When Worlds Collide

A few events over the past week – both major and minor – have led me to one inescapable conclusion: the analog and the digital worlds are rapidly moving toward collision. And the fallout from this explosion is going to touch us all.

Lets look at the facts:

  1. AOL and Time Warner are merging. What needs to be said about this that the other pundits haven’t already covered? From columnists in the local rag to the online opinion leaders, everyone’s had a lot to opine about this mega-merger. One media company spanning all possible combinations of web, broadcast, music, and cable that has the potential to alter the worldwide media landscape the way that the joining of the railroads in the 19th century changed the way business worked in America. Is this good or bad? We’ll be sure to find out.

  2. Strategy Analytics finds that the mobile e-commerce market will top $200 million by 2004. As I’ve written previously, wireless is the next wave, though I gotta agree with IDC (see below) that 2000 may not be the year it hits big but rather the year a majority of leading edgers (you know who you are) start to get their feet wet. But, as with the web, once the geeks with influence lead, the rest of the market will follow. And mobile e-commerce might be the killer app that heads up the pack: anytime/anywhere price checks live on the web. All the bennies of e-shopping along with the reassurance of seeing the goods right in front of you.
  3. IDC predicts the death of dot-com as a sole strategy and predicts a big Net stock correction for 2000. Analyst Frank Gens and the rest of IDC have been on the money for a bunch of predictions so far: B2B dominance, the billion-user Internet (still on the way), cheap/free PCs, mainstreaming of the Internet economy… just to name a few. And they’re back with a list of predictions for the new century, not the least of which is the observation that web-only e-businesses will have to make inroads into the real world to survive. Tie that in with their observation that 2000 will see the stock market demanding profits and real-world biz practices out of the dot-coms, and I’ll bet you were in for some big-time reality checks.
  4. MP3.com debuts MyMP3 with Beam-It. Huh? How does this fit in with the biggies Ive listed above? Because it’s one of the best examples of how e-services of the future may be a lot heavier on the “reality” while still maintaining the benefits of the “virtual.” MyMP3.com lets you “register” the music CDs you own, checking them against a huge database of thousands of MP3’ed albums. If there’s a match, your CD is seemingly “uploaded” into your own private area, effectively allowing you to listen to any CD in your collection anywhere you’ve got web access. There are still a few bugs to be worked out (not enough CDs in the database… it found about 75 percent of my – admittedly, fairly obscure – collection, a few playback/compatibility problems, some hangups), but it’s a great example of how the web can be (and is rapidly becoming) a part of our daily lives beyond shopping and info-lookup.

If you put your noggin to it, I’m sure you’d be able to add a bunch more examples to my short list above… these are just the ones that have struck me since last week. And even though none of these are tremendous indicators in and of themselves, all of them do point toward a trend toward real convergence.

Interesting stuff always happens at borders. In the political world borders are where cultures clash, mix and become something that’s somehow representative of both sides. In the digital worlds, jumping the borders between mediums has resulted in some of the most interesting advances in user interfaces, sound design and graphic manipulation. Now, as the digital world becomes a greater force in our lives and the analog world starts to see the benefits of the digital, the economy and way of life that’s resulting from a combination of the two is where we’re going to see the most interesting change.

How so? Take shopping. A lot of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores have been getting into the web with varying degrees of success (have your kids gotten their Toys”R”Us presents yet?), but the new trend may be headed the other direction. IDC predicts that many e-commerce-only sites will start to establish physical locations and I agree. In fact, I’d say that the time’s ripe for cross-brand “web depots” where you can pick up your online orders. You place your order online, your order is consolidated with those placed by other folks in your area, and you receive an email to pick it up at the web depot when it arrives. Prices are held down due to consolidated shipping and you’ve got a physical place to go if you need to return it. Any takers?

And that’s just one possibility – there’s a lot more out there. The artificial barriers we’ve erected to separate The New Economy from The Old are sure to begin to crumble as more folks start to realize that it’s really just The Economy were talking about. Positioning ourselves now as marketers to assist the new companies in the analog space, and the old companies in the digital space, will mean being flexible in our approaches and looking for innovative solutions that combine the best of both worlds.

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