July 26, 2012

The internet’s 3rd wave

As casual gaming company Zygna tanks, losing 42 percent of its value with a knock-on effect to Facebook, the writing is on the wall that the second dotcom bubble is ready to pop. For those of us in the business who lived through the first one it’s time to look beyond the current worries and consider where to go from here. The first bubble burst when too many companies were trying to build online businesses that nobody needed. It was the wild west when good money was thrown at bad ideas. The industry was smarting for a while but came back strong on the back of social. But it has been clear for some time that it couldn’t last.

You need to look at it from three sides. The dotcoms themselves, the advertising industry and most of all the public. With the swift success of social and the app economy many dotcoms sprung up based on the insatiable appetite of the public for anything new. Being able to connect with friends and spend hours oversharing or killing time with angry birds has created a generation of digital addicts. Marketers saw this phenomenon and jumped on the bandwagon either putting ads in the middle of all this hyperactivity or creating their own branded experiences to feed the audience’s addiction. Maybe it’s the global economic downturn that has been a splash of cold water in the face of the public but suddenly lots of people don’t want to waste their time sharing, liking or playing mindless games.

So what’s next? Can we get a glimpse of the internet’s 3rd wave already?

My personal opinion is that we are entering the Age of Usefulness. It will still be social but above all it will help people make the most of their time not waste it. Nike Fuel is just one example of this. A brand that has a true purpose in people’s lives and is building utility into its products that uses digital as the infrastructure behind a meaningful relationship with customers. We’re going to see more brands seeking to have this kind of purpose in people’s lives and this will be reflected in their marketing. Where does this leave all the dotcoms and startups designed to distract people with meaningless amusements? Many will fade away but some will rethink what they offer to the public. In this Age of Usefulness people will be seeking value. If time is currency then they will want to invest it wisely. To enrich their lives and relationships. Brands will have to be more responsible and answerable for what they sell and what they stand for. Now that can only be a positive thing.

The next bubble burst will be painful but what comes afterwards will be something more substantial and be a true fulfillment of the internet’s promise. Tim Berners-Lee will be able to be very proud of his creation once more.