Botox Season on the Web

Here’s today’s MediaPost column, my next entry in the Online Spin which I’m writing this summer on Thursdays in lieu of the Search Insider.

Earlier
this week on "The Daily Show," Larry Wilmore reported on how
Beverly Hills is coping with today’s economic hardships
, where women are
waiting longer to get their Botox refills and plastic surgeons are taking on
reconstructive surgery cases just to pay their golf dues.

That’s
hardly the case in digital media, where the plastic surgeons of the Web have
their hands full. It seems like every other major site and software program is
getting its digital version of Botox lately. These sites want to look better,
and generally more youthful, without calling too much attention to themselves.
We’ll review the latest round of e-Botox projects and see who wears their new
looks well.

MySpace
MySpace performed cosmetic surgery across its browser and profile
pages Wednesday.

What’s better:
There are fewer sections on the homepage, with some other elements hidden in
tabs, and more rounded corners. Members can more easily rearrange applications
on their profiles, and site navigation has been improved.

What’s not:
The massive ad space on the homepage is overpowering, even more than the
takeovers were before. The notifications settings that can lead to email
overload haven’t been fixed, so it’s still an all or nothing opt-in approach.
Lastly, it’s still MySpace, and while it’s extraordinarily popular, there’s a
vocal contingent of former members who have moved on. If you’re in that camp,
this isn’t enough to make you come back.

Value for consumers:
Consumers who are into MySpace will generally appreciate the tweaks, though the
overpowering branding on the homepage could be a minor turnoff.

Impact for marketers:
There’s more visibility on the homepage, though you could still do homepage
takeovers before. The profile ad space hasn’t changed.

Firefox 3
This week, Mozilla officially released the new Firefox 3 browser,
setting a record with over 8 million downloads in 24 hours.

What’s better: You
can go
to Mashable
to see a great recap of features, including a few I didn’t
realize were there. The biggest difference with the Web browser is the aptly
named "awesome bar," the location bar where you enter URLs. Now you
can type in keywords and it will bring up a list of pages and links ranked by
how recently and frequently you’ve visited them. For instance, to find that
Mashable article, I typed ‘mashable firefox’ and it led me to the link, rather
than requiring me to scroll through some often-meaningless URLs.

What’s not:
It’s still a memory hog, though it seems better than before. Some add-ons
aren’t supporting it yet, though that will largely change (except for Google
Browser Sync, which is closing
up shop
).

Value for consumers:
Easier Web browsing, bookmarking, and downloading means more fun and productivity
while surfing.

Impact for marketers: I
haven’t seen this explored at all, let alone documented, but I’d wager that
direct navigation will increase as a percentage of overall web visits. This
could adversely affect brand term searches from repeat visitors, and it could
in turn mean marginally less revenue for Google. I wouldn’t expect this to show
up easily, but that’s something to look for in the server logs (post a comment
if you’ve seen anything already). Google has been promoting Firefox aggressively;
if this effect takes hold, will Google reconsider?

Those
are just two from this week. Here are a few other emerging examples:

Facebook
Next month, Facebook is significantly overhauling its profile pages along with
the site navigation. You can see details on the official
Facebook Profiles Preview page
. The new, cleaner, faster-loading design
relegates applications to separate tabs on profile pages, which will make it
even harder to market apps. This could wind up benefiting Facebook advertising
and app ad networks as marketers invest more to promote the applications.

LinkedIn
What does a $53 million investment buy? Polls!
Okay, maybe there’s no direct correlation between the funding and the new
feature, but LinkedIn is testing out a sponsored polling function on the site,
with Forbes
as an initial advertiser
. It could be good market research for marketers,
but will they bite? Facebook has had sponsored
polls
for awhile, though I haven’t heard of any case studies here and
haven’t seen a poll in a long time.

Twitter
Actually, there hasn’t been any recent redesign. Despite popular
belief, the "
Twitter is over capacity
" error page is not the site’s new homepage.

That’s just
one sign that the Web’s version of Botox specialists still have some work to
do. 

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