The Live Web

The other day I was sitting in the company of leaders in one industrial category. (I won’t say which because it’s beside the point I want to make.) A question arose: Why are there so few visitors to our websites? Millions use their services, yet few bother with visiting their sites, except every once in awhile.

The answer, I suggested, was that their sites were buildings. They were architected, designed and constructed. They were conceived and built on the real estate model: domains with addresses, places people could visit. They were necessary and sufficient for the old Static Web, but lacked sufficiency for the Live one.

The Web isn’t just real estate. It’s a habitat, an environment, an ever-increasingly-connected place where fecundity rules, vivifying business, culture and everything else that thrives there. It is alive.

The Live Web isn’t just built. It grows, adapts and changes. It’s an environment where we text and post and author and update and tweet and syndicate and subscribe and notify and feed and — and yell and fart and say wise things and set off alarms and keep each other scared, safe or both. It’s verbs to the Static Web’s nouns. It is, in a biological word that has since gone technical, generative. And thus it calls Whitman to mind:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess
the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun…
there are many millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand
nor look through the eyes of the dead,
nor feed on the spectres in books.

You shall not look through my eyes either,
nor take things from me.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them for yourself…

I have heard what the talkers were talking.
The talk of the beginning and the end.
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance…
Always substance and increase,
Always a knit of identity… always distinction…
always a breed of life.

This is what I see when I look at Twitter Search. It’s what I see in my aggregator, in FriendFeed, in Technorati and Google Blogsearch (and in feeds for keyword searches of both), in IM and Skype, in the growing dozens of live apps — for weather, sports, radio and rivers of news — on my phone. And when I watch myself and others mash and mix those together, and pipe one into another.

And I say all this knowing that most of what I mentioned in that last paragraph will be old hat next week, if not next month or next year. C’est la vie.

Speaking of this week, I just discovered Google InQuotes via one or more of the Tweeters that I follow. And it struck me that the reason Microsoft has trouble keeping up with Google is as simple as Live vs. Static. Google gets the Live Web. Microsoft doesn’t. Not yet, anyway. It’s comfortable in the static. It’s cautious. It doesn’t splurge on give-aways because it doesn’t know that life is one long give-away in any case. We’re born with an unknown sum of time to spend and we’ve got to dump it all in the duration. That’s why now is what matters most. Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans, John Lennon said. The game of business is the game of life.

Years ago somebody said that everybody else was playing hockey while Bill Gates was playing chess. I think now the game has changed. I think now the game isn’t a game. It’s just life. The Web is alive. It’s a constantly changing and growing environment comprised of living and static things. Meanwhile what said long ago still applies: …companies so lobotomized that they can’t speak in a recognizably human voice build sites that smell like death.

I don’t think Microsoft is dead, or even acting like it. Nor do I think Google is unusually alive. Just that Google is especially adapted to The Live Web while Microsoft seems anchored in the static. As are most other companies and institutions, frankly. Nothing special about Microsoft there. Just something illustrative. A helpful contrast. Perhaps it will help Microsoft too.

If you want to participate in the Live Web, you can’t just act like it. You have to jump in and do it. Here’s the most important thing I’ve noticed so far: it’s not just about competition. It’s about support and cooperation. Even political and business enemies help each other out by keeping each other informed. There may be pay-offs in scarcity plays, but the bigger ones emerge when intelligence and good information are shared, right now. And archived where they can be found again later. All that old stuff is still nourishment.

Veteran readers know I’ve been about for . (And credit goes to my son Allen for coming up with the insight in the first place, more than five years ago.) I think Live vs. Static is a much more useful distinction than versions. (Web 1.0, 2.0, etc.) Hey, who knows? Maybe it’ll finally catch. It seemed to in the room where I brought it up.

By the way, a special thanks to , , and the audience at our panel at BlogWorld Expo for schooling me about this (whether they knew it or not). I got clues galore out of that, and I thank the whole room for them. (Hope the video goes up soon. You’ll see how it went down. Good stuff.)

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47 comments

  1. PXLated’s avatar

    Yes, they’re a place but even worse, they are just brochureware. As in the real world, a person/customer/investor looks at a corporate capabilities brochure once and throws it in the trash. There will never be anything new in that printed document and there is nothing new or inviting at corporate websites. About the only thing new is their latest press releases and who cares.

    There is NO reason to return. It’s the sad state of corporate websites. They are stagnant, boring, and add no value.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I should point out that in this industry there really is a high degree of customer involvement, of live-ness. And the Web sites, many of them, have pointers to their pulses. The problem is, they’re still seeing their websites as sites. As “presences” and stuff like that. Not enough.

  3. PXLated’s avatar

    “they’re still seeing their websites as sites”
    I think we agree, you use “sites”, I use “brochures”

  4. John Quimby’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    As someone who has been meeting with clients to discuss developing online content for the past several years I can tell you that you’re bang-on – and that they don’t see the problem.

    I explain it to them this way:

    Your website is a retail location, a salesperson, a TV station, a print media outlet and a radio station. It’s also a library, an employee training seminar, a communication conduit…etc.

    I ask if their business has an answering machine or other automated voice mail system. Then I ask them if they would install an answering machine without putting a greeting on it.

