The World’s Wide Web
Manager of Google Austria Karl Pall Talks About The Democratic Nature of the Online Landscape
"The internet is the most dramatic change in human history," charged Karl Pall, manager of Google Austria in a talk at Webster University Vienna Nov. 13. With two-thirds of Austrians having broadband access, and one billion people worldwide gaining access to the Internet in the last 15 years, he may not be far off.
And it’s not just young people. Sixty-six percent of Austrians aged 50-54 have access to the Internet.
"This is the number that impresses me," said Pall. "We’re talking about democracy," the integration of a global society. "This is the most open democracy we have ever had," he said.
One of the most active growth areas is self publishing, the phenomenon of personal newsletters known as blogs.
"There is a new blog posted every second," reported Bertrand Dussauge, Marketing Director of LexisNexis at an American Chamber of Commerce breakfast Nov. 7. What this means is that anyone with access to the Internet can make ideas and opinions known without a filter. Beyond that, there are none of the production constraints that apply to mainstream media or other businesses. With a store one needs shelf space, TV or radio- airtime, and newspapers require page space; but with blogs "it’s unlimited," said Pall. "With these tools, everyone can be a communicator."
It is not just about people writing blogs. Today, consumers enjoy more power than ever before. All that it requires is a relatively few outspoken people to affect change. Dussauge related a dramatic example of consumer influence with the UK banking concern HSBC. The bank had offered 0% interest student loans, yet by the end of August, the high volume had led to a withdrawal of the offer, and a rate increase to 3.2%.
"So students went to Facebook to protest," Dussauge said. After recording over 1000 protests and threats to boycott the bank, HSBC’s CEO reversed the rate change.
It is estimated that some "15-20% of all human knowledge is available for anyone who has access to the Internet," said Pall. With all of this information comes a lot of transparency. In July of 2005 Italian Cancer research and prevention foundation Ramazzini reported a link between aspartame and cancer.
"Coca-Cola Light was the brand most associated with Aspertame in the [web] forums," said Dussauge. As a result, "in 2006 they launched Coca-Cola Zero," which Coca-Cola marketed as "two times less aspartame than Coke Light."
We are in "a world market, with no borders," Dussauge said. The effects are not simply limited to local or regional concerns. "The bloggosphere, the buzz is invading the whole world."
Today e-commerce is a major part of any successful business. In the EU, e-commerce represents €180 billion of transactions. In the UK, this is 7% of total retail sales, expected to be up to 20% by 2010. But it works differently.
"It’s not about someone dictating the marketing strategy – it’s about users dictating the direction," said Pall. "The competitor is only one mouse click away – and brand loyalty doesn’t exist."
This, both Pall and Dussauge agreed, is the power that consumers now have. If a few consumers give negative feedback about a company, they have the power to drive others away en-mass, a cooperative reputation that can be built up or broken down in very little time.
"You can lose a reputation in a year," said Dussauge. While on the other hand "EBay’s reputation was made in a few years," he went on to say. "eBay has the power of a country; [it] is larger than many in Africa."
Journalists have their ears to the blogging ground. French daily Le Monde published an article about Buffalo Grill and their purchase of unsafe, possibly mad cow infected, meat.
"Le Monde had plucked this up from a blog- and through this, perception became reality," said Dussauge. "Journalists are reading the blogs to find an exclusive."
"It’s no longer a pyramid, it’s a loop," Dussauge said. No longer does one need to be part of the media to report on a story or event and have people around the world read it.
This power extends to consumers, as people at the bottom of the consumption chain have the power to affect those at the very top, quickly and effectively, in a way that is not virtual at all.