The business opportunities presented by the Web are wide open, according to the results of two new research studies. The recent FAST forward '07 (www.fastforward07.com), a business and technology conference held by Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) for its customers and partners, presented the venue for showcasing preliminary reports on both studies. One study, reported by Jeanette Borzo, an independent journalist and a contributing editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), discussed the FAST-sponsored EIU project to understand the impact of Web 2.0 in business. The second, reported by Susan Feldman, VP of content technologies at IDC, resulted from IDC's research over the last year that examined the Web search landscape and concluded that Google and the other big search engines don't have a lock on the Web.
Probing Enterprise Attitudes
Borzo, a highly respected journalist who writes for The Economist, The Wall Street Journal , and Business 2.0 , discussed the EIU's findings, previewing material that will be presented in a white paper the EIU will publish in March. She used a survey of 406 upper-level executives, more than 40 percent of whom were C-suite or board-level directors. They represented a wide range of industries and a global corporate perspective—39 percent North American companies, 26 percent European, and 26 percent Asia-Pacific. She then conducted in-depth interviews with executives from seven very large early adopters of Web 2.0 technologies, including the ad agency JWT, Global Crossing, and Citigroup.
The executives' responses showed that even though they may be unclear about exactly what Web 2.0 means, they plan to use it to increase revenues and to drive down costs for their companies. More than half recognized a trio of Web 2.0 tools: consumer-generated content, collaboration, and social networking. But only 39 percent recognized tagging as a way to leverage the wisdom of crowds. And many "miss the boat entirely," according to Borzo: Less than a third identified applications that harness network effects as Web 2.0 applications. Upper-level executives and those in IT, sales/marketing, and strategy functions generally proved to be more knowledgeable than middle-management execs and those in finance, HR, and procurement. "CFO's aren't very Web 2.0-friendly," said Borzo.
A full 79 percent felt that Web 2.0 technologies would add to their companies' bottom lines. The area of business where most executives (68 percent) felt that Web 2.0 would make a difference is in the way their companies interact with customers—attracting, meeting, educating, and supporting. While blogs and wikis have garnered attention and adoption in the enterprise (by about one-third of the respondents) in the last few years, the survey responses indicated a growing interest in plans to develop online communities (40 percent) and use mashups (42 percent). The bottom line: Enterprise executives view Web 2.0 as a sharing and collaboration platform that represents opportunities for their businesses. And, concluded Borzo, "If you don't think Web 2.0 applies to you, think again."
The Web Is Up for Grabs
The IDC study was designed to examine what the future of the Web might look like, based on a close analysis of current search traffic. Feldman said that IDC spent the last year "mapping the structure of the digital economy and turning it into an interactive simulation tool." They then seeded the tool with statistics on Web searches from Nielsen//NetRatings plus internal IDC data. She said they found a large hole—a discrepancy in the number of Web search queries tracked. The missing queries—the "dark matter," she called it—were seven to 10 times the number usually reported in the press.
Feldman said they now believe that roughly 70 percent of users' queries on the Web are not going first to the search engines (to be then referred through results clicks to Web sites). Instead, users are going directly to destination sites (such as Amazon or Staples) to search for specific information and are bypassing the search engines.
"The conventional wisdom is that ad revenue and the Web itself is dominated by Google," said Feldman. "But I think the Web is up for grabs."
Feldman sees a parallel with what happened in the U.S. television market, which moved from the dominance of three major networks to a fragmented and highly diversified market with ad agencies and many more channels. This is a logical scenario for online advertising as well. She said that the current study indicates a "Long Tail" of uncounted ad revenue and many possibilities for potential revenue. This presents an opportunity for advertisers, Web site owners, and IT vendors, in her estimation.
With so many queries going directly to destination sites, many have underestimated the value of Web site search and the possibilities for ad revenue without going through Google. FAST is an IDC client, so it wasn't surprising that the company announced an interesting new product that can help content owners control the advertising on their sites. FAST AdMomentum is a private-label contextual advertising and monetization platform for online publishers that eliminates the need for third-party services."Online ad revenue drives the digital economy, and no one has a lock on that revenue stream today," said Feldman. "Online advertising—particularly contextual advertising— continues to soar. IDC believes that large publishers and ad networks can seize a significant share of this revenue. FAST AdMomentum provides the infrastructure for publishers to manage and monetize their online content. It's a digital marketplace in a box."