Embedding vs. Linking; Letting Your Users be Publishers and Why it Works

In the blog A VC, the writer talks about the growth of MySpace and YouTube and correctly attributes much of their success to the ease by which both allow their users to be publishers via easy click-to-add functionality. (Pete Cashmore calls it “Feeding the MySpace beast” illustrating you can either work to leverage MySpace’s immense reach or be slayed by it).

For MySpace, instead of having users link to music, they allowed them to broadcast it immediately from their own page. This simple embedding feature became an enormous differentiator. Similarly, anyone with a MySpace page or blog could play a YouTube video directly from their page without sending people away from their site. Outbound links to third-party sites became “old school,” something done only by sites who either didn’t care about empowering users or were too clueless to know how.

From A VC:

People don’t want to link to media like audio and video (and photos), they want to run it right there on their own pages. They want to be the TV station, the radio station, the newspaper.

But we can also learn that the easier it is to add something the better. My gold standard is the MySpace music player. If you have the MySpace music player on your page and you find some music you like, you simply click “add” and its on your page.

They are exactly right. If a blogger wants to talk about a song or video, they want you to experience it as they write about it. If, as in the case of MySpace, they want the music as an expression of who they are, then they certainly don’t want to send you off to a third-party site with the hope that you come back and if you do you remember what you were doing. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who isn’t even in the room. It’s also human nature that given the chance humans like to personalize their surroundings. Sending you to Yahoo Music to listen to a track isn’t personalization but having a song blasting while you poke around their space is. Making it so that one can do this and more with a few easy clicks is what enables the mass adoption that we’ve seen.

YouTube has grown because it lets people promote and experience their videos without ever having to go to the YouTube site. Of course, once one gets used to seeing YouTube videos around the net the natural step is to add one of their lists to to one’s RSS reader and thereby becoming a daily consumer of YouTube. They gain in every possible way. (I’m ignoring the ongoing discussion about their ability to monetize these experiences as this is a wholly separate discussion).

Embedding exemplifies an important tenet (or perhaps “best practice”) of Web 2.0. Namely, don’t force users to come to your location to consume whatever it is you are providing, let them consume it wherever they are and in the manner that they choose. Give people every possible way to consume your product–wherever they are. For example, let’s say you you are a dating site. It goes without saying that you are only too happy to have people actually come to your site. But After signing up, they should be able to accomplish whatever it is they want to do via RSS feeds. They should also be able to take whatever they want from your dating site that pertains to them and publish it onto their own blog or space. Think of Amazon and the benefits they get from the hundreds of thousands of “affiliates” that they have or the millions (?) of people who publish their wishlists or “top” lists on their sites. Quite a difference from the late 90’s when many web start-ups thought the way to reach consumers was via Superbowl ads or when AOL and others worked to create “walled gardens.” All very expensive and not surprisingly all ended up failing.

The lessons of YouTube and MySpace and many others are easy to see and relatively easy to implement so why don’t more people do them? I believe the biggest reason is the desire to hold on to dated business models and to keep trying to apply the marketing lessons of the past to a changed landscape. In traditional retail, the goal is to get prospective customers in the door. With the rise of the web, it is natural (though misguided) for people to apply their hard-learned lessons from the “real” world to this new medium. Look at search. Conventional wisdom was for the portals to use search functionality to bring people to their sites where they could be monetized. Non-traditional wisdom was to let every site in the world have their own little search box. Which model won out? (Hint: look at the upper right hand corner of this blog).

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One Response to “Embedding vs. Linking; Letting Your Users be Publishers and Why it Works”

  1. trains1919 Says:

    Insightful. I am just getting to the bottom of the fact that embedding is a form of linking, and this is very eye opening about how it is a form of link that does not send the visitor away.

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