The Next Big Shift In Web Marketing

There was an article on TechCrunch entitled "Jump Into The Stream"

In short, the article is about how the internet appears to be going through its next big shift. It is moving towards becoming a stream of immediate information. The web is being organized by "nowness"

This real-time stream has been building for a while. It began with RSS, but is now so much stronger and swifter, encompassing not just periodic news and musings but constant communication, status updates, instantly shared thoughts, photos, and videos.

I thought the article gives us a compelling way to think about this shift:

First and foremost what emerges out of this is a new metaphor — think streams vs. pages. In the initial design of the web reading and writing (editing) were given equal consideration - yet for fifteen years the primary metaphor of the web has been pages and reading. The metaphors we used to circumscribe this possibility set were mostly drawn from books and architecture (pages, browser, sites etc.). Most of these metaphors were static and one way. The steam metaphor is fundamentally different. It’s dynamic, it doesn’t live very well within a page and still very much evolving. A stream. A real time, flowing, dynamic stream of information — that we as users and participants can dip in and out of and whether we participate in them or simply observe we are a part of this flow.

But isn't this just social media marketing? We've known about that for a long time now. Yes. But the concept of "nowness" and immediacy give us a great way to make sense of it, and a better understanding of how to make it work for us.

One of the criticisms we often hear about search engines is that a lot of the information is dated. Google has tried to address this problem by focusing on sources such as Wikipedia, that have a community of updaters, or pointing you towards news content, if your search is time dependent, or allowing you to sort by date. Search is also rather anonymous, as opposed to personal.

The appeal of Facebook/Twitter is that they provide an immediacy of information. There is a constant flow, updated often. They also provide this information in the context of a trusted filter i.e. your friend network. That's a big shift in how information will be accessed, especially as more and more people come to view the web from this perspective.

If the web is indeed a place, it is starting to look less like a library, and more like a river.

What Does This All Mean For The SEO?

It means SEOs will need to think more about what traffic is, where it comes from, and how to hook it.

Look at where people are spending their time. Increasingly, it isn't on web pages or sites. It's within a trusted channel that provides a flow of information. So a site owner needs to think about how to direct these streams towards a site, and make sure people hang around long enough to buy what the site owner is selling before they move on.

Obviously, search engines aren't going to disappear. Nor are people going to stop publishing web pages. Nor are they going to stop visiting web pages. But what are the characteristics of social media activity, and how does it differ from search visitor activity?

I think the main characteristics of this channel are immediacy, the fleeting visit, trust, relevancy, and remarkable-ness.


  • Encourage user registration on your site to help lock people in
  • Offer time-limited membership deals
  • Offer forums, tools, multiple content formats, and other interactive elements that mimic the appealing aspects of social media
  • Be unique, memorable and remarkable so people talk about you to their friends
  • Go niche. Me-too and generalist is unremarkable
  • When going broad, leverage existing networks to facilitate faster growth
  • Focus on establishing trust

The Twitter/Facebook/Social Media streams are like the rest of the web in that most of it is junk. So how do people filter the noise and focus on the good bits? Trust is one aspect.

Do people say "Hey, look at this great secured loans site?". They don't. We'll, not unless they're pimping for said secured loans site. The stream is not going to favor the mee-too approach, either. It's going to favor the remarkable approach. Do people on social media sites point out the mundane?

So re-read Seth Godin, and think about "being remarkable", and how to apply it to your strategy.

Incidentally, when asked about Twitter today, Larry Page had this to say:

I have always thought we needed to index the web every second to allow real time search. At first, my team laughed and did not believe me. With Twitter, now they know they have to do it. Not everybody needs sub-second indexing but people are getting pretty excited about realtime

Google aren't asleep on this issue.

Published: May 20, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


May 20, 2009 - 1:06pm

Thanks for the post, Peter. That particular "Stream" article seemed to resonate with a lot of folks (got quite a few immediate RTs when I posted it on my twitter profile).

I think that another key aspect of this "shift" is the way in which people will:
a) create content
b) monetize websites (i.e. shifting away from ads)

There are a lot of content publishers that are making their small fortunes by creating API-enabled apps that cater to specific needs (iphone apps most notably, but also on Facebook and now Twitter) as opposed to simply creating editorial (e.g. written) content.

