Indianapolis, IN - April 23, 2007
In my opinion, the greatest power of the internet is the ability to connect. Of course, communication plays a huge role in this, and there has never been another tool so remarkably suited to encouraging and faciliating communication. But when I consider all of the technology as a whole, and the methods with which it's deployed, I see people connecting. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate:
Companies, through the use of instant messaging capabilities, are encouraging online conversations for a range of issues, from customer service to sales. Email has become a defacto standard of communication, facilitating nearly instant response and an electronic paper trail not easily duplicated with phone calls. Wikis, collaborative web site development tools, are facilitating easy and effective collaboration at unprecendented levels. Even blogs, those ubiquitous online journals, are being put to use at all levels of the organization to help foster communication, both internally and externally.
In this way, large, faceless organizations (like Microsoft, Bank of America even the IRS) can adopt a more personalized, human face. When I exchange email with a company, I'm connecting to a person, much like myself, on the other end. Many sites offer the ability to chat in real time with a customer service representative. There's something much more personal about an informal chat conversation than wading through a myriad of esoteric phone prompts only to have your issue 'escalated' and being put on hold. While the humanizing factor provided by technology seems an oxymoron, it's not. In these cases, the technology serves as a facilitator to bring people together.
There's one industry that seems to have taken this to heart more than others. The publishing industry, much to chagrin of people who predicted it's demise a the hand of the Internet, has embraced the technology to connect with their customers. Book authors, in particular, once seemed to be ivory-tower types that lived a remote existence, creating their next great work. Now, however, they're beginning to understand that books are often outdated as soon as they're printed. To help their message to remain relevant, authors are increasingly turning to the web to connect with their readers and further their ideas and positions.
This is particularly true in the ultra-competitive world of non-fiction. Business books and self-help books, for example, are harnessing the shear marketing power of being relevant and using blogs (in particular) to keep in touch. One favorite writer employing this technique is Sarah Susanka, author of the "Not So Big" series of books. Her new book, "The Not So Big Life" will be in stores in May and she's using her blog to preview the content of the book before its release. Then, once the book is out, the site will focus on continuing the conversation the book begins. (The concept of the Not So Big Life is designed to help people understand the " the need for quality of life over quantity of activity. We are, after all, human beings, not human doings." A timely message, indeed.)
Other examples of this technique abound: self-described "agent of change" and constant author Seth Godin writes a highly read blog on marketing and related topics at www.sethgodin.com. Authors of Freakonomics, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, post regularly on new examples of the trend at www.freakonomics.com. William Taylor and Polly LaBarre, writers of "Mavericks at Work" continue to explore the concepts of their book at www.mavericksatwork.com.
Aside from extending the ideas from the printed page and giving them new life and longevity, perhaps the most amazing side effect of this trend is accessibility to their readers. If you want to comment on something you've read or enter a discourse on a concept or even argue a point they all welcome the interaction. In fact, that's what they want: engaged readers, interested in the topic, furthering the ideas by discussing and enhancing the conversation.