What Will Become of the Web?

NEW YORK — Some messages apparently bear repeating. 

Two years ago, at O'Reilly Media's 2008 Web 2.0 Expo, the event organizer's eponymous founder, Tim O'Reilly, asked attendees to stop living in a bubble and to work on things that matter.

As part of his keynote at the 2010 edition of the conference, convened here this week, O'Reilly was speaking to the right crowd when he urged attendees — 30 percent of whom come from start-up companies — to cast a creative and innovative eye toward the future. "The world we need is one we've never yet seen," he said.

[Editors' Note: O'Reilly was named one of CRM magazine's Influential Leaders in the 2009 CRM Market Awards — see the September 2009 issue of CRM for more.]

O'Reilly, often credited with having coined the phrase "Web 2.0," compared the structure of an idea to that of a four-cylinder engine. "You have to fire in the right order or the engine locks up," he said, before walking the audience through the analogous progression:

  • First cylinder: Have fun. Do you think the Wright Brothers set out to create the airline industry? It's more likely they created the airplane, at least in part, because they enjoyed the work.
  • Second cylinder: "Out of that fun, some people start to think big," O'Reilly said, citing Microsoft as an example.
  • Third cylinder: After you figure out a big idea, build products, business models, and platforms.
  • Fourth cylinder: Create more value than you capture.

O'Reilly diverged from his engine analogy to discuss Maker Fairean event celebrating do-it-yourself tech projects. The gathering of technologists and inventors is primarily based around having fun and creating what O'Reilly called "smart stuff and dumb stuff made with smart tools." Innovations are mostly derived from "playing like a baby and learning," O'Reilly said, rather than "sitting there with a grand challenge."

The "Maker Movement" also challenges what O'Reilly referred to as "the culture of consumption." "We are starting to see an economy of consumption of stuff-that-isn't-stuff," he said. From the online social game Farmville to the timesharing car-rental service Zipcar, consumers are spending on products and services that have more value to them than did the traditional goods seen in the past. Consumers, in fact, are increasingly involved with nonmonetary reward systems and gaming-like services, which made the speaker who followed O'Reilly particularly appropriate: Dennis Crowley, the cofounder and chief executive officer of location-based social networking service Foursquare.

Foursquare users clearly reflect the current trend toward social gaming — many are motivated to do certain things and go certain places simply to earn a Foursquare-sanctioned badge. (The service's Gym Rat badge, for instance, rewards uses for checking in at a health club 10 times within 30 days.) In addition, companies now have the opportunity to partner with Foursquare to sanction brand-specific badges for customers who visit brand-determined locations. NBC Universal's The Today Show, for example, rewarded followers who checked in at the summertime concert series staged outside the morning show's New York studio; the Independent Film Channel created a Web page to allow online visitors to propose real-world locations that fit the mold of the cable channel's "Always On, Slightly Off" marketing campaign, and awarded a badge of that name to followers who checked in at accepted locations.

[Editors' Note: Foursquare was recently named one of CRM magazine's Rising Stars in the CRM Market Awards — see the August 2010 issue of CRM for more.]

Critics often dismiss Foursquare as a waste of time, a silly game, or even a device for stalkers. Proponents might respond, however, by noting the value delivered by Foursquare's open platform, crowdsourcing, and timeline capabilities. As Foursquare continues to gain members and mainstream buzz, Crowley told the crowd, the start-up hopes to "explore the next part of the story." The site recently tweaked its design to better emphasize its user-generated tips, which Crowley said he hopes will lead users "to crowdsource [their] experiences."

The "gimmick" argument was also presented in a Web 2.0 session, delivered by Lynne d Johnson of the Advertising Research Foundation and John Havens of Porter Novelli, about augmented reality (AR), a technology that enables the combination of Web-based content and real-world video.

Johnson and Havens presented a number of AR use cases, proving that the concept can and has been a reality for marketers. "[AR] is not gimmicky stuff," Havens said. "It's utility." The technology is reduced to a gimmick, he added, only when it presents things that could have been shown via another mechanism. Expanding a flat image with supplementary information or a third dimension can be extremely valuable.

[Editors' Note: For embedded videos of the AR presentation, see Associate Editor Lauren McKay's related blogpost from the Web 2.0 Expo. And for a broader scope of augmented reality's impact on marketing, refer to the sidebar ("The New Reality Will Be Augmented") that appeared in the feature "5 for ’10" from CRM's Innovation Issue (January 2010).]

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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