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‘Browser blur,’ and why you need to focus on it

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Amid the hoopla about Web 2.0 there's an important trend that has not yet made it onto the radar of most marketers: browser blur. Other Web 2.0 trends are vitally important—user-generated content, harnessing collective intelligence, rich Internet applications—but browser blur is the blurring of the lines between online and offline, between the Web and the desktop.

Marketers are tasked with devoting a significant percentage of their budgets to experimenting with new media. Being first to understand and take advantage of browser blur will give smart brands a new means to engage customers and opportunities for marketers.

On one hand, applications that pull content from the Web are no longer sentenced to live inside the browser. Those prison walls have been broken down. The best example of this is iTunes. Apple Computer may not have "ads" but it certainly markets aplenty in the iTunes Store inside that software.

Networked games and virtual worlds such as Second Life are other examples of new ways marketers can push their brands to desktops without a user needing to launch a browser. Adidas, American Apparel, Circuit City and IBM Corp. are just a handful of the companies rushing to find a way in this new world.

Perhaps most telling, however, is a look through Dashboard Widgets on Apple's Web site. Brands such as MSNBC, PetSmart and Virgin Atlantic Airways have all created small branded applications that stream content to your computer without ever launching a browser. Microsoft Corp. has introduced Gadgets (basically Widgets for the PC) in its new Vista operating system and already has hundreds of them available for download on microsoftgadgets.com.

Gadgets are an incredibly powerful tool for marketers because the user chooses to download these to their computers. This means they are incredibly relevant to your target audience.

ScreenAngels Networks is a new company developing small programs it calls "intelligent agents" that can deliver any formatted content—including audio, online games, printable coupons or video —directly to a user's agent-equipped computer desktop or mobile device.

The best is yet to come, and come it will. And very soon. Adobe Systems will soon release the beta for Apollo which the company defines as "a cross-OS runtime that allows developers to leverage their existing Web development skills (Flash, Flex, HTML, AJAX) to build and deploy desktop RIAs." In a nutshell, cool Flash apps sans browser.

The other side of this story is that software which traditionally has lived on the desktop is moving online. Salesforce.com has been the champion of the "software as a service" movement with its hosted, online CRM tools.

There's potential for a seismic shift in the way all software is delivered. Last year Google purchased Writely, a hosted word processor, from a Silicon Valley startup called Upstartle. Users now have a choice: purchase Microsoft Office or use an online service such as Writely for free. All you have to do is check the box and give permission for Writely to present you with targeted advertising. Imagine the potential of targeted ads being served up to business customer based on keywords in a document they are writing as they type? You can be sure the folks at Google have.

So there you have it. Sorry marketers. Didn't mean to heap yet another emerging media trend onto your plate.

Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction , an integrated creative agency in San Francisco. He can be reached at adam@tractionco.com.

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