Wednesday 26 November 2008

Why the Golden Spider’s is important

The Golden Spider awards?  Important?

OK.  The truth?  A part of me say’s it isn’t.  A bit say’s it’s a beauty parade of sites, large and small, some of which no one has ever heard of.  Part of me says it’s an excuse for late night drinking in a once super-posh south Dublin hotel. Part of me say’s it’s an excuse for competitors to sneer at each other across a crowd, or for employees and bosses to have sort outs, clearing the cigarette laden air.

But then, aren’t all awards ceremonies like that.  And are they the worse off for it?  No. It makes precious little difference to their importance.  The Golden Spiders is a forum for an industry to meet and greet, share a pint, clap and slide off home... Very therapeutic.  It’s an opportunity for an industry that has taken more knocks than others to take itself seriously for once and not take itself too seriously at the same time

OK.  This is where I sound older than I am, or, about the right age, but I’ve been to all of them so far (I think?)   Not a grand claim, but it gives me an overview of them... and an opportunity to point out some trends.

Before the dot com boom it was a nascent awards ceremony, where a small room could contain all the major players in Ireland each person being one-third techie, one-third entrepreneur, one-third person who couldn’t get a job anywhere else.   Then the Nasdaq struck a tone which shook all, and if you were on the right side of the investor fence, you were an instant multi-millionaire – on paper at least.  The atmosphere of the awards had changed.  An un-earned smugness and swagger crept in, accompanied by breathless ambition, greed, and some misery at missing out.  The bursting of the bubble decimated the attendees and this was a time where those at the awards who were involved in the industry and who’s experience pre-dated the dot com crash could be counted on the fingers of one hand.  There were five of us! The lingo and buzzword vendors had fled to fairer pastures, and the tables were populated by ‘industry’ rather than ‘internet enterprise’.  The sales guys were still there, but worked for telco’s and portals, rather than tech SMEs.  Then in the early 2000s, things limped along until Google fixed the net for us all.  Search engines worked, things could be found, and PPC made sense and was cheap.  Bebo and social sites cemented the advantage won and now we’re in the age of the iPhone, and very high levels of broadband net use for all, if you want it.

That was the difference about this year’s awards.  The mobile content providers.  The winning entrant involved a mobile phone system for keeping tabs on minors.  I’m reliably told it works on very few phones, but I haven’t checked it.  That’s not the point.  The point is that the net has left the office, or home, or SoHo business model.  Facebook can be conceived in the same breath as outlook, or a contacts database, without spam email.  Bebo.. . the same.  The buzzword is the mobile phone App.  This concept was almost unimaginable even a few years ago.  ( I know I’m always banging on about how things have changed, but it never ceases to amaze me, and informs views on the trajectory things might take in future).  But Locle takes things a step further, marrying Facebook with location based services.  The full integration of the latest developments of the social net online, with local society offline.

There was another difference with this awards.  Maturity.  The Internet has slowly but finally arrived in Ireland as an intrinsic and fundamental force in the media landscape.  Not as an add-on for nerds and geeks, but as a centroid around which old media rotate and learn... eating audience share and headspace like a black hole.  Netspace: -engaging, entertaining, informative, efficient, flexible, customizable, cheap, upgradable and full of innovation and creativity.  There were few times for other media that you could make any of these claims, but most importantly, the last two – innovation and creativity.  Radio Luxembourg for Radio?  Hall’s Pictorial Weekly for TV?  Maybe a few others, but these old media have been suffocated by top down civil society, from governments to the church with academic confusions about the role of the public service broadcaster, who owns the media in question and who is more important – the content producer or the audience.  But for the net, innovation and creativity are a commonplace and for this reason the net is where I think the future of our media landscape must lie – with great ideas and the chutzpah to do something about them.  Because what stood out to me about this year’s Spiders was that the creative media thinkers, innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs never seem to tire of the netspace and this is likely to be true for the mobile net too.  There were loads of them there; clever, clever people doing really cool things that stretch the boundaries of communicative technology and its relationship with modern society on very limited resources.  These are things that will create considerable societal change while they make a buck.  Very few new enterprises do things as important as that.  The vast majority make money for a single individual, but very few indeed change the way we all interact with each other.

So, why are the Spiders important?  Well, if it’s only because they are a haven for Ireland’s enterprise and good ideas - that’ll do for me.

Friday 14 November 2008

Moore Street on the Net. The Trader Segment of Netizen will Grow in Importance

A recent segmentation I ran on Internet behaviour showed several groups.

Dolittles (6%): This group don’t do much and could be termed low intensity Internet users. They report that they all use the Internet for email and chat and they will use all of the other Internet categories, but much less often than the other groups.

Media Consumers (31%): These are the consumers of net content in all its forms, and from all form of traditional media online (RTE, Irish Times, Sky etc), so I’ve called them the media net. Yes, but they’re net surfers with a purpose rather than aimless geeks enjoying the beauty of things digital. This group will go to read news of all sorts. They’ll be financially savvy and are well educated. They also have good jobs and incomes too. These use the net as an information resource and a career enhancing tool to aid decision making and economic communication.

Networkers (8%): Perhaps once considered the ‘sad’, depressive net addicts this group is now recognized as a growing segment of net activity, and they’re using the net tool to help extend their overt social nature... (or over compensated social phobia) and they love it.

These are the group who are into chatting and networking. They like to be linked and bring on the buzz of chit chat and juicy gossip. Yes, more girls in this group, but only just. They like chat, user generated content, bulletin boards and dating. These are the net socialites who get their fix of friendships and talk online.

