Evan I. Schwartz
Broadway Books, 244 pages.

The back cover of Webonomics is splashed with day-glow celebrity endorsements. Negroponte (MIT Media Lab) says he "learned a great deal about the new Web economy". Bezos (Amazon.com) says "Webonomics shatters the conventional wisdom about why the Web is important". Sharette (J. Walter Thompson) calls it "a quick way to learn the business."

This enthusiasm is strange, since the book's "nine essential principles for growing your business on the Web" are unlikely to surprise Web professionals:

  1. The quantity of people visiting your site is less important than the quality of their experience.
  2. Marketers shouldn't be on the Web for exposure, but for results.
  3. Consumers must be compensated for disclosing data about themselves.
  4. Consumers will shop online only for information-rich products.
  5. Self-service provides the highest level of customer comfort.
  6. Value-based currencies enable you to create your own monetary system (but micropayment and ecash are doomed).
  7. Trusted brand names matter even more on the Web.
  8. The smallest business can compete.
  9. Web sites must continually adapt.

On the whole, this is sound advice. Some of it is conventional wisdom: market to your customers; advertise to generate sales, not just attention; keep ads fresh. Some of it is pure guesswork: Schwartz seems to have no clear evidence that brands matter more on the Web than elsewhere. Many of the book's case studies are familiar success stories, lacking hard data or analysis. And, at times, Schwartz talks down to the reader with simplifications and overstatements:

On the Web, people obtain complete control over what messages they choose to interact with and how they interact with those messages. When this happens, the familiar notion of an advertisement or a commercial deconstructs. [Emphasis in original]

It should be apparent that Schwartz doesn't precisely mean what he say about "complete control", but the misuse of "deconstruct" is jarring. (Landow (Hypertext 2.0), Aarseth (Cybertext) and Moulthrop all better address this topic for the general reader).

Schwartz's central message ... deserves reflection

Schwartz's central message, however, deserves reflection: he argues that Web sites offer real value only when they respond to the individual reader. Federal Express, for example, is singled out for praise because they were first to offer package tracking through the Web, and their simple tracking page proved a more effective Web presence than bushels of brochure-ware.

Schwartz argues that this sort of active personal service is the essence of the Web's value proposition. Build-to-order, self-service, personal products are, in Schwartz's view, the Web ideal; static glossy pages and banner ads, he suggests, are relics of the broadcast era.

Schwartz is not particularly interested in hypertext, and so misses a key point: hypertext offers powerful opportunities for individualized Web experience. Web sites built from a foundation of well-chosen links and flexible structures provide a custom-fit visit to diverse readers, a custom-fit they tailor themselves. Visitors to a commercial Web site are uniquely receptive; they have chosen to enter the site and want the visit to be a success. Appropriate links let readers answer their own questions, find what they want, and close their own sale.

The mechanics of linking on the Web are no so familiar that the expressive power of links is easily overlooked. In longing for an over-the-rainbow world of demographically-tailored delivery, Schwartz overlooks the links at his own front door.

a concise, readable, and sensible introduction to marketing on the Web

Schwartz is certainly not alone, as the promise of linking is fulfilled at few of today's commercial Web sites. Small corporate sites are too small to satisfy, and often merely repeat their current advertising campaign in a new (and slower) medium. Many larger sites are rich in raw material but are straitjacketed by rigid navigation: the site is not designed to convince or to serve, but instead consumes the reader's attention just to show what it contains. Indeed, readers of Eastgate's current home page have observed, with some justice, that it is itself nearly submerged in its navigational apparatus. (The Web's anxiety over navigation is gradually easing; look for more fluid, organic designs to become popular in the next year. For more on the Web's obsession with the Navigation Problem, see Beyond Navigation

in Hypertext Gardens.)

Webonomics is not revolutionary, but it is a concise, readable, and sensible introduction to marketing on the Web. Although industry professionals may find its lessons familiar, Schwartz's book is a fine survey of an important topic that will help managers, journalists, and students of Web culture understand the practice of Web marketing.

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