Expect to get more interactive in 2007

It was the year of Web 2.0 technology in 2006 and an era of social networking, which spawned interactive communities of cyber-congregators seeking to share common interests and passions.

Tens of millions of Web surfers took IT to the next level and became content creators and contributors to “blogs” and “wikis.” People exchanged ideas and laid their out their thoughts and lives to just about anyone who’d care to read it. Everyone had something to say or show and hundreds of millions wanted to hear. The Internet became truly interactive in 2006 and it seems everybody wanted to join in.

“Participative behaviour started emerging in the consumer space when people began using the Internet as a participative place,” says David Jacobson, a director of technology at PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services in Toronto. “(Video-sharing Web site) YouTube is a great example. People posted pictures and videos of themselves and invited comments and made comments. These participative places are springing up all over.”

YouTube and the online digital world of Second Life were among the most successful participative communities on the Internet and demonstrated the power of Web 2.0 technology in rallying communities of common interest. Businesses paid close attention and were astounded by the masses that could be engaged.

Market analysts like Mr. Jacobson and John Madden, a research director with Ovum Summit in Boston, believe that in 2007 many companies will look for a piece of the action and become extremely active in cultivating participative behaviour to create online communities interested in what they have to say.

“That next step is to try to take the success of social networking and bring it into the business world,” Mr. Madden says.

Other than saying and doing interesting or outlandish things, there’s really no blueprint for a business to follow in order to build its own community of participative behavior. How, for example, might a company successfully create a social network to build communities that rally around their brands or products?

Success may depend upon lack of control or more specifically a company’s willingness to stand back and allow the online community or sponsored interactive forum it rallies to grow in its own way, Madden says.

“It’s finding the balance between being the Wild West and a police state.”

And in 2007, it seems reasonable to assume that many more people will become active participants in social networking communities — and not just during their leisure time.

“We’re living in a new era,” says Jacobson. “Consumers and employees are engaging in participative behaviour during leisure time and during working hours.”

“We’re moving in a very participative and imaginative world — a world where…networking and partnering is becoming much more broadly and deeply used. It‘s enabled by these (Web 2.0) technologies.”

Getting known on the Internet has become a pursuit for many businesses, Jacobson says, explaining that a small business operator who’s an active blogger “is pretty much going to be picked up by Internet search engines and that’s a wonderful way to spread your profile.

“We refer to it as viral advertising — it spreads like a virus and doesn’t cost you much,” he says. “Being on the Web through blogging is an example of viral marketing and advertising.”

Cyber-communities of participative behavior are great places for businesses to learn from and about those who might be interested in retail products and services.

“If you are a little business, one of the things you might do is test drive new ideas through an online community. It’s a new area of market research,” Jacobson says.

“There are lots of inexpensive and active blogs where you can reach out to people and test ideas and see what reaction you get. It’s an extension of classic market research that was typically not available to smaller companies. The little guys didn’t have that ability before. Now that has changed…thanks to the Internet.”

Jacobson predicts that, in 2007, new technologies will be available to business that will provide the means to deliver unique services to customers who clearly want real-time and interactive online experiences.

Among the most intriguing are emerging wireless communication services offered through cellular telephones that are “location aware.” Through certain types of wireless telephones there will the means to pinpoint a person’s location from a cellular signal and deliver to them a localized service. It’s already being used. Mr. Jacobson describes a dating service offered by South Korea Telecom. If there is someone who fits your defined dating profile located within 100 metres of you, then you might receive an e-mail alert message telling you that person is nearby and can arrange an immediate meeting. A similar application in retail might allow a business to electronically alert people passing near a storefront location to specials or discounts featured that day.

“You could be seeing some of these applications and services come to market in 2007,” Jacobson says.

Projectors in mobile devices are coming, too. You’ll be able to use a hand-held device like a cell phone or PDA as a projector to display Internet Web pages, movies or live television on any nearby surface. A business profession might want to quickly download a presentation from a remote PC and show it to a customer in colour on a wall, Jacobson says.

“The world is moving away from capturing people’s attention, to capturing their intention,” he says. “I’ll try and capture it using multimedia or coming to your office and showing you a video on a wall. It’s highly targeted and personalized content and a lot of it is user originated content.

“These technologies will be focused on understanding and serving ubiquitous participants, whether they are consumers or employees,” Jacobson adds.

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