I think this group are especially important as the trend towards a more digitally mediated social existence and staying in contact with ‘everyone you ever knew’ to feel part of the community is a strong one. It may just be a new stage in reaching maturity, or feed into broader psychological needs, but its there and will only become more prevalent in society and persistent in nature.

At an extreme, it gets silly. Is someone with 14 contacts less happy or socially or economically adept than someone with 100? Or 500? Doubt it, and studies would indicate that 50 is the max number of relationships people can handle at all. (For Lions its 30). Business contacts may be different of course and it will be quality not quantity that is important there too. Get this for a wheeze. There’s a cheat on Bebo so you can pretend you have 100s of friends. (Hope there’s one for LinkedIn L)

Mappers, Restaurants and Cars (42%): Then, there are those who use the net for restaurants, car trading and maps.

They might use email, but the net hasn’t impacted on this group socially or economically at all really. These tend to be older men who perhaps don’t have the time or the need to be chatting to their peers who aren’t that net savvy anyway. The net makes sense to them when they can print off a map or a timetable, but the rest of the stuff? Well, really! It’s more for the kids isn’t it, though he doesn’t understand what exactly it is that they do when they do it. But, he’s (as it typically a he) is proud of his net connectedness nevertheless. This group you won’t see on the web that much really except for newspapers, Google and main stream media.

Traders (13%): This is the group that are the main focus of this post. These use the Internet like an ATM... a ticketing machine for flights, banking and shopping. Functional stuff. 13% of Internet users are in this distinct group. Doing things without having to queue for less money, or when they need to upgrade their phone.

But, within this group are those that use eBay and Classifieds. The tech savvy ‘trotter’s independent traders’ of the great web boot sale in the ether. This is one of the most important sectors to Ireland Internet economy. The invisible spivs, the attic hunter gatherers, the ebayerati.

What exemplifies this group from the others is their need to make money from the net rather than spend time on it or buy things on it, though they will be include those who do. They ‘make’ money either in savings on goods purchased in other markets, or by selling and trading. And, I think in the current economic climate, this group is set to grow...

eBay consider people to be basically honest, and they’ve been proven right. Yes, there are always some people who’ll try to sell fake goods, but we don’t blame the platform, but rather the seller, and that’s the way it should be.

For example, I’ve always known that if I buy a €5 watch when I’m on holiday in Tunisia and it turns out not to be a real Rolex it’s totally my fault for being such a mean muppet – thinking I can take the piss in a third world country and even haggling him down from €20 and thinking I was clever. God, I so deserved it. (‘Wanna buy Rolex, Tag, Swatch? Reel Gold! Verry good price for you my friend. You Ireesh? My Mother she ees Ireesh. I write letter to her in Ireesh.’ And I thought I had the upper hand. what was I thinking?)

No, there’s is no such thing as a free lunch. And, the same applies online. But, on the other hand I also know that there are good carpets to be bought in Turkey, or art, or whatever, so I’ll have few qualms about taking that risk. eBay is a bit like that for me. Great bargains for the discerning purchaser. It’s just like the real world. There are millions of things to buy online, if you look and it doesn’t take long with a little practice. eBay should be a primary port of call before you shell out full whack for new goods with all the VAT attached. Very often, the only difference between an eBay purchase and a retail one is the box and Styrofoam it’s packed in, and even that can be an inconvenience to get rid of. Then there are tickets, brand new goods, antiques and all sorts of stuff you will only be able to buy online - if you look that is.

There’s a new breed of Irish seller to join the street sellers of Moore’s Street and Camden Street, and they’re waiting with their wares to sell to the highest bidder on the net.

This group don’t look like traders though. They are homemakers, women with kids, men who look for car parts online, fixers, menders and make doers. Oh, and a few petty crooks of course. These are the people who keep the family budget ticking over and make sure the car gets the kids to school. These are the head down and work hard bunch and these are the group I think are kind of recession proof, philosophically speaking anyway. It’ll be hard alright but they’ll manage, and if they don’t remember a recession themselves, their parents and grandparents won’t waste any time in reminding them.

And finally, I think we should all take a leaf out of the philosophy of the net trader. For the giant Irish middle class there’s no shame in saving money in Lidl any more is there. It’s a competition for how much you’ve saved, rather than being concerned about how much you have to spend. And to sell and trade things you don’t have to have a stall on the main street and the voice of 10,000 Woodbines - it can be done from your front room. I think it’ll catch on.

And Finally...

And finally, though these groups add up to 100% they are not ‘discrete’ groups. They cross over each other and almost all use email and Google etc to some extent (there are those that don’t believe it or not). So, there will always be exceptions, that is, groups that don't fit into these bands, but these groups represent a statistically valid generality with whatever insight that can provide. If you know a find a different group not described above they may reside within one of mine, or the Dolittles, or they are just new, or strange. Or indeed, they maybe have been so niche the weren't picked up by my sample. Gamers, for example, are omitted, and they are becoming steadily more important. But, they fall between stools in my breakdown... somewhere between social networks and chatters including behaviours of both. Why do they fall between stools? Well, because the stats told me they did. And, what does that mean? Well, if you think about it gaming is a social communicative practice after all, but there is no typical ‘gamer’ behaviour online on sites other than gaming sites that differentiates the gamer, as a type of Internet user, from the others. In other words, gamers are normal, just like the rest of us or there’s a gamer in all of us. Gamers don't use the web any differently to the rest of us... at least not yet with any statistical significance anyway. That will probably change in the coming years.

But tell me what you think? Do you know some groups that need exploration? Is there more to this than meets my eye? Let me know. I always listening, very interested and keen to learn.

And in the meantime why not get an eBay account and check it out. You know you want to and you could maybe save a bundle! J