The evolution of the Internet and digital interactive technologies is the story, ultimately, of personal empowerment. When historians look back on this age, they are bound to be struck not only by the incredibly rapid pace of innovation and adoption of the technology that binds us together and gives us access to mass amounts of data, but also by the way that our attitudes and behavior have shifted. We are in a place where the arcane is ordinary and the obscure accessible. The new site Qwiki is perhaps the single most remarkable example of the tools powering the ability to know, now: it is a site that can dynamically create multimedia presentations about an enormous number of topics from the War of 1812 to Lance Armstrong and beyond. Qwiki on the iPad feels like the future.
But we are also seeing an amazing blending of two formerly separate activities: knowing about something and sharing something. Increasingly, in a world where we are consistently connected to mass information and our network of contacts, we can expect that the time gap between these two activities is going to rapidly shrink down to nearly nothing. People know something and immediately share it with an audience hungry to hear their thoughts. I think we can just go ahead and call this new activity "knowsharing."
To fully understand this blending of activities, we can look at a topic that is inherently important and personal for most people: their own health. For the most part, health is a relatively obscure topic for people. While most certainly have a good sense of how they are feeling and if they are sick, people tend to become quickly overwhelmed when looking at the big picture of their health. There are obscure Latin phrases and complicated lists of specialists to wade through, plus legions of people offering advice that confound and contradict.
The Internet is a perfect solution for the personal problem of health care. Pew has recently published a study that dives deep into health information online and it reveals much of what we would already expect: 80 percent of Internet users have looked up something about their health online.
Interestingly, though, is that there are a lot of people who not only go online to read up on health issues and conditions, but actively seek out communities of people to help them understand and make decisions: 18 percent have looked for others with similar conditions; 16 percent have looked at online rankings of doctors; 23 percent have followed friends' health progress on social networks. In fact, Pew found that social actions have permeated health care, leading them to conclude that "I know and want to share my knowledge" is the "leading edge of health care."
The leading edge is: in an industry with constant experimentation, invention, and deep research, the single most important trend that will catalyze change is going to be the ability for people to quickly learn something and share it with others. This is a wave that is going to slowly sweep through every industry.
The Rules of Knowsharing
Like the Golden Poppies up and down the California coast, the Facebook "like" button (and its derivatives) has sprung up across the Internet. The presence of the "like" button is quickly becoming an expected part of reading, and it clearly signals the advance guard for a legion of knowsharing consumers. There are also similar buttons for Twitter and other networks and - of course - email. The ability to share content has now become the universal call to action attached to any article (not unlike this one).
This should lead us to start thinking more and more about how we can use content as a way to not only increase the reach of messages, but also to invite people into relationships and to drive traffic. I've been working with content as a source of traffic for a while now, and there appears to be a few new rules of knowsharing that we can begin to adopt:
Ultimately, knowsharing is not a new behavior. People have always wanted to pass along new news. But what has happened is that the time gap between knowing and sharing has shrunk considerably, and the volume of opportunities to knowshare has skyrocketed. That means that what was once a part of a long cycle has become an occurrence so frequent in people's lives that they hardly even think about it. By placing your messages in just the right spot and in the right way, you can capitalize on this behavior for your goals.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014