When the web got started, no one imagined how much it would change the music, video, travel and news industries. Originally “protected” by production processes that “physically” guaranteed copyright (CDs, DVDs, newspapers), or because they once profited from access to exclusive information (like travel agents), these industries were destabilized by the web’s ability to push historical boundaries.
Up until now, digital has basically provoked two types of rupture: dematerialization and disintermediation. Most affected were the industries whose value can now be reproduced ad infinitum by content digitalization, such as cultural industries, television and databases of all kinds (like encyclopaedias).
Then came disintermediation. Instead of depending on a mediator to decide what would please the end user (record labels, editors, travel agents), the inventor or the content producer went directly to the public, depriving the intermediary industry of their raw material to sell.
Recently, the digital landscape has generated two new models that savvy brands would be smart to analyze, and even adopt, if they don’t want to be hurt. Unsurprisingly, the consumer holds the cards in both cases.
1. The Crowdsourcing Model
Out of nowhere, new competitors are popping up and striking with an instant, unpredictable force that is often free and appealing to millions of online users. For example, hotels are starting to seriously feel the heat from what they consider to be underhanded competitors, like AirBnB. Bed and breakfasts are nothing new, but unlike hotels, they don’t show up in accommodation databases and are often not considered as viable accommodation options by many travellers. However, professional snapshots, a social evaluation tool for hosts and guests, and an efficient management system for hosts-in-training have turned this around, allowing this sector to pierce the hotel industry model. Likewise, another model with all the trimmings of a traditional travel agency that’s shaking up its online counterparts is Flightfox, a site where real people search for the best travel prices. Business travellers and budget-conscious vacationers alike enjoy better advice from a human than data from search engine robots.
2. The DIY Model
There are more and more ways for people to create something personalized to their needs. We are entering the era of “professional” arts and crafts as digital methods open up numerous ways for people to take charge. We don’t think about it anymore, but 30 years ago, the idea of printing a newspaper ourselves was absolutely ridiculous, or, at any rate, required equipment that wasn’t readily available to the masses.
In his book, Makers, visionary Chris Anderson predicts a democratization of 3D printers, allowing for DIY design and production of objects. This could still seem a bit far-fetched to the general public, but he cites an extremely concrete example of dentists who use such equipment to “print” models of false teeth that they require, without having to use an outside supplier. Nothing hinders the excitement of our ability to potentially concoct our own objects, based on our ideas or open-source models. If you’ve never seen a 3D printer in action, click here.
Faced with these new risks, the temptation may be strong to do anything and everything – both practically and legally – to stop those who are stealing your business. Even if that works in the short term, it’s not an effective long-term strategy. All the signals are pointing towards starting to strategically develop new opportunities for your brand and products. It’s better to lend your consumers a hand and to stay in the game, rather than to let them resort to piracy or, even worse, bypass you for another, more open brand. Launch idea and design contests, like Heineken or GE, create APIs that provide access to your products, like LG or Edmunds. If possible, publish some of your models, like sewing patterns that have been around forever. After all, it’s better to be copied than forgotten.
And if you are still not convinced, did you know the Aston Martin destroyed in the last James Bond film was a printed 3D model?
When Steve Jobs and Bill Gates introduced the world to personal computers at the end of the 70s, they were like nothing we’d seen before. These new machines were capable of all sorts of things: word processing, spreadsheets, a bit of database management and bringing games to our fingertips (basic, but still better than Pong). About fifteen years ago, presentation software (Powerpoint) followed by the Internet and email programs took desktop computing up a notch. Fast-forward to today, where we still use computers for word processing, spreadsheets, database management, games, Internet access and email – even though the computer hardware (faster processors, HD graphics) has become so advanced.
What has changed the most over the years is our computer usage behaviour; the implications of this have the potential to bring desktop computing to an end all together. It’s no secret that gaming is a lot more exciting on a console than on a computer, just as sending emails and checking Facebook is more fun on an iPad and banking via BlackBerry is more convenient. With smartphones, the latest array of Smart TVs, and all the other increasingly intelligent connected devices, everything is much easier. As a result, the computer is becoming obsolete because it no longer has its own single use.
You use your telephone to call people and you use your TV to watch shows, but what do you use your computer for? Lots of things, including making calls and watching TV, but nothing in particular. The computer as we know it will disappear because it is essentially everywhere, permeating across all products and services. Why use your computer to search for a recipe on the Internet when it shows up on your oven window? Chris Anderson’s theory that the web is dead could very well extend to computers, for the same reasons that information is everywhere, and more conveniently accessed elsewhere.
The only place where the desktop computer – complete with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard – will continue to exist is at the office. Why? Because it’s the only place where its specific functions (as a super calculator and a super word processor) are still needed. When you think about it, it’s a pretty sad homecoming for an object that has changed the lives of two generations and opened the door to the new digital world.
Read more from Jean Pascal at A Nos Vies Numériques.