Robert Scoble And The New Digital Divide - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/17/2009
11:07 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Robert Scoble And The New Digital Divide

Robert Scoble thinks that too many people, especially small businesses, aren't benefiting from the fruits of Web 3.0, or Web 2010, "or whatever you want to call it," as he said to me this evening at an event hosted by Rackspace (his blog's current sponsor) at the New York Stock Exchange.

Robert Scoble thinks that too many people, especially small businesses, aren't benefiting from the fruits of Web 3.0, or Web 2010, "or whatever you want to call it," as he said to me this evening at an event hosted by Rackspace (his blog's current sponsor) at the New York Stock Exchange.Robert made the point that "the restaurant next door to Facebook's headquarters isn't on the modern Web... We tend to get hyped up on the newest thing and we forget to put our hand out to those not as passionate about the Internet and give them a hand up into the modern world," he said.

Which is why he created Building43 as a site to do just that -- "helping small business get out of the 1994 Internet [thanks to] ... a fanatical community of people who are fanatical about the Internet," he said. (Inside joke alert: Rackspace talks about itself as being "fanatical" about customer service.)

It's good stuff -- the Internet is supposed to be about leveling the playing field. According to Scoble, the modern Web makes it possible for companies to raise capital or get media attention without having to be near a power center like New York or Silicon Valley. "Nine of the TechCrunch 50 last year were based in Israel, which wouldn't have been possible even five years ago," he said during a panel discussion after dinner.

Rackspace CTO John Engates also noted that companies have access to far cheaper infrastructure that they only have to pay for as their traffic grows.

The flip side of this, as you can probably guess, is that brands and their publicity-generating acolytes want in on the action as well. John Ball,managing director of Oglivy's digital influence division, said brands "are pretty eager to take advantage of that nexus between really complex new stuff... and how these evolve into things that a lot of people are going to start touching."

In plain English, brands like Pepsi and Comcast are trying to figure out how to use Twitter and Facebook as quickly as you get comfortable using those networks.

According to Ball, however, brands are beginning to realize that they have to bring value to whatever engagement they bring to the party, rather than just busting into your social graph in order to get in your face. "I think the age of interruption messaging is waning," he said.

Stephanie Agresta, executive vice president of digital strategy for Porter Novelli, the public relations firm, agreed with the basic premise that it's okay for brands to reach out and touch you so long as "they're authentic and transparent."

The best example of this is Comcast, which is watching for signs of customer discontent on Twitter -- or Dell, for that matter, which recently used Twitter to drive customers to its discount site. But I couldn't disagree more strongly. The last thing I want is for some company to join me on my social network -- it's worse than the idea of having my mom come along with me on a date.

Maybe companies will figure out how to be helpful rather than creepy, but Ball made the point that in many ways, brands are themselves becoming media companies -- they're "evolving into companies they weren't originally set up to do." And that means a lot of growing pains.

Hopefully they won't mess up social networks while they're figuring it out, because I like this new Internet of which Scoble speaks, and I like the idea of evangelizing it to people who haven't figured it out yet. I do want my local restaurant to make good use of Facebook -- what I don't want is Chili's suggesting I get one of their combo platters.

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