Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Stories from TRAVELtech: contemplating the parallel inter-verse

I was at TRAVELtech last week wondering if there is a parallel universe on the internet (inter-verse) that I am not part of. In the Internet that I live in the following rules apply:
  • Search: Not all my searches start on Google;
  • Starting: Portals are not a starting point but might be a destination (ie Yahoo Finance);
  • Creating: I am creating more and more content very day – but writing less and less on my blog;
  • Reading: Newspaper sites are fading from view in favour of RSS and news aggregators; and
  • Accessing: I am accessing the internet all over place – via my computer, my Apple TV, my Xbox, my blackberry and more.

Three presentations at TRAVELtech reminded me that many people online who do not adhere to these rules and therefore exist in a parallel inter-verse:

  • Mark Higginson of Neilsen Online reminded me that a third of Internet users do not use social networks. For these users (and there are a lot of them) the Internet is not a place for inspiration or interaction. It is a functional place. A place to consume content, check details and make purchases. A place to do things and find things out, not to engage, share and...well... just hang out;
  • Rohan Lund of Yahoo!7 says that Yahoo! is continuing to expand world-wide as a place for people to start on the Internet. That the portal is still as strong and steady starting point on the Internet for hundreds of millions of users; and
  • Warren Livingstone (founder of the Fanatics) proved that the secret to community was tents more than tweets. That communities did not need social media that much to grow and foster.

The obvious question upon re-discovering the parallel inter-verse is whether or not it is a place in itself or is it just a staging area. Is it a place where newer users start their internet experience – only to soon progress to the "real" Internet or do these users stay in the functional and controlled parallel inter-verse that is about more than outcomes that experience?

The reason why this is important to think about is that if the parallel inter-verse is a permanent place rather than a staging area then online travel companies need to plan for a different future. I keep talking about a future for online travel around moving from transaction engines to recommendation engines. Around helping consumers move from answering closed questions ("how much for a hotel in Melbourne?") to open ones ("where do I go next?"). A future where some combination of the tastegraph and sociograph combine to make online social interaction as (if not more) rewarding than off. If the functionally focused parallel inter-verse is a permanent place then there is more than one future. A long term functional internet means product people spending time on retail efficiency and on site content products rather than recommendations and syndication. It means more off-line marketing and brand based marketing. It will mean more in website design and less in apps, social media and under the hood data work. My guess is the parallel inter-verse is temporary. That functional only internet use will fade away to be replaced by rules like my rules. What do you think? Is there a parallel inter-verse (or I am making stuff up) and do we have to rewrite the future of the online travel business to take account?

BTW - thanks to Brianam on Flickr for the photo. The context behind the sign (which he says is real) is that Universe St was closed and traffic was being diverted to Rainbow st.


World Nomad said...

Great post Tim. Yes, there is definitely a parallel interceded: my online behavior mirrors yours ... But we see this parallel behavior from our own users where only 58% have a facebook account for example.

Martin said...

Tim, I disagree with your "guess that the parallel inter-verse is temporary. That functional only internet use will fade away". This assumes we all have the same needs, practical and emotional. Never has been the case, never will be. People are different. They do different things at different stages of their lives. Catch up with friends when single, bunker down with the family when married. Internet usage patterns will mirror this, even when today's 12 year olds start having kids. Also, social media for many users is actually practical media, supplanting phone calls and emails to organise assignations - meet you at the pub etc. The fact is young people will always have more time to waste, middle-aged people have none to spare, while older folk will act young all over again...

Tim Hughes said...

@martin - I think you may be right