The End of the Destination Web and the Revival of the Information Economy

In recent weeks journalism and the future of all media have once again gone under the knife. Experts on either side of new media debated whether or not Twitter’s CNN moment truly was indicative of the future of journalism. Twitter’s role in the spread of online dialogue speculating the death of Osama Bin Laden was studied at great depths to better understand when and where news actually surfaces, how it’s validated, and how news travels across the Web and in real life.  Perhaps nothing visualized the power of a single Tweet with such dramatic effect as the network graph developed by SocialFlow.

Twitter is becoming a veritable human seismograph as it measures and records events as they unfold. But for this discussion, I’d like to focus not on the future of journalism, but instead on human behavior and the reality of the social effect. In doing so, we will identify the click paths and the sharing patterns of the informed and connected to learn how to design vibrant information exchanges on the traditional Web as well as in social networks.

The End of the Destination Web and the Revival of the Information Economy

In hindsight, the days of Web 1.0 seem like an era long gone. I think back to the early days of the Web and I struggle to think about what fashion, cars and popular music thrived as the Web radically transformed the then information economy. It’s as distant as the behavior that embraced it. For many, Web 1.0 was empowering. But to access information, we were reliant on our willingness to visit desirable websites for insight, entertainment, and news. Home pages, bookmarks and email subscriptions helped people manage the information overload that overwhelmed consumers with so much great content. Over the years, portals helped us manage the content by aggregating content from the sites and topics we preferred. We were then gifted with RSS feeds and readers to enhance the way relevant information found us.

The bridge between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was forged through a series of connections between a Web of Data, a Web of Content, and a Web of People. Although abbreviated, this evolution is important as it sets the stage for where we are today. Web 2.0 is the great democratization of the internet. Everyday people were empowered to create as much or more than they consumed.  Among the greatest transformations in the history of media, traditional sources of information were now rivaled by new voices. These rising pundits, experts and authorities  seized the opportunity to create content that satisfied the needs of an audience who were hungry for vertical and dedicated content. As a result, the construction of new information networks strained the long-established relationships between push or broadcast content and market demand. The tipping point for this orthodox practice was reached long ago yet media is now just realizing its effect, potential, and also consequences. It was the beginning of the end of business as usual for the conventional media empire.

The transformation of media was only hastened as the Social Web fused the principles of Web 2.0 fostering social networks where people connected with one another to communicate, discover, share, and learn. Social networks carried a profound challenge and opportunity for media and information commerce. Leading networks essentially cannibalized attention as they rapidly evolved into a universal portal and information exchange. People now received news and important information based on who they connected to, what captivated their attention, and in turn what they invested back into the community. This important shift signaled the end of the destination web as the primary source for information and the revival of the information economy.

Individuals connecting in social networks exchanged information as a form of currency. When news broke or events transpired, it became commonplace for a traditional news outlet to dramatically amplify reach as the story reverberated from person to person and network to network at the speed of clicks. And those clicks carried a power that we’re still trying to grasp, the ability to, with just one click, imply endorsement, evoke trust, interrupt attention spans, and alter courses of action through a one-to-one-to-many network effect. CNN greatly benefited from this new distribution model when its Balloon Boy story hit Twitter, soared to the top of the Trending Topics list, and continued to permeate the social web for days to come.

While content long celebrated its reign at the top, context was now king and connections that formed the interest graph would now dictate the content introduced within it. As the social web matured, it would introduce a new form of information brokers who would further propel the information economy and its role in culture and society. The role of curator would emerge between creator and consumer to facilitate the exchange of relevant information within their networks of relevance and among their interest graphs. I refer to this phenomenon as The 3C’s of Information Commerce and it is triggering the development of new technology, networks, and platforms to empower curators to bridge material content to those seeking it.

Retweets, Likes, connected commenting systems such as Disqus, Facebook, and Echo, URL shorteners, curation networks such as Paper.li, Pearltrees, Scoop.it and Flipboard, along with any other social sharing button you can imagine now served as the tools for curators to curate the experience they envision. Additionally, curation expedited the migration away from static web sites as a destination, as a well from which to bring water back to their village. Wells were now in greater abundance than their demand.

