Remember when Web 2.0 was all about creating, sharing and collaborating to produce Long Tails that favoured small players at the shallow end of the bitstream? Well, now Chris Anderson says the World Wide Web is dead. Goodbye “Free”, hallo value.
Browsing and Web searching are yesterday’s stuff, the next big thing is “getting” things from major suppliers on the internet via apps for a fee. In the words of Anderson and Michael Wolff in the latest Wired:
“Now it’s the Web’s turn to face the pressure for profits and the walled gardens that bring them. Openness is a wonderful thing in the nonmonetary economy of peer production. But eventually our tolerance for the delirious chaos of infinite competition finds its limits. Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK. Have you looked at your cell phone or cable bill lately?”
As Anderson and Wolff say, consumers will pay for convenience. How else can we explain the success of iTunes selling otherwise free music for 99 Cents a pop? And therein lies the secret of the internet.
Rather than professional content becoming valueless, it has risen – or is in the process of being resurrected – once more to become the most valued commodity of all in the media, distribution and consumer world:
“We are returning to a world that already exists — one in which we chase the transformative effects of music and film instead of our brief (relatively speaking) flirtation with the transformative effects of the Web.
“After a long trip, we may be coming home.”
Explaining how this works out in business terms, they say:
“…technologists have steered clear of actual media businesses, seeing themselves as renters of systems and third-party facilitators, often deeply wary of any involvement with content. (See, for instance, Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s insistence that his company is not in the content business.) Jobs, on the other hand, built two of the most successful media businesses of the past generation: iTunes, a content distributor, and Pixar, a movie studio. Then, in 2006, with the sale of Pixar to Disney, Jobs becomes the biggest individual shareholder in one of the world’s biggest traditional media conglomerates — indeed much of Jobs’ personal wealth lies in his traditional media holdings.”
What does this mean for PRs? Well, for starters the old top down model of influence still applies on the internet. PRs are going to have do some rethinking about how they advocate conversations, crowd sourcing and word of mouth PR. Some old-world notions of brands, reputation, quality and service are going to come back in to play (they never really went away). But at the same time, as Anderson and Wolf point out:
“…the so-called generative Web where everyone is free to create what they want, continues to thrive, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of expression, attention, reputation, and the like. But the notion of the Web as the ultimate marketplace for digital delivery is now in doubt.”
And, as Anderson and Wolff also note:
“According to Compete, a Web analytics company, the top 10 Web sites accounted for 31 percent of US pageviews in 2001, 40 percent in 2006, and about 75 percent in 2010. ‘Big sucks the traffic out of small,’ Milner [Yuri Milner] says. ‘In theory you can have a few very successful individuals controlling hundreds of millions of people. You can become big fast, and that favors the domination of strong people.’
“Milner sounds more like a traditional media mogul than a Web entrepreneur. But that’s exactly the point. If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of businesspeople more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopianism of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea — one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models. The control the Web took from the vertically integrated, top-down media world can, with a little rethinking of the nature and the use of the Internet, be taken back.”
So it’s not yet a done deal when it comes to who controls what and how. However the trend is certainly clear. The utopian dream of paradigm shifts is over. Welcome back to familiar reality – even if it is virtual and digital.