And when Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, was asked about how they planned on monetizing their growing portal, he had this to say: ""There are a few reasons why we're not pursuing advertising -- one is it's just not quite as interesting to us."

May 20, 2009 - 2:42pm

Well, this is TechCrunch's obsession - live updates.

But does it really stand up to scrutiny? I've heard people say they finally "got" Twitter when an event happened and everybody tweeted about it right after it happened. That's cool - but....where's the business value? What happens next?

As for networking, I've networked online for 12 years and have never used Twitter / FriendFeed / Facebook. I find niche forums are the best because you don't have to "follow" or be "followed" - the community is already there, right in your niche, and you can have decent "conversations" via threaded topics. You can publicise your skills by helping people on the forums (using the knowledge you've got). I've got a LOT of paid work that way (web development, SEO).

It's not cool I know, but hey, it actually has value.

As for "WOMM", I would rather search through well written Amazon reviews (eg) for a product than some 140 char sound bites on Twitter from a "friend of a friend".

I dunno - people love hyping stuff, but can anyone tell me the real substance behind the hype of "the stream"? Whenever I ask this I get vague answers with no realworld business plans.

May 20, 2009 - 6:25pm

Always, businesses are based on human relationships, as Peter wrote in a past article. People who know how to take advantage of the social networks, in a way that generates value to their businesses... they probably will be the next Internet millionaires.

Of course, social networks are full of non-sense and stupid information and most people use them for entertainment, but it doesn't mean that you cannot use those social interactions for making money. And how to make money there? Well, just try, observe the results, make adjustments and try again... hopefully, you will find your way soon if you are smart enough or know smart people who can explain how to do it.

May 20, 2009 - 8:01pm

I can see the value created by Facebook, because the streaming info holds people's attention on a site that can display ads to the audience. Maybe not the most valuable audience, but there is a captive audience there.

How does Twitter do that?

You used this example:
Do people say "Hey, look at this great secured loans site?". They don't.

Very true.

So how does the secured loan site / broker turn twitter into leads or sales without alienating any friends or network they were able to build?

(This is not a redundant question.)

May 20, 2009 - 10:03pm

First off, I dislike the fact that I had to be a registered user in order to comment on your site. But I guess this ensures that only interested parties and those that really do have a strong opinion to contribute actually do so.

I 100% agree with the analogy of the web as a river, rather than destinations, I agree it will become more of an information flow.

Here's what I don't like:

Encourage user registration on your site to help lock people in.

To me, trying to lock people into your site is the wrong approach. That's like being the beaver trying to dam up the river. Put your hooks and nets in the water absolutely to catch the fish as they swim by... but don't hang them from the side of the boat until dinner time. Put your carrots out there often enough and rabbits always come back looking for the food, no need to 'lock' them in... if you have enough desirable content out there and continue to participate in these communities, people will come back to you when it's time to make that purchase.

May 20, 2009 - 10:20pm

if you have enough desirable content out there and continue to participate in these communities, people will come back to you when it's time to make that purchase

As a web idealist for over 6 years I naively believed the above comment, and for 5+ years I practiced that. I spent a half-hour a day blocking Indian SEO comment spammers, built no list, and got very little in return for literally giving away millions of dollars in content - catering to greedy, lazy, and selfish people who had little interest in anything beyond take take take take take, and comment spamming.

The people who don't want to commit to signing up for free and will eventually monetize when they feel like it are much less likely to convert (ever) than the people who are immediately interested in participating in the site at a deeper level.

Yes there is more choice and more competition, but barriers increase quality significantly. Compare the level of discourse in the comments on this site or in our private member forums to something like a public forum like SEO Chat. There really is no comparison in terms of quality.

May 20, 2009 - 10:08pm


but can anyone tell me the real substance behind the hype of "the stream"?

Mark Cuban recently noted:

For the 1st time ever, more people are finding my blog from Twitter and Facebook referrals than via Google. The total number of people coming to my blog is increasing. The percentage of people who find it via Google is declining. Significantly. Thats huge. Why ? Because of the behavior implications for users, and because of the business implications for Twitter, Facebook and Google".

I'm sure he can think of ways to monetarize that traffic.


Great point about the apps potential.


