From Simple to Complex and Back Again

August 13, 2008

One day we woke up and we had the internet. At least that is how it feels for my generation. All of the sudden, businesses had websites. All of the sudden, there were business online that did not exist offline. And all of the sudden, we had options.

The history of business on the internet is not an easy one to decipher, but there is one fairly interesting trend that stands out. In the beginning, regular “brick and mortar” companies used the internet to supplement their offline activities. They had simple websites with general information about products and services, and how they could be found or contacted. The URL was the name of the company and all was right with the world.

Then, internet businesses (dot com’s) were born. These companies did not exist in any form in the pre-internet days. Most did not even have any type of “brick and mortar” setup. It was all about the website. These websites grew from simple to complex very quickly, offering more and more options to their users. There was a push to put the most information in one place so that users did not have to use other websites to get information that they could just as easily get from you.

Over the next few years, even after the bubble burst, the goal for many websites was much the same. Add context, give options, dump information on the customer and become the self-proclaimed “one-stop-shop” online. And all was right with the world.

But more recently, the opposite is happening. Google has a cap on the number of words it puts on its home page. Woot offers one product a day. Twitter limits you to one, 140 word status update. Simplicity is gaining importance. Today’s online consumers will surf the web for the right site with the right information for them. Websites that have a simple, direct message that is easy to use and understand are developing huge followings.

“Kill the clutter”, is the message from users and developers alike. Keep it simple, do one thing, and do it the best. This trend is picking up steam right now, where will you take it?

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Woot, A Million Dollars, and Simplicity

July 23, 2008

The web has paved the way for some of the greatest innovations.  We now have new ways of doing things that are unlike anything we have ever seen before.  The mail became email, which led the way for chat rooms, instant messaging, online telephone services, and social networks.  These are all major things that have developed out of grand ideas and designs.

But not everything has to be so big or daunting.  Take a look at Woot.com.  What they have done is successfully create a website that gets a huge amount of traffic each and every day by doing something unique.  They offer one, and only one, product a day at a discount.  The product changes every night at midnight, and a rush of visitors come to check out the deal and see if it’s the one for them.

The traditionalists among us would say, why limit yourself to selling one product?  Why not offer a variety of deals and draw in more people, increasing the chance that each visitor will make a purchase?  Well, quite simply, that has been done to death.  Why compete with Amazon.com when you can create something that much more remarkable?  The same people don’t go to Amazon.com on a daily basis.  Woot has created something with a very loyal customer base that continues to spread the idea around.

Another example is “The Million Dollar Home Page“.  Here is a site that bought an interest-peaking url and sold ads.  That’s it.  The page is one million pixels, covered in ads, with each pixel costing one dollar – hence the million dollar home page.  It’s a simple idea with guaranteed revenue and easily spreadable story.  It gets attention.

You don’t have to solve world hunger every time you innovate.  Create something unique, no matter how simple, and run with it.  The web allows us to do this quickly and easily, at a fraction of the cost.  Create something that makes people say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”