Information is now portable and people expect it to find them.

This.Just.In

Here we are, learning to adapt in a market in transition. Online experiences continue evolve, but what’s clear is that there are three specific consumer segments that require unique support systems. This is where the future of media begins. By understanding that different people find, share, and interact with content differently, experiences can then be architected and information channels activated in ways that consumers expect.

1. Social Consumer: Represents the emergent segment where consumers rely on social networks to discover, share, and learn. Doing so changes the click and clique behavior and how they in turn make decisions.

2. Online: The category that visits destinations of presence for continued information. This category also relies on Google as a point of entry for discovery.

3. Traditional: Consumes content in print, broadcast and remains loyal to their trusted and proven information sources, including word of mouth. They too will visit online destinations, usually those that provide tangible (and tactile) experiences and value in the real world.

In a world where social, online, and traditional consumers live independent of one another, this market in transition is teaching us that the lines between each category are certainly eroding.

The state and outlook for new media, in the very least, represents the equivalent of a near death experience for organizations. These encounters are nothing short of life-changing. They add a critical element of survival into the next steps of anyone who now realizes that things can and must be different. As such, destination sites are embracing new media as necessary steps to persevere. Many of these steps seem prescriptive as if following an instruction manual to relevance.

Step 1: Integrate social functionality into the dotcom, remove proprietary functionality

Step 2: Create a Twitter and Facebook presence

Step 3: Launch blogs

Step 4: Instruct reporters to promote their work within their social networks

Step 5: Develop a layer for citizen participation and journalism

Step 6: Create a mobile app

Step 7: Create an iPad subscription service

Step 8: Install a paywall

Step 9: Gamify the dotcom to enliven the experience

Step 10: Pray

Brand Journalism

The future of media is not limited to everyday consumers. Brands too are becoming media. Tom Foremski refers to this branded media movement as “Every Company is a Media Company” and EC=MC is the transformative equation for business.

Once supported by brand advertising, media is now witnessing a new era of brand journalism that seeks to outperform and outreach the audiences that are for lease by today’s traditional networks. The market for information is now becoming rich with social objects that are designed not only for consumption but also for sharing. With the democratization of the web comes the democratization of influence. It’s now anyone’s game to become the resource and source for information related to a segment. Brands realize this and are experimenting with the establishment of nicheworks dedicated to their industry. Indeed the future of marketing starts with publishing.

Companies are seeking new CEO’s (Chief Editorial Officers) and are hiring journalists, editors, and freelancers to transform mediarooms and blogs into veritable newsrooms.

This move is as paramount as it is transformative. There are several reasons why the stars are in alignment for brand journalism.

1. Social consumers are no longer captivated or enticed by traditional advertising.

2. According  to a recent Edelman survey, trust in peers is falling while trust in experts is soaring.  It is the latter that holds the greatest promise for brands and any media network.

As social networking evolves from social graphs to interest graphs, connections also evolve from relationships to relations weighted on the value of the currency exchanged between them. In this case, currency is information and value is measured by insight, education, entertainment, further personalized at the individual level. While the market for content is commoditized, the market for insight is limitless and priced accordingly.

The Attention Rubicon

In Engage, I introduce the concept of an Attention Rubicon, the line where attention is in short supply and whether people realize it or not, its state is measured by what reaches them, what doesn’t and also what they deem worthy of sharing. The Attention Rubicon has long since been passed by the social consumer and is on the horizon of many online and traditional consumers. It will be crossed and as a result, the information economy will adapt.

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism published a study that further details the shift away from the destination web and the rising tide of social streams as the attention dashboards of an important class of consumers.

As Pew’s Kenny Olmstead, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel observe, “Whatever the future of journalism, much of it depends on understanding the ways that people navigate the digital news environment—the behavior of what might be called the new news consumer.”

This is why social media has never been about the technology as much as it has been governed by social science (2007) to better understand its state and its direction.

