Sunday, October 31, 2010

Top 10 Websites - What Do They Allow Us to Do?

Yesterday, I stumbled across a list of 50 most popular sites on the web according to Compete, an online analytics firm ( The top twelve sites, in order, were Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia,, Amazon,, MSN, Bing, Ebay, and Blogspot. The results here are not surprising, but I'm intrigued by the implications of them. Specifically, what are the most popular sites enabling us to do?

At risk of starting my masters thesis a semester too early, I started to attempt to break down each site into the fundamental needs they are addressing. (note: for my thesis, I plan to do this breakdown across a wide range of domains and product types, and then apply the patterns from that analysis into a framework for developing needs-based products).

In regard to this Top 50 list, beyond the Like's, Playlists, and Recommendations, what are these products really doing for us? In other words, we need to shift our thinking from the product does to what it allows us to do. What needs to do the meet, particularly compared to other options on the market? Are there common needs addressed that come up more often than you would expect? This is really just an initial thought exercise to build some foundation for this concept, but I think it's worth doing. The point is that we don't choose products for their features or their performance. Generally speaking, we choose products because of what they do for us or or enable us to be. Let's play around with that Top 10 list...

Top 10 Sites and the Usage Patterns (September 2010) To discover new information, To find something, To learn, To be connected,
Yahoo!: To discover new information, To find something, To learn, To be connected,
Facebook: To be connected, To feel popular, To be entertained
YouTube: To be entertained, To learn,
Wikipedia: To discover new information, To learn
Ask: To discover new information, To find something, To learn
Amazon: To buy, To make money
Live: To be connected,
MSN: To discover new information, To find something, To learn, To be connected,
Bing: To discover new information, To find something, To learn

So, what do we make of this? Just a few thoughts and then you can draw your own conclusions...

- Clearly, the fact that 5 of the top 10 are search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, MSN, Bing) indicates that people primarily see the web as a mechanism for finding information, which can lead to buying products, answering questions, finding people, and a countless other destinations. This isn't particularly interesting, but the disparity between search sites and more information-browsing sites (Wikipedia, non-search portion of MSN) show that saving time and reducing information clutter/complexity could probably each be added to the "needs addressed" of the search sites. If we had to abstract this exercise out to the web itself, one could clearly state that the web's primary need addressed is for finding information.

- Not surprisingly, the social capability of the web is also a primary function. Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Live all over email clients, enabling people to stay connected from a social perspective.

- Next up is consumerism, which to be honest, is not as prominently features as I might have guessed. After all, being able to purchase products online is a tremendous time saver, and "To Save Time" is probably one of the best features a product can offer. Nonetheless, Amazon cracks the list, and Ebay (#11) and Craigslist (#13) just missed the cut. I would be curious to learn whether there is a trust factor at play here, where Amazon might simply be the most trustworthy site to purchase from.

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