Web 2.0 Expo: Web Pages Are Just The Beginning For Audience-Building

SAN FRANCISCO -- Web site owners who focus exclusively on building pages are just scratching the surface of Internet audience-building. Feeds, search engines, and widgets can vastly expand the potential audience for any Web site by bringing the content directly to the audience, said Web consultant <a href="http://en.oreilly.com/webexsf2008/public/schedule/speaker/2441">Niall Kennedy</a>, giving a workshop at <a href="http://en.oreilly.com/webexsf2008/public/content/home">Web 2.0 Expo</a> here.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

April 23, 2008

5 Min Read

SAN FRANCISCO -- Web site owners who focus exclusively on building pages are just scratching the surface of Internet audience-building. Feeds, search engines, and widgets can vastly expand the potential audience for any Web site by bringing the content directly to the audience, said Web consultant Niall Kennedy, giving a workshop at Web 2.0 Expo here.He compared Web sites to the TV show Jeopardy, which has a small studio audience and a huge audience watching it on TV. "The people who enter the URL to your site in the browser are like the studio audience," Kennedy said at the conference, which runs through Friday and is co-sponsored by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, the parent company of InformationWeek.

Several relatively recent technologies have the potential to vastly expand a site's audience, Kennedy said.

Microformats are one such technology. Microformats are a specialized form of HTML that labels content on part of a Web page. Microformats enhance searches; if you've ever searched for a term, like O'Reilly Media, and get back a result with categories neatly laid out below the main entry, microformats help the search engine figure out what site sections are beneath the main page.

Examples of microformats include hCard, for addresses, which is similar to vCard, and which recognizes people, companies, and places. The standard hCalendar is a microformat for events and schedules, similar to the iCalendar standard that Mac OS X uses.

Using microformats helps get your content discovered by search engines, Kennedy said. Yahoo, Firefox, and LinkedIn are examples of companies that recognize microformats.

"I've seen traffic jump on my site since I implemented microformats," Kennedy said.

RSS or Atom feeds are another example of technology that can help Web sites find their audience. Feeds are used by newsreaders, search engines, multimedia distribution software like iTunes, and application APIs.

People who subscribe to feeds are highly engaged in sites -- they're signaling that they want to receive updates as they happen, rather than wait to go to the site, Kennedy said.

And search engines find it easier to index feeds.

Like microformats, feeds label parts of a page: Company logo, title, author, publish date, contents, summary, replies, and category.

Vista and Leopard have built-in support for feeds, as do Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Internet Explorer.

In the Web browser, feeds look to the user like enhanced bookmarks, with each article getting a separate link and articles updating as they're published.

Feeds also tell multimedia applications like iTunes when to schedule downloads for multimedia files.

Outlook 2007 and Apple Mail have RSS built in, making feeds in those applications into mailing-list replacements, Kennedy said.

Web readers are other popular options for consuming feeds; these include Google Reader and My Yahoo.

Publishers want to set their sites to ping the top feed aggregators, like Yahoo, Google, and Newsgator, when their feeds are updated. That way, their sites will be updated in minutes rather than hours or days, Kennedy said.

Television is becoming a big channel for consuming feeds; TiVo is a Linux computer with USB ports and internet connectivity, and Internet devices for TV also are produced by Sony and others.

Multimedia files distributed by RSS need to be correctly structured to provide multiple resolutions for different classes of devices, from mobile devices to HDTV. The feed should specify different resolutions and let the device select which one it wants to play, Kennedy said.

Apple's iTunes software is the most popular consumer of RSS with enclosures; RSS is used to distribute podcasts and multimedia iTunes subscriptions. RSS feeds for iTunes should include episode descriptions, duration, and directory listings. They also can include QuickTime chapters -- images that show up at specified points in QuickTime streams.

Widgets are tiny applications that can be embedded on Web pages or on the user's Windows Vista or Mac desktop. Facebook, Google, Netvibes, and Yahoo all support Widgets.

Widgets are an extremely powerful way to bring your content to where the users are: On Facebook, Google, or other destinations. "Somebody else has the audience, but you want to be sure to put your content in front of that audience," Kennedy said.

Content providers setting up widgets should be mindful of the expectations of the target community. For example, Facebook users are looking for fun widgets, while widgets embedded in Lotus Notes are designed for the workplace.

Sometimes, users will create widgets for their favorite content without the publisher's permission. "Does your brand have a following even if you're not leading?" Kennedy said. This situation is analogous to fans posting clips of a popular TV show, like The Daily Show, to YouTube without the content owners' permission.

I found Kennedy's presentation to be terrific, really quite eye-opening. Until watching him speak yesterday, I still thought of the Web site itself as being the most important part of a company's Internet presence, and getting people to come to the site to be the goal of any Internet publisher. Now, I see that the Web site is only one part of overall Internet strategy. Perhaps you could think of the Web site as being the foundation of the Internet presence -- essential and extremely important, but not the whole thing by far; not even the most important thing. It's more important to get your content to people who want to see it, by whatever means necessary.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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