In partnership with Nielsen, Pew examined the top 25 news web sites in the U.S. and studied the four main areas of audience behavior:

1. How users get to the top news sites
2. How long they stay during each visit
3. How deep they go into a site
4. Where they go when they leave

As discussed earlier by the 3 Segments of consumerism, Pew found that there is not one group of news consumers, but in fact several. And as a result, news organizations or any organization for that matter, require unique strategies for addressing each audience.

Among the revealing insights…

It’s clear that social networks aren’t a fad, they’re not going away, they’re in fact rivaling the top referrers for site traffic.

The top brand news sites depend greatly on “casual users,” people who visit just a few times per month and spend only a few minutes at a site.

USAToday.com was typical of most of these popular news sites according to Pew. 85% of its users visited USAToday.com between one and three times per month. Three quarters came only once or twice. Time spent was even more daunting…when all the visits were added together, 34%, spent between one and five minutes on the site each month (footnote)

As Pew notes, online data tend to count some users multiple times, inflating the number of casual users and undercounting repeat visits. Nonetheless, casual users still would be the largest single group.

A smaller core of loyal and frequent visitors to news sites, called “power users.” These individuals return more than 10x per month to a given site and spend more than an hour there over that time. Among the top 25 sites, power users visiting at least 10 times make up an average of just 7% of total users. That number ranged markedly from as high as 18% (at CNN.com) to as low as 1% (at BingNews.com).

Google remains the primary entry point. The search engine accounts on average for 30% of the traffic to these sites.

Of all social networks, Facebook in particular, is a powerful, and growing, news referring source. At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Surprisingly, Twitter barely registers as a referring source. In the same vein, when users leave a site, “share” tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links.

News consumers to the top news websites are on par with Internet users overall. This stands apart from news consumption on traditional platforms, which tends to skew older, and may bode well for the industry.

The future of media is evolving and its direction is far from certain. What’s clear however, is that any media organization or business will have to compete for attention in this information economy in real time and over time. This is about competing for the future by competing for the moment. The consumer of the future is visible today as they’re always on. The interest graphs they weave within social networks serve as qualified information networks that can amplify information with unprecedented speed, efficiency and personalization. It creates a  human algorithm that brings to life an awakening and revolutionary reality; we are now reaching an audience with an audience of audiences. They’re no longer consumers, but stakeholders in the information economy.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook

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  • http://comfortinnmiddletown.wordpress.com/ Barb Youchah

    Great post Brian – I completely agree that the 3 different types of consumers require different approaches. The Attention Rubicon is very interesting as well. I really like Twitter and gathering info in 140 characters. I click onward if my attention has been grabbed and interest piqued.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, Brian! This is very applicable to private, public, non-profits, and NGO entities.

    As you stated, “Every company (EC) [including those I cited above] is a media company (MC).” I agree. The follow-on implication is that communication has emerged a critical core comptency for these organizations.

  • http://declandunn.com Declan Dunn

    So many great points Brian, thanks, particularly like this ”
    The future of media is not limited to everyday consumers. Brands too are becoming media.” When Apple said years ago that everyone was a media company, people didn’t get it. It’s about the people connecting, not the devices, yet so often we look at it through the visionary lenses of consumers, who are being shifted and pulled in many directions, and yet we in Internet business are still dominated by direct marketing dollars, and techniques…ie, clicks and conversions, when what you are outlining here, to me, is where brands find how the digital world benefits them.

    Brands know it’s about generating awareness, I call it Brevenue in the book I’m writing, where branding is the first step AND leads to revenue, creating familiarity, and promoting consideration – so why with all the amazing tools at our disposal as businesses, from retargeting to attribution to social media tools, do brands still rely on ads to develop branding, when experience is the true definition of a brand, one that people will pass on. The true measure in this social world is not where you are, but how many people refer your brand, your context, and put it into the hands of others where they are, and with what they are actually doing – their context. The new ad doesn’t take you away from what you’re doing like Web 1.0, it takes you into the networks of people based on the value you deliver, and how you are remembered.