Right. Well said.


Chris Brogan has a few ideas:

There is another article, which unfortunately I can't find right now, where the writer Twittered about how he wanted to buy a product, and did anyone have any recommendations. He got recommendations back that he considered valuable, more so than if he'd used Google.

I think commercial interruptions in social conversations are usually out of place, unless the intent is commercial. We talk a lot about measuring visitor intent in search, and you could apply the same thinking to Twitter.

Many conversations in Twitter aren't commercial, just as many searches in Google aren't commercial in intent. The question is: how do we identify and monetarize the traffic that is commercial in intent?

May 20, 2009 - 10:26pm


While I agree it can be annoying to some users, putting barriers up can be a form of segmentation. As you rightly identify, only the committed will bother. But what if the aim is to only attract the committed?

Agreed about the carrots. Sites can run multiple strategies simultaneously. On this site, there is plenty of free content, or carrots, to attract people. Ultimately, however, it does require revenue to run, and that means there must be encouragements to sign-up.

lee chen
May 20, 2009 - 10:29pm

I love this blog and have been reading it for years now.
I have a question. Some of my clients have paid lots of money to supposed "SEO" experts whose own websites rank 0!
One guys site said he has been there since 2001 and he was a PR 0. He sold my guy on getting in his link directory, which turns out to be free anyway and only have PR2, and he all he did was add a big spammy list of keywords to my clients landing page! He charged my client 5k upfront no less.
I know PR is not everything, but your site is a 5 and my site a 4, and I just think if someone who is selling services as an expert has a 0-2 ranking, isn't that a red flag? I will not say his full name but the first part is Dr. Sammy.
People like this infuriate me.

May 20, 2009 - 11:43pm

I don't know all the details, but from what you said so far it seems like your customer may have paid a lot to get a little. :(

Since you trust this site feel free to recommend they join our site if they want to learn SEO proper. :)

May 20, 2009 - 11:48pm

Aaron Wall & PeterD - I value sites that have quality content and conversations (such as this one), but where the discouragement comes in is from creating yet another spot I have to login in. Allowing the use of a Facebook or Twitter account as those credentials would be a much preferred method of authenticating a user than creating a separate profile again... but I guess that's a whole other can of worms...

May 21, 2009 - 5:35am

The problem with relying on such third parties are that eventually they start charging for what was once free (and if they don't then they often die). Plus they like to keep your content inside them, which sorta locks it up and gives them more leeway as the "relationship" builds.

May 21, 2009 - 4:47am

@PeterD, well Mark Cuban isn't your average person - I remember shoemoney saying something similar - that's he's getting a ton of traffic from Twitter now. Well, OK, but the web can't accommodate (nor wants!) everyone to be as self-promoting as shoemoney or Mark Cuban. These guys have hundreds of thousands of followers, and are "edge cases". It's a bit like saying all mom and pop websites can create a "will it blend?" meme for their site - in truth, the internet can only accommodate a small number of memes and "celebrities" - that's the shape of the pyramid.

I think smaller busineses should focus on quality relationships.

My opinion is that Twitter works for quantity, not quality. It's geared up for short attention spans and that suits the loudest people who attract the most followers, but average businesses following this model are in danger of just looking like sell-outs, spamming messages, following people under false pretences etc. This can actually make them look a bit cheap and desperate. I see these "communities" like a party that's been hyped to death, everyone's invited, and the loudest, brashest people are the ones looked up to, and even worse, the people looking up to such people try (and fail) to mimic them.

On the other hand, social networks like forums or even blogs (which attract particular groups of people like this blog) offer up more detailed discourse. You get the chance to really communicate with people, and build up a reputation. Business forums are great for networking (bartering skills, finding new clients, helping people out, getting help yourself).

Just my opinion - I could be wrong, and Twitter (and Facebook etc) are the new ways to do business....but if so, it seems....a bit shallow to me.

July 19, 2009 - 7:28pm

Well let's put it to the test.
This post was May 2009. Is the stream flowing in such a way that this comment will be seen? Or is July 2009 distant enough that this is long gone? This is a test.

July 19, 2009 - 10:33pm

I saw it. But not sure how many other people did. Maybe a few dozen at most...and then a flow of a few here or there over time as the page ages. :)

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