You may not know it, but the viewers' screen -- the viewable real estate -- has gotten incredibly larger. I'm not talking about the fact that 19" or larger screens have become increasingly inexpensive, I'm talking about the fact that -- regardless of screen size -- there's a lot more visual real estate to work with.
Prices are going to go up for prime properties, so be prepared for increasing real estate values.
Things are changing, evolving, and what has been the web page for over ten years is probably going away on certain sites. Do I think that the web page as we've known it is gone forever? Not right now, no, and probably not for quite a while. The more important change that needs to occur is this: it's not the page that matters; it's the presentation and how people interact with that presentation that needs to be your focus.
Let's take these items one at a time. First, is the web page as we've known it going away? I don't think so, because its usefulness hasn't gone away just yet. Some companies simply don't need anything more than a "page" presentation format to get their message across. This last part is important. Most companies simply don't need to present their information in anything other than a page format because they're not presenting all that much information in the first place. Also, as more and more individuals and businesses come online, the traditional page format is going to be the least expensive entry point for them. Technology will change that, certainly, but there's far more people buying sites out of a box than spending money on the newest technologies.
Given that a website is really a presentation of information (from a cognitive psychology perspective), when does it make sense to create presentations more complex than the traditional web page?
High rises, skyscrapers and portals-- Oh my!
So far web interfaces have been like the Great Plains-- broad and flat. There may have been several screen elements on any given page, but by and large web pages have had a "delivered on demand" methodology to them. You click on a link and you get information sent to your browser, which covers the browser window. This methodology had one great thing going for it: everything in the browser directly related to everything else in the browser.
It's this last part -- everything is directly related to everything else -- that is changing and evolving into another great thing. It's changing because RIA (Rich Internet Applications), Web 2.0, portals and a few other things are changing information delivery.
Take a look at Figure #1:
This shows a traditional web page. On the left is your browser window with various screen elements on the page. On the right is what your page is from a dimensional perspective, i.e., flat.
Now consider Figure #2:
You, the visitor, are seeing the same browser window, and the same elements are in it. What you don't necessarily know is that this time each element is in its own box, or container.
Instead of the Great Plains, your browser window has turned into a city block, and there are different buildings on that same piece of screen real estate. Each of these buildings (or boxes or containers) is an applet that is delivering that screen element to that position in the portal (I've sometimes heard these called "portlets").
And this brings us to Figure #3, to increasing real estate values, skyscrapers, high rises and what have you:
Each portlet can now deliver new content and new screen elements to itself without having to communicate to any other part of the browser.
The landscape is no longer flat; it now looks like a Manhattan skyline. One portlet may be a few stories tall and another several hundred. Each time you click on a portlet you're riding an elevator to another floor, and whoever owns that portlet is going to be working real hard to keep you in their building.
The only time a new browser window needs to open up is when you request something from one portlet that won't necessarily fit into that portlet's current screen real estate.
Things are going to get interesting right there. Imagine you're viewing a portal with one portlet, getting a feed from the NYTimes with another portlet getting a feed from the Washington Post. You click on something in the Washington Post's portlet and that opens a new browser window. Essentially this creates new real estate like an ocean volcano creating a new island. But the volcano has also obliterated NYTimes' island.
Somebody won't be happy, and a whole new world of metrics is going to come out of this.
Urban planners consider geographic constraints and the price of land when designing cities. No constraints and cheap land? Build low and wide. In contrast, online geographic constraints and land prices take the form of too much information dispersed too widely, and the user doesn't have enough time to get to it all.
Thankfully, new technologies such as AJAX have helped our attention deficit selves by taking the page -- a broad landscape we could travel easily -- and turning it into several high rises each demanding our attention.
We used to drive through a large town and admire the quaint homes. Now there are billboards, neon signs and boom boxes in store windows, each demanding our attention.
The only difference is they're on what we still recognize as a web page.
What is truly sad about the increase in billboards, neon signs and boom boxes in our browsers is that web consumers will do what we as drivers are doing: tune them out. We'll get soundproof cars with tinted windows; we'll only go to places we know for a fact can provide us with what we want, and we'll only get out of the car if we know what we want can be had when we want it. Ouch!
Real size versus mental size
Humans conceive of size using several criteria, two of which always come to the surface: physical space and how much attention we give that space over time.
People are familiar with broad expanses and beautiful vistas. The sheer physical size of the view affects people. However, real size and mental size are different. Things will always loom larger mentally if the amount of time an individual spends looking at it increases. What we focus our attention on looms larger in our consciousness than what we don't focus our attention on (traumatic events, of course, are the exception to this rule).
What does all this have to do with marketing?
I've written in several places about how people scan information, where their eyes fall and so on. The key to making your portlets attract and keep visitors' attention is to first determine which screen position best gets your portlets' message across. This is going to play big in ad positioning and microsite development.
Ad positioning, obviously, deals with which screen area gets your message across best: microsites need to pay particular attention to this because, moving forward, each portlet is going to be a microsite on a company's "web page".
The key to making your content loom large in a visitor's consciousness -- especially in the new internet real estate economy -- is understanding presentation.
Ultimately, you want visitors to turn away from their browsers remembering what was in your portlet, not your neighbor's. This means knowing where to place things -- remember the old realtor's mantra, "Location! Location! Location!" -- for maximum exposure and which messaging methodology -- billboard, neon sign or boom box -- to use to lock that presentation into the visitor's memory.
Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is also author of the Biz Media Science blog. Read full bio.