Which old Web? The World Wide Web, and, says Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of LivePerson, the first brick falls this year:
When we started building websites in the mid-90s, we had great dreams for e-commerce. We fundamentally thought all brick-and-mortar stores would disappear and everything dot-com would dominate. But e-commerce has failed us miserably. Today, less than 15 percent of commerce occurs through a website or app, and only a handful of brands (think: Amazon, eBay and Netflix) have found success with e-commerce at any real scale. There are two giant structural issues that make websites not work: HTML and Google.
In the case of HTML, it’s an instance of “We were never intended to do that”:
In the early years, we were speaking in library terms about “browsing” and “indexing,” and in many ways the core technology of a website, called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), was designed to display static content — much like library books.
But retail stores aren’t libraries, and the library format can’t be applied to online stores either. Consumers need a way to dynamically answer the questions that enable them to make purchases. In the current model, we’re forced to find and read a series of static pages to get answers — when we tend to buy more if we can build trust over a series of questions and answers instead.
How often do you get the answer you need on your first trip to the FAQ? Not very, I suspect.
But that’s a design problem. The 800-lb gorilla in the room is far more sinister in intent:
As Google made it easier to find the world’s information, it also started to dictate the rules through the PageRank algorithm, which forced companies to design their websites in a certain way to be indexed at the top of Google’s search results. But its one-size-fits-all structure ultimately makes it flawed for e-commerce.
Now, almost every website looks the same — and performs poorly. Offline, brands try to make their store experiences unique to differentiate themselves. Online, every website — from Gucci to the Gap — offers the same experience: a top nav, descriptive text, some pictures and a handful of other elements arranged similarly. Google’s rules have sucked the life out of unique online experiences. Of course, as e-commerce has suffered, Google has become more powerful, and it continues to disintermediate the consumer from the brand by imposing a terrible e-commerce experience.
Meanwhile, about 15 percent of the questions flung at me on Quora boil down to “How can I get the highest possible ranking on Google?” I haven’t the heart to tell them “Build a really shitty site.” Yet.
LoCascio sees 404s in our future:
I am going to make a bold prediction based on my work with 18,000 companies and bringing conversational commerce to life: In 2018, we will see the first major brand shut down its website. The brand will shift how it connects with consumers — to conversations, with a combination of bots and humans, through a messaging front end like SMS or Facebook. We are already working with several large brands to make this a reality.
When the first website ends, the dominoes will fall fast. This will have a positive impact on most companies in transforming how they conduct e-commerce and provide customer care. For Google, however, this will be devastating.
At least there’s some redeeming social value.
(Via Jeff Faria.)