    The point is, sites have to include program content to be fully effective.

    Believe it or not, this is a tough sell.

  5. Peter Fleck’s avatar

    You say this so well and I’ll be pointing people here.

    I work with a nonprofit whose workforce is completely distributed with no brick-and-mortar presence as it is with so many nonprofits and small businesses. But they still want that web brick-and-mortar and spend weeks discussing just how the web site should work and look and feel instead of just birthing the damn thing and letting it grow up and change as necessary.

    Thanks.

  6. Steven Livingstone’s avatar

    Indeed the Web Lives – http://weblivz.com

    The issue is that following this live web is extremely tricky and time consuming – especially when it’s not your job.

    We need filtered queries to help us with all this – InQuotes is but one example of a trend towards filtering over sources.

    It’s exciting and some new things will need to happen to keep us on top – we don’t want search boxes any more!

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    It’s filtering, and much more. I have to say I can’t begin to keep up with it all, but I’m much better at it since getting schooled by Scoble and Pistachio. Laura (the latter) is a Master at this stuff. I am in awe of both, but Laura is much more grounded and practical (and like you and me, frankly) than Robert, whose celebrity status has made him rather unusual. Still a great guy, of course. That’s a huge part of his charm. But Laura’s working the trenches while Robert’s flying an AWACS at 45,000 feet.

  8. The Lovable Rogue’s avatar

    Many organisations have still failed to create an adequate web 2.0 presence (sorry for the use of this terminology!), yet as you rightly point out, these applications are already being superseded by new technologies. As users lose interest in technologies such as Facebook, a mass exodus thereof seems likely. I imagine that as new, more innovative solutions are created, migration from existing platforms will cause the latter to become valueless. Those organisations which fail to create an adequate presence in the current business climate are really going to struggle when these ‘new’ technologies become obsolete. In any case, I think the essense of the function remains the same. Organisations must continue to ensure that they offer the consumer a viable means of conversing with them.

  9. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    I only had to read the first paragraph to see that you’re spot-on, Doc. What if corporations let their users create the content they want? Be honest with their customers. Say “Hey, we make $PRODUCT, not websites. You’re here because you love our products. Or maybe you hate our products. Go create a website for people like you, and we’ll link to it. Yeah, even the hate sites, because if you don’t love our products, we want to know why.”

  10. The Lovable Rogue’s avatar

    Russell, I agree with the principle of encouraging customers to complain, but I would suggest that organisations need to transparently offer a number of platforms which allow the customer to do so. Driving them away will mean that the organisation will have to find the negative comments before it can action them appropriately, and consequently retain the relationship with the customer.

    Customers will however only use these platforms if negative comments are not only permitted, but are perceived to enhance the likelihood of successful post-complaint redress. In fact, transparently actioning complaints can lead to increased consumer satisfaction with the organisation. Clearly, not all aggrieved customers will use these platforms, instead favouring technologies outside of the organisation’s control. As such, it is important that the organisation monitor what is said about it online. By at least offering the relevant technologies however, the likelihood of recognising negative content will increase.

  11. John Quimby’s avatar

    Can anyone point out a business site that demonstrates what we’re talking about?

  12. Frymaster’s avatar

    To roughly paraphrase that wacky old German philosopher, the power of The Web is not in its being, but in its becoming.

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    John, to a limited extent the Obama Campaign, though not a business, is very much a Live Thing.

    Zappos.

    Sun Micrososystems.

    Microsoft (yes) through its bloggers. Kudos where due. It’s necessary but insufficient.

    KCRW is more Live than any other public radio station I know. Also in the running: WBEZ.

    When I have more time I’ll scrounge up some more.

  14. fred wilson’s avatar

    best post of the week for me Doc

    you nailed it and I quoted not once but twice from this post on my tumblog (fredwilson.vc)

    thanks so much

  15. Mike Montano’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    Great post — real value is unlocked when information can be freely shared and easily remixed. (I wasn’t surprised at all to see the bonus link leading to Umair’s blog ;))

    Regarding: “If you want to participate in the Live Web, you can’t just act like it. You have to jump in and do it.” — in doing this I think it’s very important for corporations (and individuals) to be as transparent as possible.

  16. Ross Shaw’s avatar

    Doc – I work at a university in Australia and this post really resonated with me. Do you know of any universities going down this path?

  17. Joshua Kahn’s avatar

    Hey Doc,

    well crafted enjoyable read. I’ll be recommending you often. What took me so long?

    Thank you for reminding me to look at what is, not what I think it is.

    Interesting discussion where I work today (a large electronics retailer not in chapter 11). How do we reveal the stories of our employees to the world? Many of these stories have been created in one form another on twitter, myspace, facebook, blogs, etc. They just aren’t collectively viewable, searchable, mashable, anywhere yet. I can’t help but feel the answer is not in trying to impact the content itself or the content creators, as it is in using these ‘living’ elements of the web to allow the ‘info consumer’ to choose.

    I’m excited for when the live web dissolves the barriers between the real and virtual world, in a “live” way.

    I look forward greatly to your next post.

  18. MacSmiley’s avatar

    Be careful about pushing your “Live Web” terminology. MSFT might not “get it” but they’ve staked a claim on the Live™ brand anyway, I think.

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