Fortune's Brent Schlender raises some interesting points in his recent (Feb.7) column Dawn of the Web Potato First off: consumer demand on the web is beginning to outstrip commercial and government usage. So heavy is the consumer use that some are predicting we could be heading into brownouts.
Much of this is being driven by video--and it goes beyond "stupid pet tricks" on YouTube, as he says.Video is exploding across the Internet in many forms, a thousand points of light to (badly) paraphrase a former president. In North America online video transmission has jumped to 18% of all Internet traffic in 2007, from 7% in 2005, and will grow tenfold by 2011, according to a Cisco study.
The article concludes that we're becoming a nation of "web potatoes." Presumably much like the TV generation, this one spends the bulk of his/her time scanning a screen for stuff from the comforts of their office or home, or so this argument goes. When everything, including TV, winds up on your computer screen, you end up with a nation of zombies viewing content, passive as ever.
But this comparison quickly breaks down when you analyze the facts: indeed, the Internet era is shaping up as the antithesis of TV's couch potato era. While there's plenty of passive viewing going on, today's Net user is far different than the old couch potato.
The article quotes the Cisco study and another from the Online Publishing Association that are packed with some interesting data about how people are using the Net today."The OPA's Internet activity index contends that a typical Internet user spends 47% of his time online looking at content, 33% communicating, 15% shopping, and 5% Googling or using other search engines."
"Content" of course, could be anything from YouTube videos to
presentations to directions. And communications is huge and growing, thanks partly to the social media movement. People have a natural need to connect, and the Net is providing a wonderful platform. But no matter how you measure it, the Web experience is
far more engaging, more active, more interactive, interesting--a
completely different user experience than any past medium, TV included.
And among all this, YouTube included, you'll find an explosion of ideas and creativity we've never seen before. For decades, content was controlled by a few hundred TV executives, producers, etc. on the East and West Coast, and if you include national print, a few hundred senior editors. This is great for the professional media types (there was a little sense of power when I sat in on weekly planning meetings at Business Week years ago). But with the Internet, the crazy people are now in charge of the asylum--anyone can, at least potentially, break through with an idea.
YouTube, the personal Blog, Facebook and hundreds of other sites
serve as channels for creativity--allowing anyone with an idea or need
to communicate a way to reach the world....or, the case of Facebook and
its breathan, their communities.
No one knows where all this will go. We're just starting to see the beginning of a new media force, which is still fragmented, trying to find its way, like an awkward teenager. But one thing is clear: it will look far different than the media we've seen in past years, including the TV networking model. Forget the web potato. This time it's going to be different--if not, we're all in trouble.
ps: for a different view of couch potatoes, check out Al Yankovic's video on YouTube