I love how the web as we know it is much like a living organism that we are able to watch evolve at a breakneck pace. It has been particularly interesting to see how services and products have been in a tug-of-war over what shifts are trendy to be doing, and what adds the most value for the end user.
As far as I can tell, here is how the web has evolved so far…
As the web was just coming about into the consumer space, the most important thing was just getting something out there. We had no real way of cataloging great content and cool new websites which made domain squatting overly profitable given the amount of time effort required to snatch them up. If you wanted to buy t-shirts online, you would simply try typing in tshirts.com and hope for a reputable vendor. These were truly the days of the wild west online where pretty much anything was kosher and there was limited to no oversight. These were for all intensive purposes the dark ages of the internet.
As more and more content based (read: informational/brochure) websites cropped up, we started to see the need for finding this content and thus search engines were born. Search hasn’t really changed all that much since inception, but we all know that Google was a game changer with their Page Rank system to help bring order to the chaos. We also started to see more and more transactional/e-commerce based websites pop-up and sites that offered package services for end users to try and make their lives better.
When information became even more overbearing for consumers, social sharing services like Delicious, Facebook and now Twitter have sprung up for friends and new connections to share the best content across the web with. This has worked well at driving traffic beyond the tried and true e-mail, forward, repeat method of sharing information. It has helped bring “social proof” to particularly good articles, and sites like Digg.com funneled new and interesting stories into social graphs that would have otherwise never seen the content.
But now we are seeing a much more subtle but equally important shift in what will make new products interesting and much more useful for us. We have entered the Age of Design for web services. What I mean by this is that web services now have to make something beautiful, instead of just something that “works”. The introduction of the new Twitter.com after yesterday’s announcement is living proof that in order to more useful, you have to be more usable. It seems simply in logic and in theory, but creating a truly gorgeous user interface is paramount to a web services success in today’s marketplace. Being attractive to the eye, and folding in rich media to the user experience also allows impressive split testing to understand the usage pattern of your users.
So while winners just ship products, how are you making the usability layer of your web services gorgeous? Additionally are you actually separating the functionality teams from the design teams? Functionality should be handled by your engineering minds, and graphical designers should be handling the interface layer. Make something usable, make something great.