In my last post, I promised to cover some simple ways to make your presence on the web more conversational. But before I do that, let's talk about what I mean by Conversational in the context of the web (as opposed to say, a restaurant!).
I'm currently at work on a new book, provisionally titled The Conversation Economy, which argues that we are entering a new era of communications between business and customer. And the critical transit of that communication is the Internet- an ubiquitous medium that our customers love. (Hence my thesis, in my first post, that we're all in the media business now, whether we like it or not).
At its core, the Web is a network of computers. As businesspeople, we've been in dialog with computers for some time now. But back in the 1960s and 1970s, computers were hulking machines meant for the back offices of Very Large Companies, not small businesses. These machines had a very particular interface- a command line into which you were required to type an arcane computer language to get anything done. The number of people who spoke this language were understandably low, and therefore, the number of people in the world who were having conversations with machines was also quite low.
In the 1980s, we all got personal computers, and thanks to the graphical user interface - GUI- millions of us starting talking with computers. But the conversation was hardly fluent. I call this the hunt and poke era of computing- we used a mouse to navigate a representational desktop; when we found something we wanted, we poked at it until it came alive for us. This gesticulative interface- not unlike what the wordless signals we employ while in a foreign land in need of the bathroom- is a step forward, but it sure doesn't scale.
And then the Internet came along. And everything changed. Now we were not just navigating our desktops, or the back office computer files. We were navigating mankind's possible knowledge base. The whole shootin’ match.
Clearly, not a place we could hunt and poke our way through. We needed a new interface. And we found one, in search.
In a way, the search interface is a lot like the 1970s command line (anyone remember C: prompts?!). It's a blinking cursor and a command line. But what you put into it is the magic: Words. Phrases. Language. And language is the transit of conversation.
When you enter your query into a search engine, you are beginning a sophisticated conversation with a machine. You say discount building supplies and bam, in less than half a second, Google responds by re-organizing the entire Internet around your input, and comes back with a web page called www.secondsandsurplus.com, as well as an entire pageful of other possible answers.
It's a magical experience, talking with computers in this way, and it's the main reason Google has become one of the most legendary companies in the very storied history of the Silicon Valley. It's also the main reason that you have to change your approach to conversing with your customers via the web: If your site isn't responding to your customers the way Google does, well, in the long term, you're toast.
So what can you do? Sorry to bury the lead here, but that will be the focus of the next post, and I promise, it's coming really soon!