The great promise of the Internet is dead. But is there a way to bring democracy back to what has become a haven for big tech and big money?
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Here was the once great promise of the Internet:
That in this digital world, this open marketplace of thought and ideas and opportunity, a one-man-band could look and feel and sound like a whole orchestra.
But the heady days that engendered that promise are far behind us, and so is the promise itself.
Back in the day, a side hustler could put up a great website and garner as much attention as IBM, maybe more if she knew what she was doing. Momma Pajama, how cool was that? The Internet was the greatest democratizing force in history. Now it’s as commercial as Christmas and owned teeth to tail by global corporations.
In 2006, Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail . . .” changed my world view, and refocused my career. For me, the big takeaway was that a small company could blog its way to search-engine relevance by doggedly focusing on long-tail results. Now, Google indexes 4 million, or so, new blog posts per day. To cope with the sheer volume, its built an ever more sophisticated set of algorithms, all designed to keep small players from gaming the system, from looking more relevant than they actually are. Did you experience a sinking feeling as you read that, maybe a slight wave of nausea? If so, you might be one of us.
Search results are so far out of reach for small businesses that, today, millions don’t even bother with a website. In fact, it’s been years, now, since they turned en masse to social media to find an audience. But social channels are slamming fast for tens of millions of small businesses. Organic spread of messaging is all but gone. Now Facebook’s Boost button gets you less reach than you could once get for free. I don’t blame social platforms, mind you. They have the right to monetize, not to mention an obligation to their shareholders. Still, the trend rides roughshod on the unfunded.
In 1998, Seth Godin counseled marketers to stop interrupting, that in the coming tsunami of content, consumers would not tolerate pot banging as an entrée to a sales pitch. Ten years later, Godin’s message had evolved: “Content marketing is the only marketing left,” he quipped.
Gary Vaynerchuk (AKA, Gary Vee) put a sharper point on Godin’s proclamation, telling a room full of business types that they had to “make content on the Internet as if [they’re] the TV show and not the commercials [that run during] the TV show.”
Had they both lost their minds? Think about the implication: that businesses large and small have to morph into publishing companies in order to survive. This is tantamount to saying that a traveling salesman needs to build his own Jetta in order to get to appointments.
Turns out, Godin and Vee are perfectly sane. They’re just describing the dawning apocalypse for tens of millions of entrepreneurs and smallish businesses, who have a better shot at making an NFL roster than of churning out quality content on a mass scale, or any scale, for that matter.
It’s all good for Red Bull and Johnson & Johnson, though.
I’ve been mourning the Internet’s demise for a while, but I’m done with that now. I’ve mobilized, gathered a small team of big thinkers, and we’re laying down code. In the words of Miracle Max, “there’s a difference between dead and mostly dead.” And we’re just far enough out there to think we can revive that which looks lifeless but may not actually be.