The Internet is DOA
Not dead on arrival of course. If the Earth isn’t covered with ice or dust, a hundred years or more from now our society will look back at our current state of the Internet as a technology in it’s infancy. Web2.0, social networks, ecommerce, user generated content, MMORPGs, virtual worlds, micro-blogs, iPhones, Google Earth… all the Internet has become is, as Carl Sagan would say, the first second of the first minute of the first hour of the first day of the first month of existence. We are living through one of the most important evolutions in the earliest history of this communication platform. Like the telegraph, telephone and television, the Internet began as an electronic experiment and very quickly became the channel through which large, multinational corporations spoke down to use, sold things to us, told us how they could make our lives better, just put in your login, password and credit card number. Recently social desire and technology have converged. A team of programmers are no longer required to build a web site. A camera and lighting crew is no longer needed to broadcast a video.
The Internet revolution is being led by DOA – Distributors, Originators and Audience. With both Google and del.icio.us celebrating birthdays this week it’s important to look at what those companies really do. Google offers a magnificent search tool and an online advertising program. But what are they really doing? They don’t sell the products or make the banners that the ads are for. They don’t create the web sites, videos, pictures or information that people search for. In simple terms they distribute the ads that sell the merchandise and distribute links to the web sites, videos and images. Their adopted child YouTube is a more niche distributor. They distribute videos. Users make them and upload them or users search and watch them. del.icio.us offers social bookmarking. It is basically a place to post links and bookmarks submitted by users. In simple terms, they aggregate then distribute user content.
Scrolling through the who’s who of towering Internet brands you’ll find they mostly belong to the same leg of the tripod, distributors:
Worlds of Warcraft
Of course there are still plenty of traditional companies doing business online such. What is interesting is how many of them are benefitting from this revolution. I’d dare say Apple wouldn’t have sold a million iPhones in 74 days had it not been for the thousands of fake iPhone pictures, blogs, and videos created by eager fans.
The roles of Distributor, Originator and Audience are not set in stone. A Distributor doesn’t have to be a high tech company, nor do the Audience and Originator need to be consumers. In the case of the iPhone, Apple is the originator, it’s fans were the Distributor, at least in a marketing sense, and all of you who have yet to purchase one are the Audience! The “geek” public was largely responsible for distributing news of the iPhone. The ads and TV commercials were merely for those who didn’t surf the web it seems. The rest of us learned all we needed to know and were inspired by blogs, reviews, Flickr images. I imagine there is more than one marketing research firm who would put themselves in the category of audience when tracking the trends of online behavior.
For awhile now television networks, music companies and Hollywood studios have been fighting to control the distribution of their artists. They are scrambling to figure out to be the Originator and the Distributor. I think they feel that this way they can control the Audience. Unfortunately it is very easy for the Audience to become the Distributor, especially if they don’t like the way they are distributed to. Of course for the most part, excluding some pop princess and some hip hop gangsters, the record companies are not the originator, the artist themselves are. What they’ve always needed are the record companies to distribute for them and market. Not so now. The technology is cheap enough that my former bands have been able to put out CDs with production quality to match the major labels. With the current trends we’ll begin to see a surge of artists who become HUGE, with no help from labels, simply by virtue of their talent and leveraging companies like YouTube and MySpace.
This has already happened for the film industry. We saw more buzz for the Blair Witch Project than almost any film before or since. Special effects, editing, film are all within reach of consumers, now so is distribution though many online video sites. Statistics already show that younger generations don’t hover in front of the TV or at record stores like the 30+ year olds have always done. This new Audience is becoming their own Originators and Distributors. They don’t believe commercials. They believe their friends, even if those friends are only known through their screen name.
Few can guess what will happen to business and advertising in the coming years as audiences become more and more niche and consumers close ranks amongst themselves. Will businesses and marketers be savvy enough to stay part of the equation or will we end up selling and marketing products and services to each other like a Madison Avenue commune?