The End of the Destination Web and the Revival of the Information Economy by briansolis


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									The End of the Destination Web and the Revival
of the Information Economy
By Brian Solis, industry-leading blogger at and principal of research firm
Altimeter Group, Author of the highly acclaimed book on social business Engage!

In recent weeks journalism and the future of all media have once again gone under the knife.
Experts on either side of new media debated whether or not Twitter’s CNN moment truly was
indicative of the future of journalism. Twitter’s role in the spread of online dialogue speculating the
death of Osama Bin Laden was studied at great depths to better understand when and where news
actually surfaces, how it’s validated, and how news travels across the Web and in real life. Perhaps
nothing visualized the power of a single Tweet with such dramatic effect as the network graph
developed by SocialFlow.

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Twitter is becoming a veritable human seismograph as it measures and records events as they
unfold. But for this discussion, I’d like to focus not on the future of journalism, but instead on human
behavior and the reality of the social effect. In doing so, we will identify the click paths and the
sharing patterns of the informed and connected to learn how to design vibrant information
exchanges on the traditional Web as well as in social networks.

The End of the Destination Web and the Revival of the Information Economy

In hindsight, the days of Web 1.0 seem like an era long gone. I think back to the early days of the
Web and I struggle to think about what fashion, cars and popular music thrived as the Web radically
transformed the then information economy. It’s as distant as the behavior that embraced it. For many,
Web 1.0 was empowering. But to access information, we were reliant on our willingness to visit
desirable websites for insight, entertainment, and news. Home pages, bookmarks and email
subscriptions helped people manage the information overload that overwhelmed consumers with so
much great content. Over the years, portals helped us manage the content by aggregating content
from the sites and topics we preferred. We were then gifted with RSS feeds and readers to enhance
the way relevant information found us.

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The bridge between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was forged through a series of connections between a
Web of Data, a Web of Content, and a Web of People. Although abbreviated, this evolution is
important as it sets the stage for where we are today. Web 2.0 is the great democratization of the
internet. Everyday people were empowered to create as much or more than they consumed. Among
the greatest transformations in the history of media, traditional sources of information were now
rivaled by new voices. These rising pundits, experts and authorities seized the opportunity to create
content that satisfied the needs of an audience who were hungry for vertical and dedicated content.
As a result, the construction of new information networks strained the long-established relationships
between push or broadcast content and market demand. The tipping point for this orthodox practice
was reached long ago yet media is now just realizing its effect, potential, and also consequences. It
was the beginning of the end of business as usual for the conventional media empire.

The transformation of media was only hastened as the Social Web fused the principles of Web 2.0
fostering social networks where people connected with one another to communicate, discover, share,
and learn. Social networks carried a profound challenge and opportunity for media and information
commerce. Leading networks essentially cannibalized attention as they rapidly evolved into a
universal portal and information exchange. People now received news and important information
based on who they connected to, what captivated their attention, and in turn what they invested back
into the community. This important shift signaled the end of the destination web as the primary
source for information and the revival of the information economy.

Individuals connecting in social networks exchanged information as a form of currency. When news
broke or events transpired, it became commonplace for a traditional news outlet to dramatically

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amplify reach as the story reverberated from person to person and network to network at the speed
of clicks. And those clicks carried a power that we’re still trying to grasp, the ability to, with just one
click, imply endorsement, evoke trust, interrupt attention spans, and alter courses of action through a
one-to-one-to-many network effect. CNN greatly benefited from this new distribution model when its
Balloon Boy story hit Twitter, soared to the top of the Trending Topics list, and continued to
permeate the social web for days to come.

While content long celebrated its reign at the top, context was now king and connections that formed
theinterest graph would now dictate the content introduced within it. As the social web matured, it
would introduce a new form of information brokers who would further propel the information
economy and its role in culture and society. The role of curator would emerge between creator and
consumer to facilitate the exchange of relevant information within their networks of relevance and
among their interest graphs. I refer to this phenomenon as The 3C’s of Information Commerce and it
is triggering the development of new technology, networks, and platforms to empower curators to
bridge material content to those seeking it.

Retweets, Likes, connected commenting systems such as Disqus, Facebook, and Echo, URL
shorteners, curation networks such as, Pearltrees, and Flipboard, along with any
other social sharing button you can imagine now served as the tools for curators to curate the
experience they envision. Additionally, curation expedited the migration away from static web sites
as a destination, as a well from which to bring water back to their village. Wells were now in greater
abundance than their demand.

Information is now portable and people expect it to find them.

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Here we are, learning to adapt in a market in transition. Online experiences continue evolve, but
what’s clear is that there are three specific consumer segments that require unique support systems.
This is where thefuture of media begins. By understanding that different people find, share, and
interact with content differently, experiences can then be architected and information channels
activated in ways that consumers expect.

1. Social Consumer: Represents the emergent segment where consumers rely on social networks
to discover, share, and learn. Doing so changes the click and clique behavior and how they in turn
make decisions.

2. Online: The category that visits destinations of presence for continued information. This category
also relies on Google as a point of entry for discovery.

3. Traditional: Consumes content in print, broadcast and remains loyal to their trusted and proven
information sources, including word of mouth. They too will visit online destinations, usually those
that provide tangible (and tactile) experiences and value in the real world.

In a world where social, online, and traditional consumers live independent of one another, this
market in transition is teaching us that the lines between each category are certainly eroding.

