Thankfully, since its origins as a convenient way for the US military to share information, the internet has moved on.
Whilst in the good old days of web 1.0 we were used to static websites – and having to search them and the content they contained out for ourselves – times have changed, and the world of web 2.0 saw the web become social and start distributing content all over the place. And the new world of multi-screen, wearable technology and augmented looks set to change our experience even further. So where does that leave the humble website?
There are a couple of big threats to the traditional brand website. Social media – and Facebook in particular – has got so big, and started offering so many experiences within its walled garden, that some users simply don’t bother going anywhere else. And given that it’s free to set up a page and all of the social functionality is built in, it could be a strong alternative to a bespoke website, no?
RSS is another potential website killer. Well, sort of. More and more aggregators use RSS to deliver your website content to customers in a standardised, non-branded format. Meaning that users can get the benefit of your content outside of the carefully thought out, beautifully designed environment you intended them to consume it in. Flipboard and LinkedIn Today are a couple of examples.
So let’s take a look at your options.
Both social media and RSS satisfy a hunger people have for a digital experience that is:
Interactive: These days consumers want the option of a conversation, with online experiences often made up of equal parts consumption and contribution. I can just about guarantee that if Facebook had allowed people only to consume and never post, comment or like, it would have been nothing more than a dorm room dream.
Instant: The beauty of social media is it provides instant access to the newest information. The second someone uploads a photos, shares a page or comments on your wall you know about it. The same is true for RSS readers. Consumers expect immediate satisfaction.
Accessible: It simply isn’t good enough anymore to deny users the full experience simply because they’re accessing content from a mobile device. While many new websites are embracing responsive and adaptive design principles that allow for a more enjoyable mobile experience, purpose-built social media and RSS reader apps (and third party applications like Flipboard) have been providing a great experience on smaller screens for years.
The traditional website on the other hand has been a pillar of the internet since DARPA opened up the World Wide Web to the public. A traditional website provides a business with:
A first impression: When someone googles your business or industry, chances are your website is going to be one of the first results and the quality and experience of your website can make or break how your brand is perceived (both online and off).
A flagship online product: Not only does a traditional website provide an online identity for your brand, it can also serve as a hub; hosting your content and pointing people to your engagement in other online platforms like social media.
A familiar experience: Perhaps the most important benefit provided by maintaining a traditional website is its familiarity. Like I said earlier, people expect you to have a website and while I’m all for early adopting, I have to admit I’m still a little suspicious when a brand only exists on Facebook and doesn’t have a site of its own.
So do you still need a traditional website?
Despite the threat posed by social media, blog-based website and RSS feeds, I don’t think it’s quite time to add the traditional website to the endangered species list. It’s still a cornerstone of the online experience and until some dramatic shifts in both consumer and producer behaviour occur that’s not going to change.
And, should a brand choose to eschew a traditional website in favour of a Facebook page and Twitter feed, they’d also be choosing to give up potential viewers. Despite the soaring popularity Facebook et al currently enjoy, no single social media platform will offer penetration even close to that of the aptly named world wide web.
And even though RSS offers an alternative, digestible way to consume content, RSS needs something to draw from, and without a website RSS is effectively useless.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider your options. In this video Kevin Kearney of New York-based design firm Hard Candy Shell makes the point that a website isn’t the only (or necessarily even the best) way to exist in the online environment anymore.
In the end, whatever the digital future brings it will be up to businesses to decide how they engage and integrate with it. For the time being, though, I think it’s safe to say the good old website is a basic, entry level necessity.
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.