We all got really thrown into the mix when the internet was introduced in 1983. At a time when cars were mechanical instead of computerized and typing was done in a typewriter instead of on your phone!” It was during College when I discovered the Internet for the first time: we exchanged a picture with a group of students in a campus from the other part of the country. The picture opened very slowly but I was hooked. The Internet had changed my life and it became my passion.
We did not know it then how massive the change would be, and how computers, websites and social media have changed and continue transforming our world at an accelerated pace. They have changed the way we do business, how we communicate with each other, they have made people rich and made people poor. They have simplified or eliminated tasks from mathematics to middlemen. But most importantly, they've bankrupted businesses who have refused to adapt and embrace these new technologies. It is estimated that half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Recession in the US were related to skill obsolescence.
In 2011 a McKinsey study found that Internet-related consumption and expenditure was already bigger than agriculture or energy. On average the Internet contributed 3.8 percent to GDP in industrialized nations and 10% of their growth. Small and medium sized businesses with a strong online presence grew twice as quickly as those with minimal presence; and that companies who took advantage of the internet reported profits almost twice as large.
The world does not stand still. It continually evolves, with or without us. So here is the question: How can we keep up with the change that is affecting our lives and businesses and take advantage of the opportunities in the new Digital Economy? A good starting point is to identify these opportunities and understand the main components that make up the fabric of the Internet as we perceive it in our day to day living. In order of relevance these components are Websites, Social Media and Computers.
WEBSITES AND APPS
Websites and applications are the closest to us in terms of interaction. They are our window to communicate with the Digital world. An application is similar to a website except that it performs a concrete function other than to provide information such as a game, a calculator, a music player, etc.
Websites and applications allow us to find out what is going on in the world, and in our neighborhood, to read the news, to search the internet for new restaurants, to shop and to entertain ourselves. They now live in the palm of our hand through our smartphone and on the TV screen and computer screen.
Websites and applications also allow us to interact directly with the internet and other people using it. By having our own website, participating in social networks, blogs or comments; they allow us to have an online persona. A username, a profile that we can use to present ourselves in our digital form.
2 billion people are connected to the internet today and this number grows by 200 million every year. In January of 2014 there were over 180,000,000 websites. When the internet begun, websites were a novelty, now they are a necessity.
Websites live on the Internet and have a physical address. This address is called a URL (uniform resource locator). It is the WWW NAME DOT COM. They are hosted on a server and pay rent just like a brick and mortar business.
Think about websites as your brick and mortar store or office. In the Digital Economy they are the foundation for your business or personal online presence and visibility. You website is a living and talking business card that tells people who you are and what your business does. Nowadays everything your business does on and offline connects back to its website.
There are currently endless opportunities online and most of them have have to do with seeing the world through a simpler more immediate end result lens. Here is the story of Harry’s a startup launched by Jeffrey Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield that began when Katz-Mayfeld asked Raider if he could improve on the experience of buying razors and shaving cream at a store.
After putting together the business plan the pair searched high and low for a manufacturer who would work with them on producing razors. That is when they came across Feintechnik, a German razor manufacturer founded in 1920.
In late 2011, Raider pitched his investors that they should buy the factory. "They asked how much it would cost. We said $100 million. They said, 'Okay, why don't you go build your brand first?'"
For the next year, Raider and Katz-Mayfield focused on building up the company, raised a seed round of "a few million dollars" and officially launched Harry's in early 2013. In its first nine months, Harry's sold "well over" 100,000 shaving kits — a razor, shaving cream and set of blades — and opened up a barbershop location in New York.
A little more than a year after that first conversation with investors, the founders finally got their wish. Harry's announced in January that it raised $122.5 million from investors in equity and debt, and used $100 million of that capital to purchase the German manufacturer. To put that another way, a 10-month-old startup just purchased a 93-year-old business for $100 million.
Now what does that have to do with us? Well it shows that a little dedication, smart investment and faith on the internet can yield high and quick returns. Harry’s story is based in understanding the medium, knowing how, where and when to strike with the right product mix and the right branding and image.
It didn’t matter to them that Gillette had the market cornered for decades. People like Harry’s and the Dollar Shave Club before them found how to make it easy and affordable for customers to purchase their razor blades.
But what about Social Media Websites?
Well, the reality of the whole fabric of the internet is social and it is becoming more interconnected. There are many popular platforms for Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Yelp, and many other sites such as Reddit and others.
And there are many other sites that are powered by Social Media like the microlending site Kiva, which allows individuals to lend money to other individuals or organizations; the Kahn Academy, a university that is free to everyone; Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia; and many others, even the website for the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills’s is a collaborative and social effort.
The penetration of social media in the US is almost at 80%. This means almost 80% of internet users actively post or maintain a profile in one or more social media sites. And how much time do people spend in social media sites? A lot.
Social media sites keep growing. We use social media to connect with friends, family, the brands and products we love and to keep up with the latest gossip, news, research and information. We use social media to express and share our opinions and even the breakfast we just had.
