Looking back fifteen years or so, I remember the first hints of what would become the Internet as we know it today. Back then, I was a young twenty-something attending Sacramento State University, majoring in Psychology, when a forward-thinking professor of mine decided to require the class to use email (then completely text-based) to communicate with him and the rest of my classmates. As put off as I was by this, I attempted to learn how to maneuver through this confusing ‘fad,’ and subsequently started spending a significant amount of time in the school’s computer lab.
Eventually, I discovered chat through a program called ICQ. The ability to speak with people from anywhere in the world was both nerve-wracking and thrilling at the same time. But, with that ability, I was hooked on computers and the Internet from that point on.
As I graduated college and moved into the workforce, I was fortunate enough to enter at a time when businesses were beginning to find ways to monetize their presence on the Web. Granted, most Internet-based businesses that started in the early part of the century failed due to a lack of well-defined revenue streams, but the ones that did persevere laid the groundwork for the next evolution of the Internet – Web 2.0.
As the Internet became a medium that was less about providing access to limited, passive content, and more about user interaction and collaboration, a huge paradigm shift began to happen with users across the board. The medium became less of a tool for businesses to communicate with their customers, but a way for the average person to communicate with the world.
On September 26, 2006, the Internet made a huge leap toward becoming what it is today with the launch of Facebook to the general public. From that point on, the medium has grown exponentially. Followed by other “social media” sites, as they were called, such asTwitter, Tumblr, etc., the Internet had finally become what futurists had envisioned – a platform marking a fundamental shift in the way people communicate, comprised of a large number of online tools and platforms that enabled even the least tech-savvy people to share perspectives, opinions, and experiences.
And yes, I realize that this is a PR-centric blog, so with that in mind, how have the Internet and Web 2.0 changed the way our profession conducts business?
Well, for one thing, it has forced me, as a PR professional to significantly expand my definition of what constitutes “media.” A decade ago, my media contacts were mainly at traditional print publications, with some of those publications beginning operations on the Web. Now, many of those traditional outlets have fallen by the wayside, as they compete with “citizen journalists” – bloggers, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds – for readers, while trying to maintain a sustainable level of revenue to support a staff of journalists.
It is my belief that, while some of those traditional outlets, such as the Wall Street Journals, ZDNets, and BusinessWeeks of the world will march on, many will not, and more and more often, the media that my colleagues and I will look to for our news and discussion will be the average Joe blogger with specific areas of technology interest (though not necessarily expertise). There are certainly downsides to this, but there are also upsides; the most significant is the fact that we have the power to interact with those on the leading edge of disseminating the news – and, more importantly, we hold the power to be among those.
As a formerly exclusive set, the media was a tough nut to crack for many of us, but through the evolution of the Internet and social media platforms, ANYBODY who holds an opinion can have a voice on the global stage.
And that may or may not be a good thing…