Sampling and Remixing: Life Beyond Surf-and-Search

My media consumption patterns have changed radically over the last two years. I used to come home from work and watch CNN while eating dinner or doing stuff around the house. Now, with the exception of two shows, my TV remains dark. Gone is the TV as background noise. Instead, music streamed through my Sonos player provides the background noise.

Up until last year, I subscribed to about 30 different magazines on such topics as design, business, and technology. I always had big stack next to my lounge chair at home and would bring a handful with me on trips to help reduce the stack. I don’t do that anymore. My subscriptions have all lapsed. I buy a few magazines at the airport, but I mostly skim through sites and blogs I’ve bookmarked.

Not only has my media consumption changed, but so has the way I use the Internet. I’m not alone, either, and it’s worth exploring how Internet behavior has evolved well beyond the surf-and-search paradigm of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Let’s recap surfing and searching first:

  1. Surfing. In the late ’90s, before search was the Web’s entry point, I went to topical sites and hunted around, with uneven success. I depended on what I already knew or had read. Content was relatively limited, and only sites with a strong brand (or that I’d bookmarked) kept my interest.

  2. Searching. By about 2002, search had matured and became my entry point to the Web. Now, it’s the number two Web activity. Nearly as many people regularly search as use email. And it continues to grow in popularity. Search increased 55 percent this year, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project and comScore.

What’s changed? I now use the Internet in a totally different way. I’m surfing again but differently than before. Rather than return to bookmarked sites, I hunt for new links. As I checked out my bookmark file in preparing for this column, I was startled to see how many links I’d saved in the past six months and how I had created a rich directory structure. I have about six times more links now than at the beginning of the year. Many were found on blogs or on more vertically oriented sites. I still use search for specific tasks but am more likely to look in my bookmark file first.

There’s been a lot of talked about folksonomies (define), or tagged collections of information that evolve over time as people build searchable structures of information. There’s NewsMastering, when enthusiasts collect information and communities begin to organize around these topics. And I’ve blogged about Del.icio.us, which is a great place to keep your bookmarks and share them with others.

More than ever, we’re sharing our experience with others — on our blogs, through shared links, via email. Sure, search is huge. But we are going back to the future: to communities, to sharing, to the very behavior that helped make the Internet what it is today.

Next time, I’ll talk more about what this means to marketers. Consider this in the meantime: Teens and young adults — the most coveted demographic for most consumer brands — are connecting with content through their communities. According to Pew, 57 percent of teen Internet users create, remix, or share content online, and 20 percent have their own blog. Really look at young Internet users’ home pages or blogs, and you’ll see they’re naturally finding like-minded people and creating personal Webs of links on specific topics.

I don’t have the data, but I’d bet they don’t use search as often as they leap from blog to enthusiast sites to community sites and beyond while they research or socialize.

Reaching these people just got a lot harder. Marketers have to reach well beyond search. We’re at the beginning of this new wave, particularly when considering this trend in the context of multiple media (podcasting, online video, etc.). I’m still formulating ideas about this and collecting input. Send me your thoughts, and we can figure this new world out together.

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