This is a narrative to highlight how we somehow miss the element of human engagement in our day to day interactions. In an economy such as India, where 56% of GDP comes from services – missing human engagement seems like a big concern for me.
Forgive me, this post is going to be a long one.
In the brief span of its existence, the web has evolved at such an alarming rate, that it outstrips evolution of any living organism. Even as Indian web users and web development companies are creating (and using) Web 2.0 platforms, the more developed nations are already talking about Web 3.0, the semantic web.
Not so surprisingly, I have found to my chagrin that 80% or more of the Indian populace associate Web 2.0 with client side technologies instead of a collaborative technology. People associate it with all the wrong ideas … I do not blame them. Awareness has always been the bane of comprehension. Having said that, I decided that it would do some good if we can somehow capture the evolution of the internet in these already popular phrases, and somehow manage to extrapolate what the next stage could be – so that we are prepared when it comes ;-)
Or even better, a host of Indian companies could bring in the era of Web 4.0: The Enabling Web. So what are these evolutionary milestones?
Web 1.0: The Information Superhighway
This is the internet of yore. Those were the days when people would make separate HTML pages and upload it on the net. Content was written within these pages and uploaded. It was authoritative in nature, since most of these sites were a one way communication stream. People came to different sites with the sole aim of gathering information – hence the name, the Information Superhighway.
Web 2.0: A Collaborative Medium
This is the internet that we see around us these days. The web is more social now, its a place to meet interesting people – to collaboratively create content. Content is not written within pages, content is created by the users themselves. The more the users, the more the content. What the developers create is a platform which enables this co-creation between the users. A great example of this is Wikipedia or IMDB.
Web 3.0: A sense making layer
The new era of internet is coming, this can somehow make sense out of the user’s inputs and act accordingly. So when I say “Show me a blue lotus”, the internet should show me the image of a blue car instead of a blue flower. How does it do this? It already has my preferences for cars over flowers somewhere. This is where collaborative filtering mechanisms and business intelligence algorithms are used to correctly profile the user. The internet is capable of understanding what the user is speaking. It differentiates a Gandhi from a Hitler. Some examples of this would be WolframAlpha or Amazon.
Web 4.0: The Enabling Web
So what happens when the web begins the “understand” the user. The sole question is – “What’s the point?”. If it can understand the user, it can also understand the purpose with which the user is driven to visit a particular web application. And, if that can be done, then it won’t be too difficult to understand and provide what other resources would help the user reach his outcome. The web suddenly becomes a more intertwined place with each web application talking to others, so as to provide the best experience to its user. Not only experience, but to ensure that the user is enabled with the right set of resources to get his job done. The purpose of the user is kept at the center. That’s my vision for web 4.0 akin to a more evolved Ubiquity extension of Firefox.
My job at Illumine is to make a career enablement platform for individuals. A part of this platform management includes (but is certainly not limited to) –
- To ensure that users once they come on the website wont get overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the task at hand.
- To make sure that the users keep on coming back to the site, in order to enable their careers. No, not like a Naukri.com or a Monster.com. They have their place in their own regards, but that place is in matching the job seekers to companies, and that’s it.
This is why it has to be different. The way the user will engage with the site will be different. In order to understand this “Customer Engagement” thing better, I decided to investigate this further.
It is how the user engages with the idea of the portal, and all the ambience surrounding it. Yes we know that, and we also know how to measure it. Often at times great businesses use Customer Engagement either as a marketing tool or as a metric to measure the success of an initiative.
All this gyaan was great, but it did not get me anywhere. I still had a design for the site to be made, and none of the literature around is talking about Customer Engagement as a Design driver , all of them are using it post execution to see the effects of an action/treatment. People talk about user centric design, is this similar to online CE? I am finding out!!
Today after a long discussion with our modelling team, I realized that to use CE as a design driver would mean to completely re-structure the portal that we are developing; and keeping the customer engagement at the center. I am sure that this concept is already there in all design paradigms, but then why do not I see this being practiced in real life?
Great products have this built-in them – iPod, WordPress, TCP/IP, GMail, Books, I could go on. That’s why their fundamental design has not changed much. The way the user engages with the product remains constant, what changes is the technology, the look and the price :-).
What do you think?
One of my colleagues in a presentation remarked – that the problem these days is not about lack of information, it is about visibility of that information! These days the sheer volumes of information has reached such an extent that one cannot make out the differences between relevant and irrelevant. How many times have you clicked “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on Google in the past month? The answer is zero for me.
The way Google has chosen to solve that problem is idiotic at best – they let you indicate the relevance of the search result for that particular term (you have to be logged in to your Google Account and search for checking this feature out). The problem with this solution is that I still have to search for the solution which is most relevant to me. Visibility of the most relevant solution is an issue. What would have been great, if Google could have taken the relevance out of my social circle (read Google Contacts) and shown my contact’s relevance to me as well!! So my social circle is defining the context of the search and they are doing the search for me; not Google.
Social search, is what I am talking about. The new paradigm now is not to show all the possible searches – nobody has time to go through 567,198 results, show me what is relevant to me. Know thy customer. Take an application like Twitter and Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck lets me set search through the Twitter community, that way, the relevance and context comes out through the users. That is the way of the future – we used to talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but now it should be Social Media Visibility (SMV).
That is the question you should be asking yourself whenever you are about to buy something.
If you are not clear then, check out this site. The content is presented by Anne Leonard, who manages to deliver the message so clearly and logically; it’s a shame that we did not notice it earlier. We Indians are copying the western culture to the hilt, so much so that we are trying to adopt the same practices at work, at home, at how we treat things, becoming more of consumers and less of contributors.
Half of the stuff that we buy, do we really need that? A new phone, a brand new gaming desktop (I was thinking of getting this one), a flat screen tv, a dishwasher, an A/C, the list goes on. And once we buy that, we dont stop … we keep on buying newer versions of that. Our perceived obsolescence drives us to trash our already existing goods for the sake of the newer and better. Such a waste.
Please go through the site – storyofstuff.com. And try to make a difference.
Just a note of appreciation towards the Mumbai police force. Today my entire family and I had gone to the police station for verification of our passport. Since the marriage, this is one of our initiatives :-)
The police officer came to our house and gave us the time and date for reporting to the police station. The D-Day arrived and we reported to the station on time. Everything was done so smoothly and efficiently.
I am mentioning it specifically, because this was unlike all the other government offices I have been to since marriage viz., marriage certificate, name change registrar, et al. This office was spic and span, tidy and manned by a very efficient person – Inspector S. M. Rane. Kudos!!