Personalised digital neighbourhoods

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
28 June, 2016
Editorial: 7
Fecha de publicación original: 20 febrero, 1996

Date of publication: 20/02/1996. Editorial 007.

Many drops make a shower

An aircraft carrier or a frigate. When we talk about Internet we talk about navigation, so choosing the ship in which we sail cyberspace is one of the decisions internauts face. At the moment, it is possible to travel the Net at the mercy of the elements or on board giant communication platforms –the aircraft carriers.

Electronic shipbuilders, however, have begun to design new, smaller, more manageable vessels, better suited to the needs of the users and much more appropriate for the guerilla warfare which obtaining digital information will become on the rough seas of cyberspace. The new craft is not in a hypothetical catalogue. Internet is growing at such a rate — and not just from the quantitative point of view so attractive to traditional marketing — that the vessels in vogue today become obsolete before the new day dawns.

As many critics point out, the Net is a hodgepodge of information. There is loads of it and available all at the same time. Cutting one’s way through the digital jungle and finding the bits one needs or wants quickly and simply is hard work. The task of discrimination is a tiring one and depends largely on the user (although every day new tools are being made available to help with this job). Compared with this crowded, noisy place, the big on-line communication platforms — the aircraft carriers– are an obvious option. Compuserve, American Online and its spin-offs sell well-structured, pre-packed, pre-digested service and communication areas. Millions of users confirm the validity of this model. Except that no sooner have their promoters begun to boast of their success than their messages start to get a little rusty.

In addition to growing ease of access to Internet and the abundance of information on offer, on-line communication platforms with a different approach are starting to appear. They are much more dynamic, flexible and above all based on the premise that users will enjoy total freedom to tailor their needs in the part of the Net they wish to navigate. So, alongside the aircraft carriers there are now frigates or, to be more precise, personalised digital neighbourhoods. In these, users can choose simply and easily whatever interests them, design their own navigational charts, combine their local and global interests and establish the kind of relationships which most please them with other internauts. In other words, they not only build their own digital neighbourhood but also populate it with the neighbours that they most like or interest them (if only we could do this in the real world!). This evolution is possibly one of the first mutations unique to the information society. As the supply of information and services is a key factor in this new society, this change poses a serious challenge to the way providers have traditionally operated until now. This applies above all to the traditional media who logically see the Net as the natural place to continue their present day activities. At first none of them will be able to satisfy all the information needs of the users. Thus the role of those who manage the digital neighbourhoods will become more and more important. To quote my friend Alfons Cornella, they will act as “re-sellers” of services or information brokers, intermediaries between the global information on offer and the specific needs of users.

As far as the traditional media are concerned, these changes also pose a cultural challenge of great magnitude. Anchored and tied down as they are to their ways of operating outside the Net, they will be confronted with a public whose daily habits are deeply altered and who have radically different access to information. What they have on offer will at the same time embody multi-media, mobility and be personalised and interactive. Personalised electronic newspapers will compete not only in adopting innovative technological solutions, but also in their dynamic and modular content, in their capacity to generate information pages demanded by the user from a diversity of sources which will combine different fields of cultural and territorial interests.

The changes which the world of on-line advertising is undergoing highlights the potential of these neighbourhoods. While traditional marketing departments continue to look for the signposts which will tell them whereabouts in the Net something similar to what they are used to seeing and touching in the real world happens, business is logically changing hands in a cyberspace made up of digital personalised neighbourhoods. The new brand of advertising finances neighbourhood activities that can then enjoy information free of charge whoever may supply it. So, who contracts this advertising? According to a study made by Forrester Research (October 1995, Wall Street Journal Europe 3/1/96) only 26% of advertisers in the World Wide Web used the services of traditional advertising companies. The rest had contracted new companies supplying on-line services which began operating two years ago. We can, therefore, speak of a new professional sector — the “netvertisers” — who are able to design ads. that take full advantage of interactivity and the multiplicity of new relationships forged by the Net and which, it goes without saying, the traditional advertising and marketing agencies are almost entirely ignorant of. “Netvertising” already operates to a large extent within the framework of the digital personalised neighbourhoods. Its market is growing daily. Up to June 1995, on-line publicity turn-over was not quite 33 million dollars in the US. This year it is estimated that the figure will be more than 70 million and will leap up to 2,500 million by the year 2000. But, as the saying goes “the market researcher proposes and Internet disposes”. Nobody would be surprised if these figures boomed this year as no-one really knows for sure how many personalised neighbourhoods will mushroom in the Net in the next few months and how quickly they will absorb resources. What we do know is that the consumers and the media will undergo an enormous upheaval in the short term, which many analysts do not hesitate to call a revolution.

Tranlation: Bridget King