If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video may speak volumes. Yet despite the popularity of rich media elsewhere on the Internet, the use of photos and videos on local sites is in its infancy. And with earbuds sprouting across the human landscape delivering podcasts on all manner of topics, it is curious that users cannot easily subscribe to the audio vignettes about local businesses. What then is the future of rich media on local sites?
There has been increased innovation and consolidation in the local space. We have seen the roll out of interesting features and sites that deploy combinations of rich media to enhance the user experience and offer new ways for merchants to participate. But as a group, local sites have not yet harnessed media to full effect, making it a fascinating category in which to be engaged, and one with many opportunities.
Here is an informal look at some pros and cons associated with adding incremental forms of media to the local-focused marketplace—an area largely defined to-date by traditional text-based sites.
Pros: The power of video to captivate would be hard to deny, as evidenced by television and YouTube. Now low-cost, professional-grade spots about local businesses are emerging with the help of upstarts like TurnHere and Spot Runner. From bakeries to beauty salons, roofers to real estate agents, some local merchants can present their stories and points of differentiation in a very effective way using video. The videos can be compelling and useful in helping users make decisions about local businesses, and they give merchants a new means of participating in the conversation about their businesses. And with more than 15 million businesses across the country, user-contributed video may be an essential element for providing coverage and offering additional perspectives.
Cons: One video may be compelling, but what about ten or twenty for the same business? Will they be helpful for making a decision or overwhelming? Text reviews can be scanned, but videos cannot. Some techniques for sorting and filtering text reviews can be applied to video today, but additional paradigms will be needed for managing video content on local sites. And user-contributed video reviews would likely encounter similar challenges as text reviews, such as the fact that the vocal minority contribute the majority of reviews.
As has been well documented in cases involving both videos and photos, copyright issues can and do arise, so it is important for all business and Web site developers to be aware of and respect the intellectual property of others.
Pros: As podcast have shown, audio is also a compelling media experience which is ideally suited for use both at the computer and away from it. Subscribing to the newest descriptions and reviews of local businesses on the way into work or back home may inspire a listener to patronize. For the merchant, it is another opportunity to reach customers, and for a local site it adds a rich experience and can extend its reach beyond the computer.
Cons: Podcasts are a linear experience like video, and thus they too are not easily scanned or managed in bulk. The vocal minority would literally be vocal. And audio alone would be deemed too ‘old school’ in the age of YouTube. It is therefore more likely to be effective as a complement to other rich media and information on a local site.
Pros: Worth a thousand words, photos are also visual gems that can make an otherwise text-rich experience more appealing. A good photo can bring other information about a business to life. It can convey ambiance, show off a product, introduce the staff, aid in finding the building, and go a long way toward encouraging a consumer to select that business. They are easily scanned and provide another effective means for merchants to offer information. The ability to take digital photos is becoming ubiquitous (I’m delighted that my cell phone actually still makes calls) and the popularity of sites like Flickr demonstrates that there are a robust supply of photos and a demand to view them.
Cons: Organizing my own photos is a challenge; organizing the photos of the Web community might be daunting. Just as 100 text reviews may be too much information, 100 photos may be entering the realm of Uncle Harry’s vacation slides. As the numbers grow, it will again be important for the site to add value by providing organization and user controls such as rating, sorting, and filtering.
There is no doubt that the integration of rich media into locally focused online sites is accelerating. There are plenty of innovations to come as we all continue to evolve and improve the local experience. And that said, the core principals of good site development and information management are more important than ever.
What will the future bring? I wish I had a photo.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.