Future of the Internet: Networked or Shallow?

Dolphin Tale Wave

SxSW starts next weekend, and the whole sector will be focused on the immediate future of the Internet. It seems fitting that the fifth “Future of the Internet” survey was released last week by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. More than 1,000 people participated in the study, including me.

From the report’s executive summary: “Technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split as to whether the younger generation’s always-on connection to people and information will turn out to be a net positive or a net negative by 2020. They said many of the young people growing up hyperconnected to each other and the mobile Web and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do well in key respects.

“At the same time, these experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience. A number of the survey respondents argued that it is vital to reform education and emphasize digital literacy. A notable number expressed concerns that trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information, and some mentioned George Orwell’s 1984 or expressed their fears of control by powerful interests in an age of entertaining distractions.”

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Five Forms of Mobile Media

Google and the Nexus S
Image by Paul Swansen

Watching App Savvy Author (and personal friend) Ken Yarmosh speak, clarity in mobile communications becomes clear. He helps you see the primary communications forms on the medium clearly and concisely. Specifically, Ken talks about the three primary communication methods via mobile web development. There are additional tools that provide communications on top of the big three, similar to social networks that function within the larger world wide web.

From a communicators perspective, there are several ways to approach stakeholders on mobile media. Here are the five forms that most marketers use or experiment with today.

Primary Communication Methods

1) Short Messaging Service (SMS): Second generation or 2G digital cellular networks (PCS) enabled SMS, which was the death of pagers in the 90s. Twenty years later the technology is still going strong. Today, as a communication method, people love texting each other! Texting is also the primary form of donations on mobile platforms (thanks to Apple’s Machiavellian attitude about mobile app donations). Marketing via text message is not the easiest activity. People view their mobile numbers as more private than email, but if you can garner permission, this can be a powerful contact method.

2) Native Mobile Web Use: Once the domain of such protocols as the Wireless Access Protocol, native web use is still the most dominant form of mobile Internet media. HTML 5 and easy plug-ins like WPTouch make for highly accessible mobile media. Recent Pew studies show that of the 47% of Americans who read news on their mobile phones, only one in ten use apps. Another neat statistic, 40% of all Google Maps page views occur on mobile phones. Long live the mobile page view.

3) Applications: iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows… You name the OS, it’s hard to imagine that an application hasn’t been developed yet. Plus there is the whole tablet market. As Ken informed me, the applications marketplace is not the same as the smartphone market. iPhone applications are still very dominant with Android applications lagging behind in adoption rates. We’ll see if that changes with continued market domination by Android. From there, you move towards Blackberry and then MAYBE Windows 7.

This is a great way to offer a unique user experience, but please make sure it actually serves stakeholders. Marketing centric applications rarely take off. Also, it’s important to note that each application has its own development costs. Converting from iPhone to Android to Blackberry also requires separate development costs for program language coding.

Another Layer

4) Geolocation Applications: Taking advantage of the GPS enabled smartphones, geolocation networks have been the holy grail for many networks. Whether its review services like Yelp or the big geosocial plays like Gowalla, place and data are the big connections points. Coupons, gamification and integrated social networking posting have been the primary activities to date. Widespread hype has not led to mass market adoption.

5) Mobile Social: While some of the geolocation networks are social, their interactions have been primary transactional in nature. Great social networks empower relationships between people, and mobile is no different. New group texting applications like Group.Me and traditional social networks like Twitter and Facebook with their mobile applications are the leaders here. Communicating in these applications is primarily limited to participation, and posting content and outband native web links. Increasing social function in geolocation networks may become a force to be reckoned with here.

Which forms of mobile media do you like, and why?

The Gamification of Online Communities

[Online] Golfstar, game update
Image by com2us

The online gaming industry has experienced tremendous success, currently estimated at $10.5 billion by the entertainment software industry. This incredible market share of consumer interest and revenue and runaway hits like Zenga’s Farmville have caused gaming best practices to spread to the larger web, and in particular online communities. Online content and community creators have noticed, and are seeking to gamify their efforts.

This process consists of integrating game components like badges, leaderboards, levels of difficulty, etc. into online communities, web site functions, and other aspects of non-game activity online. By gamifying online properties, organizations like the Huffington Post seek to offer some of the fun, challenging passion that online entertainment brings, and in turn, make their sites more compelling.

Gamifying boosts on site minutes, increases strength of community, and inspires more tangible outcomes. With intelligent calls to actions weaved into game elements, organizations can deliver more return on investment as well as strengthen loyalty. This can range from sales to bettering professional education programs.


Two of 2010’s more compelling social web stories used gamification to strengthen their offering. Social fundraising hit Crowdrise has a leaderboard, contests, and point tabulations in addition to really funny copywriting on its site. The goal: Encourage more charitable acts. Influencer metric Klout uses gamification to make its badges and classification more fun, and encourage individuals to engage in better participatory tactics online.

Consider how the USA Network added gamification to its Psych TV network online. By adding game-like rewards to the program, NBCUniversal generated a 130 percent increase in page views for the network’s Psych show and a 40 percent increase in return visits.

Adam Singer recently wrote a great post about the need to balance social, email and SEO in a digital marketing program. Increasingly, bringing balance to a healthy online marketing program includes adding game elements to the mix.

Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, ” offered some advice to organizations considering adding game techniques at the Gamification Summit. She said, “If you’re trying to gamify something, you should be looking to turn [stakeholders] into super empowered helpful users. That’s what we become when we play a good game.”

Gamification is not easy, and requires knowledge of processes, research and best practices. There is a new boutique industry arising that serves organizations who want to add gamification elements and even games themselves to their online mix. For example, companies like Badgeville and Gamify can add game mechanics to a community.

Expect the continued trickle down effect of game elements into general online communications, and increased interest from online communicators about how to incorporate games and game technique into their repertoire. What do you think of gamification in online communities? Are you adding game elements to your online mix?