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The Times They Are a-Changin

March 15th, 2013 by Mardy Sitzer

As the world turns to entrepreneurs to save the planet and the economy, new businesses are sprouting up like wildfire.

City, state and federal agencies are attempting to find ways to promote small business (achem, throat clearing) and Universities are changing their curriculum to inspire entrepreneurs. So I’ve borrowed the title for this blog from Bob Dylan’s album The Times They Are a-Changin’ released in January 1964 – as those words couldn’t be truer then they are today.

The Internet helped to bridge information gaps, learning gaps, talent gaps, advertising gaps, and even funding gaps The past 23 years, and more notably, the last 5-7 years, have been some of the most dramatic changes.

My line of work – web design and marketing – used to be a fairly ‘quiet’ world. Logos, newsletters, brochures, direct mail campaigns, and an occasional print ad.

Then came the era of the Internet, and it has been like a trajectory into outer space with a few moments of leveling off and cruising along. Short lived moments mind you. Marketing began to take on a techie glow as knowing HTML became the primary differentiator between an old school agency versus a cool one. Today, knowing HTML is still a core skill to all things Internet.

As I was researching on-line shopping for an (unrelated) industry white paper I was writing for a client, it struck me just how much things have changed and how quickly. (Take note guys – white papers are pretty powerful marketing and authority building tools.)

In the span of time of the human civilization, the past 23 years since the birth of the Internet, is not a long time, and yet, business and the world have irrevocably changed in dramatic ways and with global impact.

  1. Berners-Lee ‘discovered’ the Internet in 1990 (not Al Gore – which he actually never claimed). Berners-Lee built the necessary tools for a working Web: the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), HyperText Markup Language (HTML), a Web browser (named WorldWideWeb), the server software, the first web server, and the first Web pages that described the project itself.
  2. In the early 90s, this World Wide Web was primarily a collaborative tool among the academic and scientific communities. The phone lines buzzed with 1s and 0s as email, bulletin boards, and forums began to populate the web. The best part back then – at least for me – was the secret life of BBS’rs. I loved the secret society, code handshakes and sense of community – helpful techies and hobbyists helping other techies and hobbyists around the world. No long distance calling charges but chatting with people from the other side of the globe – I used to sit in awe of the power, and sometimes still do.
  3. Compuserve and AOL paved the way for the general public who did not know code, with online forums and websites.
  4. The biggest change began in the mid-1990s as access to the Internet in homes became more prevalent and technological innovations took flight.
  5. By the mid 1990s, Netscape introduced SSL encryption of data and consumers began to experience on-line banking as well as Pizza Hut’s introduction of an online pizza shop.
  6. Amazon first appeared on the web in 1995, followed by eBay in 1996, and retail hasn’t been the same since.
  7. Classmates.com and sixdegress.com came about in the late 90s – and in 2002 Friendster came on the scene. MySpace went live in 2003 and LinkedIn joined the online world in 2003 (and is still one of the top sites today).
  8. Then in 2006 Facebook opened to the public and brought with it a committed community of users it had been nurturing through college. Those students came into the workforce knowing the power of social media. Big business was getting into the on-line ad frenzy, yet small business owners were saying ‘pshha’.
  9. Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and thousands of other sites began populating the Internet faster than bunnies during mating season.
  10. And still small business owners said ‘pshha’.

Well, being told that if you want to start or grow a business you need to be using social media is now playing an old and broken record. It is not a fad, it is not going away, but it is changing every day.

I do believe that what we will see more of in the coming years are closed, private on-line and mobile communities where users feel more in control. I doubt users will ever be in control and privacy on-line is a complete fallacy. But as people grow tired of the demands from social sites, a sense of being overwhelmed, existing in the same space as their parents and aggressive marketers on ad revenue centric sites, and a nagging feeling of too much time – too little value, they will migrate to other sites, but for now that Pandora’s box is opened, most everyone will be on line some where, some place, and some how.

However, while things are as they are – because this may not last as it is, now is the time to build your connections and audience – an intimate and connected audience – because as people migrate from one platform to another, you don’t want to lose an opportunity to build an audience.

In the past two years alone, social sharing sites have been bought, sold, merged, killed, buried, re-tooled, re-faced, moved from free to fee, added features, dropped features – it is exhausting – especially when you are in the marketing or search business.

Search – yes search too has evolved, changed, progressed, digressed, and it is still changing every day.

With such rapid fire change in both search and social sites, combined with user migration from one site to another, you have to ask yourself… when is the last time you made changes?

How old is your website? Have you not yet started using social media, or when did you start using social and are you doing the same thing you always did?

The Times They Are a-Changin – my friend, and you don’t want to be left blowin in the wind…

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