To a 40-something (though young-at-heart) individual such as yours-truly, I’ve been very lucky to have been born at the right time to be able to witness the evolution of how we use the commercial internet over the past 20-odd years.
Phase One: Big Media
In the early days, the internet was something ‘over there’ that didn’t really concern us. It wasn’t something that you or I could ever dream of being a part of. It was dominated by the ‘big guns’ – national and global brands – that used their vast resources to create and reinforce their voices of reason and authority.
The brands that were online were the same brands that had authority and reputation in the age of Big Media – radio, television, print and so on. The internet was just another medium to add to their list, and they treated it as such.
Phase Two: Everyone And Their Wife
Then everything imploded. The Dot Bomb happened, and over-valued tech-based companies that had gone public based on a smoke-and-mirrors business plan had a sudden wake-up call. CEOs had to dump their McLaren F1s, sell their mansions, lick their wounds and get McJobs.
But something else was happening. The barrier to getting online began to come down. Storage, bandwidth and hosting reduced in price to the point where it wasn’t just Big Brands that could have an online presence: The World and His Wife could have one too. It started with websites, then it went to blogs, then forums, and finally to what we have today – i.e. Facebook/Twitter/Whatever.
As more and more of us (as content creators) got our online voice, more of us (as content consumers) began to take notice. Then a funny thing happened. We began to trust Big Brands less, and trust ourselves more. We moved into the age where the dominant and trusted voice on the internet became us, as individuals. We, the customer, took control. The brands saw the writing on the wall, and now try to engage, enthral and seduce us in the places where we’re now spending our online time: Social media channels.
Phase Three: Too Much Information
Now, we’re about to move into a new phase of the development of the internet: the search, organization, and presentation of relevant content to the user: Curation. Why? Because there’s a problem with Everyone And His Wife having an online voice: the vast majority of the content out there is rubbish!
There’s too much content and too little time to consume it. That’s without the fact that, collectively, our attention spans continue to fall – further exacerbating the situation. The average visitor spends no longer than about 15 seconds on a webpage. 60% of visitors to your site will never return.
We’re living in a world of headlines. We want small, bite-sized chunks of content that we can consume with the least amount of effort possible – witness the phenomenal growth in online video, if you want proof.
As a result, as (content) consumers we’ve all had enough. Most of us just want a way to sort the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the dirt. What we want, in short, is curation. Go out there and find me the stuff that I’m interested in.
Technology already exists to tailor a user’s internet experience. Search engines such as Google already customize search results based upon certain criteria such as the geographic location of the user. Twitter services such as Listorious could be seen as curation. Applications such as Pulse and Flipboard are using content collection techniques to present what they think is relevant and valuable content.
The next wave is the curation and therefore customization of website and blog content – in both content and context – based upon user data. However, the technology facilitating curation is still in its infancy. There are still big holes in terms of categorization, grouping (which is not the same thing), participation, tracking and so on. These holes are getting smaller all the time, and the curation dilemma is trying to be addressed by companies such as Storify, Scrible, and Curated.by.
Of course content curation opens-up a can of worms in terms of social implications (the decision on what news items I get to view, for example) which we need to be mindful of in these early stages. But think of the implications to such content curation in terms of the online visibility to your business.
The content distribution vehicles that you’ve relied upon for all these years – magazines, blogs, ads, whatever – will no longer have the reach that you were depending on for results. In which case, how are tomorrow’s customers going to find you? If you’re not producing content that your ideal customer wants to ingest, then who is? Who’s producing that curated content for your prospective customers? If it’s not you, then it’s your competitor.
If a lone business publishes some content, in the middle of a forest with no-one around to experience it, does it still get consumed?