    Thanks for the fascinating take and inspiration…gives me hope that journalism will move beyond “if it bleeds it will lead” to “if it’s shared, it’s because people care”, the true measure of a brand is the impact you leave on others, that they want to share.

    • http://www.socialmeteor.com Troy Janisch

      ‘Brevenue’ is a nice term. Helps communicate that revenue occurs from brand equity.

  • http://borasky-research.net/2011/01/13/project-kipling-alpha-test-is-now-in-suse-studio-ddj-datajourno/ znmeb

    @briansolis:twitter, we’ve seen Twitter statistics and Google statistics for the breaking Osama Bin Laden story. But have we seen *Facebook* statistics?

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      That’s such a great point. I included the Pew data to extrapolate a hypothesis that Facebook probably had a greater effect of mainstream news distribution in Facebook pointing to traditional venues over Twitter.

    • http://www.pammarketingnut.com PamMktgNut

      That is indeed interesting. Would love to see the double click on the Facebook data. My guess is the answers will be in the demographic and usage of the platform. Wonder also how the sharing to traditional venues over Twitter for news such as Osama’s story differs by time of day/night because of the different demographics & usage patterns of those engaged on the platform.

      Great article Brian. Going to have to print and read a couple times.

  • Anonymous

    @briansolis:twitter

    Great article! I’m a true believer of a need of change in the marketing arena. Many marketing professionals are still working with a 1950′s mindset. They have no idea of how to deliver results within the highly socialised environment we’re living in today. I happily welcome all these changes, and I hope to see marketing professionals rethinking their strategies so we all can live a more conversational world.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      hear hear! me too!

  • Timothyblair

    Thanks for sharing this analysis. It documents what so many of us have known but never seen quantified – the democratization of information and the enormous power available to anyone with a keen sense of observation and the ability to type!

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Timothy…yes! It really is that simple and at the same time…it requires a great investment of intention, commitment and value to rise above the fray. Cheers!

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  • http://www.socialmeteor.com Troy Janisch

    Brand Journalism is the best term I’ve heard for describing the ‘socialization’ of marketing. I’ve got a copy of ENGAGED sitting next to my computer chair. This post triggered me to grab it, dig in, and join to the conversation. The ‘destination web’ has been at risk for awhile. A company’s website is typically the WORST place to find helpful, unbiased information — and it’s the information we value, not the destination. Insightful and actionable.

  • @Aliceinorbit

    There’s nothing like great prose. I spend a LOT of time out of trad media and when I finally get to read a great book or even the Sunday Times (London), its like a revelation. I love the new information economy, its liberating and I think it has made people happier (or perhaps the happier people are more visible..) but lets continue to value the craft of writing and ensure our children don’t become too underexposed to literature, art, storytelling. Or we’ll lose our humanity. Does that sound really … Victorian??? @briansolis

  • http://www.poweryourmarketing.com Website Design Kansas City

    In the wake of seeing reports over the weekend that a journalism degree is now the most over-rated of any in higher education, perhaps this will help business to realize the value of the written word. Sure, anyone can write, but it doesn’t mean they can write well. Brand journalism, if this is the direction we will go in marketing, will require people who not only communicate effectively, but in a meaningful way with their consumers. Brian, your observation about brand journalism is spot on. Kudos!

  • http://frugallysavvy.com Frugally Savvy

    People are definitely gravitating towards more information that have reviews and quality in nature to the average user

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  • http://www.mynotetakingnerd.com/blog Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2

    As a marketer, it seems you can benefit from using this same trend of competing for the moment by knowing your market and their desires, fears and frustrations by paying attention to and stirring up conversations using social media.

    Thanks again Brian for diving ocean-deep into this oh-so relevant topic!

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  • http://www.newmediaradiohour.com Rey Ybarra

    What an awesome post!  Outstanding Brian.  The world of media has changed along with how we communicate.  I interview many best selling authors in new and social media, and they are all saying basically the same thing you are. 
    Social media and the internet now is ROC, return on conversation equals ROI, return on investment.  Joining the conversation is where it begins and if you don’t as author Beverly Macy says, the conversation will go on without you! 

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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