Microformats and the Decentralized Future of Online Marketing

mflogo.jpgFirefox’s Alex Faaborg has raised quite a few eyebrows with his piece on Microformats and the possibilities that exist for these platforms in terms of browser implementation (Firefox3?)…

4. The Web Browser as an Information Broker (Firefox 3?)

Much in the same way that operating systems currently associate particular file types with specific applications, future Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online.

This means the contact information you see on a Web site will be associated with your favorite contacts application, events will be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations will be associated with your favorite mapping application, phone numbers will be associated with your favorite VOIP application, etc.

While others are chewing on what browser implementation of microformats means for the online experience in general, I have been pondering what it means for online marketing specifically.

First, let’s look at what microformats actually are, as this can be confusing…

One of my online maharaja’s, Chris Messina (check out his post on ebates) says…

Microformats are simple codes that you can use to identify specific kinds of data, like people or events, in your webpages.

Alex points out that microformats are not limited to just addresses or contact info, but can cover a wide variety of topics with relative ease, and allow people looking to easily find the things they are looking for via web searches…

There are lots of different microformats, ranging from very fundamental types of information like contacts, locations, and events, to the slightly more domain specific, like reviews and resumes, to the very domain specific, like wines.

So, if microformats can be used to help others find the content (or offers) you are providing, why hasn’t there been widespread adoption in online marketing? Again, Alex discusses the potential of microformats in an aggregated shopping site…

For instance, if you want to sell something, you can blog about it using an hListing, and a site like edgeio will find it when it aggregates classified advertisements across the Web. Similarly, the microformat hReview allows the creation of review aggregation sites, and XFN (XHTML Friends Network) allows the creation of social network aggregation sites.

Edgeio is just one of a growing number of shopping aggregation sites (think 77Blue or Jellyfish). Instead of going to a centralized hub where users are present in order to show off your offer or product, what if the users came to your site based on a qualified and highly interested search? The eCPM would be enormous if this happened en masse for your program.

Eventually, application of RSS and microformats signals the death bell (it’s not doom and gloom, it’s evolution to quote Pearl Jam), for networks ranging from the big affiliate networks to the CPA networks.

Really?

Yes.

Why?

Just as blogging has allowed content creators to do their creative acts and have the traffic come to their own blog rather than having to post up their content on a large centralized site or forum, widespread implementation of RSS and microformats will allow merchants from the Madison Ave variety all the way to the small merchants depending on CPA networks for volume to publish their goods, services or programs on their own site and have the traffic come to them.

This will not be immediate.

It will be a slow and quiet revolution which will start with the smaller merchants who are innovating and looking beyond the traditional paradigm of partnering with a network and the network’s collection of affiliates and publishers in order to get traffic. These innovators will see the positive results of pull, rather than push, marketing online. Eventually, they will move away from the networks and case studies will be written. As this happens more and more, the merchants on the next rung up will notice the change and start reading those case studies and eventually Madison Ave will figure it out. It will be slow, but it will be from the bottom up. Throw widgets in the stew, and it’s a spicy gumbo for change.

It will change online marketing forever.

It will change affiliate marketing for the better.

24 thoughts on “Microformats and the Decentralized Future of Online Marketing

  1. Just to play devil’s advocate here — if edgeio is essentially (in user experience at least) a search engine for products, how is it any better/different than Google when it comes to searching for products online? Certainly for small sellers — a blogger trying to sell something — there may be an advantage, but for retailers of any size, how would modifying their product listing with microformats help users find them any better? Retailers already release product datafeeds to various publishers and portals, and in this way would seem to bypass the need to explicitly tag the items on their website. I think microformats are cool when it comes to certain applications like contacts and relationships, but it seems there is already a lot of infrastructure in place that makes it very easy for people to find products online without retailers needing to take this extra step. For online marketing to be affected in any serious way it seems there would need to be a major benefit to microformats as a way to make products findable that current marketing methods don’t offer.

  2. I think the difference is the messenger.

    Google is not a search company, or a provider of content or links to other sites. Google is an advertising company.

    As we increasingly begin to recognize this fact, merchants are going to be looking for other ways to attract crowds to their sites, and affiliates are going to be looking for more productive ways to gain traffic beyond relying on a competitor (Google).

    I think that makes all the difference.

  3. Point taken, though I think you’ve opened a bigger can of worms there. At some point any site that aggregates tags and delivers search results is going to have to have a business model of some kind, so it seems they’d end up on the same path as Google or any other publisher or affiliate site. And even if advertisers and publishers want to drive traffic from other sources, will consumers use those sources when Google/Amazon/Ebay can seem to effectively steer a consumer to the product they’re looking for so conveniently already?

    I’m a big believer in the semantic web, i just always thought its sweet spot was in creating another layer of information in areas that aren’t currently standardized easily now, like determining the reputation, contact info, or established relationships for bloggers and sellers. It just seems that the marketing of products has enough healthy infrastructure already — what’s lacking is a comprehensive picture of how offline and online mix and how purchase decisions are really made, and whether brand and mass marketing make sense anymore. Now I’ve gone and wandered off the subject.

    I do want to be convinced you’re right though — can you give me an example of how this will work, how/why a significant user base will find products this way instead of through the current portals?

  4. I have recently heard about these microformats and find them to be very exciting for the small business like you say. One thing that can make them very powerful, is their ability to close the gab even further between large company websites like amazon and personal web sites. Many of the online sites which produce lots of the online sales such as Amazon and ebay are making a lot of money from letting other users sell items on their website. This exclusively the point on ebay and is becoming more and more a point at Amazon. With an effective microformat system in place, all of these people could be simply listing the products themselves. The overhead I am sure would be smaller since there would be no middle man Amazon taking a cut of the shares. That means that either the sellers start making a couple dollars more per purchase or the products drop in price a couple dollars or somewhere between.

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  6. if this happens, more will love searching to firefox and will enjoy having firefox in their laptops and pc, its so good to hear that this is a good development.

  7. Just have to say that with the release of FireFox 3.5, speed, security, extensibility and openness have been greatly improved. FireFox rules, I can't believe IE is even still used – yet when I check our site stats over 60% of people still use this 200MB browser!

  8. I can't say that Firefox 3 is the best browser. I use it, I do, every day. It's the best I can find but it's not as good as it can be. I'm using version 3.5.2 and it keeps jamming when I need it the most. I'm tired of getting the “This is embarrassing…” error.

  9. It will be a slow and quiet revolution which will start with the smaller merchants who are innovating and looking beyond the traditional paradigm of partnering with a network and the network’s collection of affiliates and publishers in order to get traffic. These innovators will see the positive results of pull, rather than push, marketing online. Eventually, they will move away from the networks and case studies will be written. As this happens more and more, the merchants on the next rung up will notice the change and start reading those case studies and eventually Madison Ave will figure it out.

  10. I like the way you use Online Maharaja terms for Chris Messina. Online marketing is fastest moving and changing environment compared to any other marketing panels. Keeping up with those need serious knowledge in SEO.

  11. It will be a competitive advantage of Firefox if it can relate events with user’s calendar application, locations with mapping application and the like. I welcome the improvement if microformats can really bring the positive change in aggregate online marketing.

  12. widespread implementation of RSS and microformats will allow merchants from the Madison Ave variety all the way to the small merchants depending on CPA networks for volume to publish their goods, services or programs on their own site and have the traffic come to them.

  13. I could use that kind of innovation in running my business and I am specially referring to Voip applications. I've been waiting for a long time to see smarter browsers and engines, I think we staid long enough on this level, it's time to go higher, I lot of business managers think that way.

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