Let’s briefly talk about the 3 most important social media networks and their differences:
Facebook: Facebook is now an accepted means of communication. A never ending virtual gathering filled with puppies and kittens, baby announcements, interesting news, events, groups and brands. Facebook is the most widely used social network today. People use Facebook to keep in touch with their friends and loved ones but also with the artists, brands and businesses they care about and as people share information about themselves and the things they like their profile becomes a window to who they are.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the second most popular social media and networking site. People mostly use it to stay connected with their professional network, know where past colleagues and peers are, and to research and find employment or employees. LinkedIn offers phenomenal search tools that let you drill down by multiple factors. You can search for people or companies by location, field of expertise, skill level, and even keep the search to people within your network or who are only one degree removed.
Twitter: with over 200 million active users, Twitter is great for finding interesting people, experts in their topic, breaking news and information, tracking trends through hashtags, contacting companies for customer service, following celebrities and news writers, and expressing yourself in less than 140 characters.
Now why is social media important? Well because it provides an amazing breadth and depth of data about user behavior. What people like when they like it, where they like it, how much and how, along a with very specific set of demographics. It is really a treasure trove of information.
In fact on the internet you will know exactly how many people visited a website, where they came from, what they saw, if they made a purchase or not. This is what we call digital intelligence.
Now consider Waze, a mobile navigation system. Waze is a social media application that helps you to get from point A to point Z by leveraging the power of information. Once you tell Waze where you are going it will calculate the shortest route to the destination, but not only that: Waze relies on its network of users, like yourself, who report traffic conditions in real time. Waze will alert you immediately about road hazards, high traffic pockets, hidden police, and other road relevant information. A point system keeps things in check and other drivers reward or ignore your advice. And here is something amazing: Waze learns the routes of local drivers who frequently travel the same road from their home to their work and provides these routes as preference for drivers new to the area.
Computers have become smaller and smaller exponentially transforming the way we interact with our environment. We find computers now in almost everything electronic and the trend continues where computers will begin to manage more and more devices around us.
From our laptops to the phone, our cars, equipment, etc. Computers are becoming smarter and more connected to the internet through applications and the web. There are many great examples of the inroad that computers are making in our everyday lives. The cell phone is not the only one.
Robotics is at the center of the computer stage with Google again owning more than its share of robotic companies in the US. In the past two months, eight of the 12 companies the search giant has acquired have "robotics" in their name or descriptions including companies working in artificial intelligence. Realistically we could be seeing androids in 10 or 20 years performing simple tasks all around us.
The Google Driverless car is also on the road pushing legislation that may allow you to buy one soon. This car relies on a computer rather than on the owner to do the driving. You get in the car tell it where you want to go and it will take you!
Virtual reality is also becoming possible with wearables like Google Glass which provide an added layer of information to its user. Glass is a practical wearable technology that basically fits a computer next to your eye with which lets you browse the internet, watch videos, take pictures, send emails and text messages and make phone calls.
Other wearable reality platforms are enabling gamers to have veritable immersive experiences through devices like Oculus Rift, which wants to revolutionize the way people experience interactive content.
And the promise of nanomedicine is also close at hand with tiny robots that physicians could be sending into our bodies to diagnose and cure disease. This is a very real possibility that could begin as soon as 2035. Scientists are now ready to be begin clinical trials with nanosponges that can soak up toxins in the bloodstream.
All of these are important technologies that will transform us, but let’s look at others that are already available.
Consider the new Nest Thermostat. It’s a computer that replaces your digital or mechanical thermostat. It learns your schedule, programs itself and can be controlled from your phone. Nest claims it can lower your heating and cooling bills up to 20%. This is the first “appliance” like device in the road of home automation.
Or mobile applications like proximity technology that is easy and convenient to deploy such as iBeam that is enabling businesses to, with the previous permission of the customer, communicate with them as they come near or visit their locale to send them offers or special invitations.
Or geofencing mobile applications that will delimit a geographic area and by pinpointing your location will send you news about the neighborhood you are visiting such as restaurant reviews, historical landmarks, and more. We already have geofencing applications for our phones and we have one for Glass.
Mobile payments are also a reality through services like Google Wallet, available on certain phones, or ISIS Mobile Wallet a joint venture of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile venture backed by Wells Fargo and American Express that allows users to “Tap to Pay” collecting customer information and providing special offers and discounts to customers.
So now we have gotten a glimpse to how the internet has changed the way we work, shop, search for information, communicate and meet people. In fact during the first 15 years the Internet created, in real GDP per capita, approximately more value than it took the industrial revolution in the 19th century 50 years to achieve.
So how can you or your business take advantage of the online opportunity?
1. First build and keep fresh a powerful, content driven website that reflects your business offering and branding, conveys its philosophy and know how in a simple easy to use way.
2. Promote your business using the latest techniques in digital advertising such as ethical SEO, SEM and Social Media.
3. Get involved in technological change and adopt the technology that becomes available: computers and applications.
I invite all of you to do your part in getting involved whether it is by joining a social network such as Twitter or Google+, connecting with peers and topic experts to become your own news editor; utilize search engine and digital marketing and to purchase and seek out the latest gadgets for yourself, your home and/or office such as an Android device, a Nest Thermostat; to use online applications such as Yelp, Waze or order your razors from HARRY’S or the Dollar Shave Club.
And most importantly, don’t be afraid. Just like we were able to overcome the “rise of the machine” during the Industrial Revolution so will we do the same during the “rise of the computer”.