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A web wrap-up of 2008

2008 is almost over and it sure has been interesting - UK banks cancelled their Christmas parties; the global economy is in a recession; the world is holding its breath waiting to see if America's new president will be the one to save us all, and South African politics has certainly taken a couple of unforeseen turns. Of course, the web is an important part of this rapidly changing world.
As a primary source of information and entertainment for nearly 1.5 billion people worldwide, where it has come from and how the world's woes and triumphs affect it are both integral to understanding the influences that will shape the tech world in 2009 and beyond. And so here's a brief breakdown of what 2008 meant for the web and the people who love it.

ORM - so hot right now


If 2007 were the year of social media, then 2008 was the year of online reputation management (ORM). E consultancy revealed that the industry would grow to be worth £60 million in 2008; a 30% increase.

ORM - the process of monitoring and managing your online reputation - has grown in leaps and bounds, evolving from a soft approach to online PR and consumer engagement into something tangible with valuable metrics. Although it is still early in the day for ORM, E consultancy/Lynchpin's 2008 report argues that a fifth of companies are already using data derived from reputation monitoring, while 37% have intentions to do this in the near future.

With an ever-growing number of tools on the market, individuals and brands are spoilt for choice and can monitor what people are saying about them online both easily and affordably. From free monitoring tools like Google Alerts and Yahoo Alertsto paid-for ones, with excellent capabilities, like Quirk's own BrandsEye and Radian6, there is something for everyone available.

This means that not only can marketers measure and understand what works for their brands and what doesn't, but it also means that marketing is now a two-way conversation between brands and their consumers, rather than the one-sided messages that were disseminated in the past.

In 2009, every brand worth its salt should at least be listening to what consumers are saying about them online and using this to drive one-to-one customer-centric engagement.

Crowdsourcing - the way forward


This is not the same as rent-a-crowd and, like ORM, crowdsourcing is not a new concept. In fact, the first Oxford English Dictionary was created in this manner.

A term first coined by Jeff Howes in 2006, crowdsourcing is the process of using an open call to action to encourage a wide range of people to execute a brief or a task that previously would have been undertaken by an employee or contractor. While it is nothing new, 2008 is the year in which it has taken wings and with the launch of initiatives such as Idea Bounty (also a Quirk project), crowdsourcing is going mainstream.

One only has to look at the success of this recently launched endeavour to know that it's a concept that brands and individuals are warming up to quickly. And why not? With a general tightening of global belts, even big brands need new ideas for what they can afford to fork out. Dedicated marketing teams are so 2008; with a wide pool of creative ideas available and a once-off payment for the best idea (rather than monthly salary cheques) what do they have to lose?

Creatives, on the other hand, also benefit from this modus operandi. Given the opportunity to pitch their ideas on a wide range of briefs, they are not limited in their creativity to one brand. Rather than selling their souls to a single large corporate, they can rather pick and choose who they want to work for and, provided their ideas are of the highest quality, can profit from this.

Social media - what the consumer wants, the consumer gets


For brevity's sake and because it is so overdone, I wanted to avoid mentioning social media. But it is impossible to ignore it entirely, so we'll limit ourselves to only this observation - the face of social media is changing.

Social media is becoming more and more about what the consumer wants. Facebook, the once darling of social media, might be in a spot of bother soon as social network fatigue sets in and people want a quick clean way to get their messages across to their friends and followers. Twitter - essentially just that - is making headway in the international geek community; TechCrunch reporting over a million Twitter users by April this year and has since increased by an estimated 500% in just five months.

At the end of 2007, Wired.com mused on the factors that may result in Facebook's downfall. Among these are the possibility of a user-base exodus and a weak business model. Vampire and werewolf invitations will propagate the former and how the later will play out remains to be seen. Watch this space in 2009...

Another great example of how consumers own social media, and how they use it to fulfil a variety of needs, is YouPorn. While I'll be the first to admit this is a risky example. it works perfectly to explain the power of social media. YouPorn has become the most utilised porn site online and is the highest ranking adult website. It ranks in the top 100 globally visited sites in just one year. What does this mean? In short, social is universally successful.

Online goes green


With a growing awareness internationally around environmental concerns, it makes sense that the online environment is one in which greenies gather to engage around various issues. It is also a useful information resource for newly initiated earthy types.

Earlier this year, a Comscore.com blog post revealed that sites such as Treehugger.com, and Freecycle.org have seen up to an 80% increase in traffic. It's not only the users that are greening up the online community though - hardware providers are also doing their bit save the planet form doom and gloom, as well as creative agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi which will be launching Blue, a dedicated global social network for a sustainable lifestyle, early next year.

It was November last year when Kindle was launched by Amazon, but it wasn't until 2008 that it started to feature in college classrooms and homes in the US. In layman's terms, it's a mobile, hand-held computerised device onto which content can be downloaded and read. Lighter than a paperback and wireless connectivity make this a revolutionary development.

It is not the only e-book reader on the market of course, but being backed by a brand like Amazon ensures that it will be the most influential. Despite the fact that it isn't a trend of massive proportions, it is a trend of massive implications. Changing the face of publishing, Kindle could revolutionise the way that children and adults read and learn. It could also save a lot of trees.

The rise of the attention economy


In the era of information overload, the attention economy is a newly conceptualised marketplace in which consumers give marketers their attention in return for services. In this model, human attention is a scarce commodity for which marketers and their brands have to compete.

In an overview of the attention economy, ReadWriteWeb author Alex Iskold argued that news feeds are illustrative of this point. They ask for the consumers' attention, while in exchange being allowed to show the consumer advertising. As with social media, consumers have the choice and are dictating what content they receive in return for their valuable, if fleeting, attention.

This translates in a number of ways. Not only has the essence of marketing changed, but online, information pollution (in its various forms) is a no-go zone. Companies also have to find newer, better ways to be attractive to their target audiences, whether through the provision of useful content and information, or in the form of a unique offering.

However it happens, consumers own their attention and have the power to dictate whether and how they distribute it.

Not definitive


This is not a definitive list of 2008's web trends by far. There are probably many other things that have been overlooked - the shape of the internet is ever-fluid. What is true at the time of writing this may not necessarily be true by the time it is published.

These are, however, some of the more quirky developments of the year and hopefully offer a little insight into the direction in which the web is moving and what 2009 will hold [look out for all of Bizcommunity.com's 2009 trends pieces in January - Editor]. We at Quirk are all looking forward to finding out...

About Lyndi Lawson

Lyndi Lawson is the assistant marketing manager and deputy minister of education for Quirk eMarketing (www.quirk.biz) - Africa's largest full service eMarketing agency. With an honours degree in earth and geographical sciences from UCT and an absolute love for anything education, Lyndi elegantly navigates the world of online, providing solutions to Quirk and clients needs alike. Contact Lyndi on or tel +27 (0)21 462 7353.

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