, including those who have worked as facilitators in workshops or training and development programs.
The users of communities may not even be aware of the role that these people are performing. According to Anthony Mittelmark, director of the online communities developer Venture Logic, sites such as MySpace will employ people as social “catalysers” who post up interesting content or create conversations .
“They are prepared to be the pretty girl that talks to the guys to create interactivity and word-of-mouth,” Mittelmark says. “We regularly use people to do this, and we try to find people who are interested in the topic area. A community isn’t as natural as you would think – you need some petrol fumes in the air to make it catch fire.”
Not all of the new roles can be considered “jobs” however. So-called snipers for instance are individuals who are paid to drop into online forums and recommend to attendees that they should instead visit competing sites.
“They actually use the mechanisms of Web 2.0 to take people from competitors to their client,” Mittelmark says.
Technological innovations often lead to the automation of processes and the redeployment of labour. But sometimes their development is so rapid that technology can’t actually keep up with itself, and a rush of new jobs is created.
One such example is search engine optimisation, which is a response to the rapid growth of use of search engines as a marketing tool. An optimiser’s role is to work with a website to ensure that it gets the best possible ranking in search engines such as Google.
There are many techniques used by the optimiser, such as ensuring that the webpage contains multiple instances of appropriate keyword terms, and is arranged properly to be indexed.
Dozens of companies are now providing such services, such as E-Web Marketing. Chief executive officer Gary Ng says today E-Web services more than 300 clients, and doubled in size last year. One of his biggest challenges is finding staff, with the right programming background, who are trained in-house in the optimisation process.
“We tend to value self-taught gurus in terms of programming, because in search and optimisation there is a lot of trial and error,” Ng says.
The more software languages a programmer knows, the easier they will find the process of optimising websites. Ng says the company also spends a lot of time researching new techniques, and asks staff to devote at least one hour to this each week.
The growth of online marketing is also fuelling the demand for new skills to help measure and influence its effectiveness, such as campaign statisticians and analysts.
“These are not sales people,” says Mittelmark. “These are people that help rationalise behaviour and traffic statistics to help tune up a campaign.”
Another area of growing demand are specialists in making websites easier-to-use, as companies realise that there is no point luring visitors to a site if they have a terrible time when they get there.
The head of usability consultancy UsabilityOne, Shefik Bey, says his company grew by 100% in the past year, and by 400% the year before.
“We do a lot of work with our clients on an ongoing basis to help them analyse the performance of their sites and measure the return they a generating,” Bey says. “To be honest we’re limited with our expansion by the ability to employ staff.”
Bey says UsabilityOne’s work has moved beyond websites to now include more work with software, mobile phones and computer games.
This role is also expanding into the field of “experience architect”. The chief operating officer of web technology company Hyro, Richard Lord, describes these people as responsible for advising on the creation of websites that use rich media such as animation, audio and video, across web, mobile phones and interactive television.
“As we move into the next generation of the web and start to break out of the boundaries in the traditional browser, you’ll start to see more purpose-built web-enabled rich media applications and content,” Lord says. “And these present some new challenges in terms of managing those three elements of information architecture, user experience and application usability.”