My relationship with the Web started when I was in first year high school, when during our computer class, my classmates created my first-ever e-mail address and my Friendster account. It was not love at first sight – I was not really interested back then, and all I wanted was to see how it works. I never imagined that I would be this hooked after 7 years, and it only dawned in me that the Internet did not only seduce me, it has shaped my mindset and my world.
Simplified is alluring
In his essay Shaping the Internet Age, Bill Gates made a clear and agreeable assertion – the Internet has transformed the way we work, the way we spend our leisure, the way we live. I’m sure it is not just me that was lured: around 20 million Filipinos are online in 2009. We do so because we feel empowered whenever it’s just us and the computer; in Gates’ terms, our human potential is amplified by the Internet. Indeed, the Internet made everything simpler. Now it’s definitely easier to connect with grade school classmates, do research on Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory, watch the latest Glee episodes, and shop for an ukay find. Now apart from the abovementioned, the Internet has all the more empowered its user with these two revolutionary online activities:
Stalking. The Internet has made stalking equal to researching about somebody. With Facebook, your crush will never discover that you are checking his/her account every two hours. Plus, one can just Google a name, and voila! High school records, personal blogs and accounts, home videos — these information regarding your victim are just right at your fingertips. Amazing really that search beats e-mail and social networking as the top online activity in the Philippines.
Information sharing. Traditional media dictate one-way flow of messages and information. With the Internet, it became multi-directional. Anyone can be a source of valuable information, or even information that might prove to be valuable someday. We have collaborative sharing efforts like Wikipedia, virtual manuals on eHow, and real-time updates on Twitter. Blogs and online fora also serve the purpose for the information seeker, with Google being our gateway to all these.
Satisfying the stakeholders’ desires
Now what does this all mean to a business person? Gates mentioned that to survive the Internet ordeal, a business must “make its products, services, and interface more attractive than competitors that are only a few mouse-clicks away.” True, the desire for information by a customer needs to be satisfied in the Web. But first, it’s not only the customer who is online. In today’s age, I bet that a company’s stakeholders are all online. More importantly, efforts should not stop with a pricelist in the company website with minimal Flash and bandwidth requirements.
Allow your company, product, or brand to be stalked. Omnipresence might help, but not all companies are fit to start their Facebook accounts (I can’t imagine construction products and brands of appliances on Facebook), so at least there should be an SEO effort to make your official website appear as the first search result in Google and Yahoo Search. And once you are already stalked, probably it’s the best time to start conversations.
Relationships matter – LinkedIn’s right. According to this video, social media is about conversations, not campaigns. It is about making people feel heard, and in the process, important. It is not just about creating a website with a Contact Us section promising to get back to the person, it is about fulfilling that promise.
Manage online reputation. Information shared online does not guarantee to be always positive, so companies should be ready to answer negative remarks online (but not to bring it to a bigger scale). It might not clean up the entire mess, but will help in doing so. By being accessible online, conversing with audiences, and managing rep in a polite manner, people will eventually talk good about the company online and in real life. It’s an advantage that is free and a few mouse-clicks ahead of the competitor.
Almost ten years after Gates wrote his essay and made accurate predictions regarding tablets, smart phones, and Internet appliances, his recommendations on reshaping the Internet age still apply, especially for a third-world Philippines. It’s not just the users and the businessmen; the government should be playing a very important role in regulating a seemingly-abyssmal mine called the Internet. As of now, we only have the weakly-applied E-Commerce Act as the only policy guiding the use of the Internet in the Philippines (Can you imagine such an act punishing the perpetuators of Katrina-Hayden video?). The implementation of a national broadband network, on the other hand, is stalled following the ZTE scandal.
Yes, the Internet has empowered its users (specifically the upper middle SECs), but to bridge the so-called digital divide and empower the lowest parts of the social spectrum needs government intervention. While it would still be surely a long way before we have a cyber Philippines, individuals and businesses alike need to contemplate on responsible stalking, seeking, and sharing – with the operative word ‘responsible‘ making way for reshaping the Internet, which we already shaped early in its conception and has shaped our lives and our future.