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The state and outlook for new media, in the very least, represents the equivalent of a near death
experience for organizations. These encounters are nothing short of life-changing. They add a
critical element of survival into the next steps of anyone who now realizes that things can and must
be different. As such, destination sites are embracing new media as necessary steps to persevere.
Many of these steps seem prescriptive as if following an instruction manual to relevance.

Step 1: Integrate social functionality into the dotcom, remove proprietary functionality

Step 2: Create a Twitter and Facebook presence

Step 3: Launch blogs

Step 4: Instruct reporters to promote their work within their social networks

Step 5: Develop a layer for citizen participation and journalism

Step 6: Create a mobile app

Step 7: Create an iPad subscription service

Step 8: Install a paywall

Step 9: Gamify the dotcom to enliven the experience

Step 10: Pray

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Brand Journalism

The future of media is not limited to everyday consumers. Brands too are becoming media. Tom
Foremski refers to this branded media movement as “Every Company is a Media Company”
and EC=MC is the transformative equation for business.

Once supported by brand advertising, media is now witnessing a new era of brand journalism that
seeks to outperform and outreach the audiences that are for lease by today’s traditional networks.
The market for information is now becoming rich with social objects that are designed not only for
consumption but also for sharing. With the democratization of the web comes the democratization of
influence. It’s now anyone’s game to become the resource and source for information related to a
segment. Brands realize this and are experimenting with the establishment of nicheworks dedicated
to their industry. Indeed the future of marketing starts with publishing.

Companies are seeking new CEO’s (Chief Editorial Officers) and are hiring journalists, editors, and
freelancers to transform mediarooms and blogs into veritable newsrooms.

This move is as paramount as it is transformative. There are several reasons why the stars are in
alignment for brand journalism.

1. Social consumers are no longer captivated or enticed by traditional advertising.

2. According to a recent Edelman survey, trust in peers is falling while trust in experts is soaring. It
is the latter that holds the greatest promise for brands and any media network.

As social networking evolves from social graphs to interest graphs, connections also evolve from
relationships to relations weighted on the value of the currency exchanged between them. In this
case, currency is information and value is measured by insight, education, entertainment, further

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personalized at the individual level. While the market for content is commoditized, the market for
insight is limitless and priced accordingly.

The Attention Rubicon

In Engage, I introduce the concept of an Attention Rubicon, the line where attention is in short supply
and whether people realize it or not, its state is measured by what reaches them, what doesn’t and
also what they deem worthy of sharing. The Attention Rubicon has long since been passed by the
social consumer and is on the horizon of many online and traditional consumers. It will be crossed
and as a result, the information economy will adapt.

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism published a study that further details
the shift away from the destination web and the rising tide of social streams as the attention
dashboards of an important class of consumers.

As Pew’s Kenny Olmstead, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel observe, “Whatever the future of
journalism, much of it depends on understanding the ways that people navigate the digital news
environment—the behavior of what might be called the new news consumer.”

This is why social media has never been about the technology as much as it has been governed
by social science (2007) to better understand its state and its direction.

In partnership with Nielsen, Pew examined the top 25 news web sites in the U.S. and studied the
four main areas of audience behavior:

1. How users get to the top news sites

2. How long they stay during each visit

3. How deep they go into a site

4. Where they go when they leave

As discussed earlier by the 3 Segments of consumerism, Pew found that there is not one group of
news consumers, but in fact several. And as a result, news organizations or any organization for that
matter, require unique strategies for addressing each audience.

Among the revealing insights…

It’s clear that social networks aren’t a fad, they’re not going away, they’re in fact rivaling the top
referrers for site traffic.

The top brand news sites depend greatly on “casual users,” people who visit just a few times per
month and spend only a few minutes at a site. was typical of most of these popular news sites according to Pew. 85% of its users
visited between one and three times per month. Three quarters came only once or
twice. Time spent was even more daunting…when all the visits were added together, 34%, spent
between one and five minutes on the site each month (footnote)

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As Pew notes, online data tend to count some users multiple times, inflating the number of casual
users and undercounting repeat visits. Nonetheless, casual users still would be the largest single

A smaller core of loyal and frequent visitors to news sites, called “power users.” These individuals
return more than 10x per month to a given site and spend more than an hour there over that time.
Among the top 25 sites, power users visiting at least 10 times make up an average of just 7% of total
users. That number ranged markedly from as high as 18% (at to as low as 1% (at

Google remains the primary entry point. The search engine accounts on average for 30% of the
traffic to these sites.

Of all social networks, Facebook in particular, is a powerful, and growing, news referring source. At
five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Surprisingly,
Twitter barely registers as a referring source. In the same vein, when users leave a site, “share”
tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links.

News consumers to the top news websites are on par with Internet users overall. This stands apart
from news consumption on traditional platforms, which tends to skew older, and may bode well for
the industry.

The future of media is evolving and its direction is far from certain. What’s clear however, is that any
media organization or business will have to compete for attention in this information economy in real
time and over time. This is about competing for the future by competing for the moment. The
consumer of the future is visible today as they’re always on. The interest graphs they weave within
social networks serve as qualified information networks that can amplify information with
unprecedented speed, efficiency and personalization. It creates a human algorithm that brings to life
an awakening and revolutionary reality; we are now reaching an audience with an audience of
audiences. They’re no longer consumers, but stakeholders in the information economy.

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(cc) Brian Solis, - Twitter, @briansolis
Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. Solis is
globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published
authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and
influenced the effects of emerging media on business, marketing, publishing, and
culture. His current book, Engage, is regarded as the industry reference guide for
businesses to build and measure success in the social web.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
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