The future is tough to predict, whether it’s who will dominate the senate in 2012 or what Obama will have for lunch tomorrow (whole grains are probably a good bet). At the turn of the century, I don’t think anyone expected “Friendster” to fall off the face of the planet, and Facebook was hardly a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s adolescent eyes. So asking the question: “What does the future hold for Politics and the New Media” may seem like an exercise in futility. And it is, if you try to define a set of scenarios, replete with brand names and entrepreneuers. What makes a lot more sense is looking at what the internet needs, what the trends have been, and filling in the blanks.
Let’s look at this whole exercise through the lens of the oldest trend in the world: If given a choice, people will take the path of least resistance. Business Corollary: if you want someone to do something that doesn’t have a readily accessible and intrinsically positive value equation, make it EASY for them.
Let’s start with shopping.
SCENARIO 1: You’re window shopping with your friends (stick with me, my trusty 51%…) and see a pair of nice looking jeans. Under them is printed a website address (URL) promising a coupon for half off on the spot.
SCENARIO 2: You’re window shopping with you friends (just a bit more…) and see a pair of nice looking jeans. Under them is printed a two-dimensional bar code (QR code) promising a coupon for half off on the spot.
In scenario 1, the probability of you whipping out the Blackberry and pecking it in on the go is zilch, and you know it, unless those jeans were really something else. In scenario 2, you pull out the phone, sweep over the code with your handset’s native QR code reader, and BAM! You have a coupon. I’ll bet a nice pair of jeans you’d be a heck of a lot more likely to buy those jeans with that coupon literally sitting in your hand.
Welcome to the power of using technology to, paradoxically, simplify reality. Welcome to the power of EASY.
The QR code is just a recent case study. A host of new components, from multi-platform compatibility to the age of the “dedicated app” are coming together to form web 3.0′s magnificent 7. That’s right, web 3.0. You heard it here first. Web 3.0 is the web as an integrated part of reality. A reality that includes the understanding that when people put time and sweat equity into work, they are due payment if they request it. A reality that protects the rights of businesses whose currency is information to conduct their business without being undermined by Creative Commons Licenses, aggregators, and college kids who think that the ability to subvert the NYT paywall indicates the right to do so.
Web 3.0 needs a solid business plan and a lawyer, because it’s going to require of shakeup of all of the misleading status quo we’ve established over the past two-plus decades of feature-rich surfing.
Let’s focus on the obvious. WHY CAN’T ADVERTISING PAY FOR MY CONTENT? The answer is a simple two part equation. (You’re not really interested)+(internet impressions are cheaper than “real” impressions) = The DEATH of online advertising as a suitable sole revenue source for any publication of substance.
The rest of the answer gets more complicated. If a news source caters to clicks rather than “hard news,” a la gawker vs reuters, you’re going to get dichotomous results. If you want well digested, thoughtfully reported content, get used to paying for it. The niche papers, like the journal and financial times went with a hard paywall years ago. Then came the London Times, followed most recently by the NY Times. AOL/Huff Po/Celebrity gossip has preserved the Wa Po for us, but we’ll see how long that “piggybacking” solution will work for.
Oh, and if you want upgrade-driven advertisement a la Plenty O’Fish, you’d best look 5 years ago. Plenty worked by creating a crappy free service (in this case, a dating site) that catered to advertisers from higher-end like-market businesses (Match.com, Chemistry, eHarmony, Jdate, etc.). Well, Facebook and the rest of the social network has killed this model. Because of the user profile information available to marketers, the Plenty O’Fish middleman is largely cut out, and the big sites just advertise on social media or using sponsored links and SEO in google.
In this new internet ad world, the key to success is to NOT RELY ON AD REVENUE. Use micropayments, like iTunes. Make it easy for folks to buy with quick registrations, multiple address-saving accounts, payPhrases (Amazon), and useful product suggestions. Dominate a niche market with a paywall, let your people talk to their people with regulated reviews and testimonials, or give your customers more than they’re paying for with exclusive Medium-Tied services.
In closing, I offer a simple list of folks I think are doing it right. Enjoy, have a great summer, and take it easy.
Doing it Right
•Product Suggestions (Amazon)
•Medium-Tied Services (Zappos)
•Easy Payment Options (Amazon, Zappos)
–PayPal, PayPhrase, Multi-Address User accounts
•Easy Micropayments (iTUNES)
•Niche Market Paywall (WSJ, FT, etc.)
•User Reviews/Ratings (CNET, Angieslist)