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When aeroplanes were first invented, pilots wore goggles, long scarves and heavy coats. They loved the feel of the wind rushing over their faces.
Today, if you fly across the Atlantic, you are inside a serene, user-friendly flying cinema and can forget you are travelling at all.
The sophistication of the technology means you can take the flying for granted. The internet is going through a similar evolution.
When it was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was a tool for technicians.
As it reached the zenith of the first stage of implementation, it was an exciting, wind-in-the-face novelty that was gradually starting to make inroads on consumers.
People buying things from internet websites appreciated its convenience but they were still very conscious of “using the internet”.
But the internet is heading beyond that first phase. We are now living in the world of Web 2.0. As with other technologies that are reaching maturity, we are starting to take it for granted.
People using Web 2.0 applications will be less aware they are on the internet because the internet has become part of their lives and they think about the application rather than the technology.
Of course, it is only possible for users to have this focus on the application when the technology is effective enough to support it.
We travel in flying cinemas because aircraft manufacturers have mastered the art of building large jets that are safe and comfortable.
Similarly, the Web 2.0 phase of the internet is possible because internet technology has developed to the point where broadband is widely and relatively inexpensively available, where customers are adept at getting online using desktop computers or – increasingly – via personal digital assistants, including wireless ones.
The Web 2.0 market is a fertile ground for entrepreneurs willing to use creativity and energy in developing applications that appeal to customers’ rapidly increasing passion for control, and mastery of everything the internet can offer.
Yes, many entrepreneurs have made fortunes from internet applications, but the new, mature Web 2.0 is not just about creating internet versions of businesses – such as Amazon, which is basically a bookshop on the internet – but about creating new applications for customers.
These should really exploit the latest developments in internet technology, to create what Richard Duvall, founder of Egg and Zopa, regards as the new era of individual power.
The point is this: the internet really has changed everything.
We are using it to manage our time, our communications, our assets and our relationships and to gain a level of mastery over our lives that would have been science fiction a decade or so ago. We are ruthlessly willing to cut out intermediaries or are learning to love new ones who really “get” what we want to do, be or have in our lives.
Web 2.0 is, in effect, our 1960s. It is the era of individual freedom, and an escape from the stranglehold of the establishment to empowerment of the individual.
Which companies epitomise this remarkable time of change? They include Google, Ebay/Skype, Mobile ATM, Zopa and Friends Reunited. But other exciting new companies will be famous soon, because the beauty of the internet is that it gives great ideas the opportunity to rise from obscurity to stardom with great speed.
What is the roadmap for the ideas and innovations that will shape the rest of this first decade of the 21st century?
There is so much going on today that making predictions beyond the end of this first decade may be unwise. Here are two key characteristics of the new era:
■Broadband is everywhere and more and more internet users are “always on”. People become emotionally wedded to their broadband access hardware. Note how much panic has been generated by the recent BlackBerry lawsuit.
■People are rapidly becoming more interested in generating their own content – their thoughts and opinions, for example – and publishing globally, than they are in respecting time-honoured journalism. Witness as examples of this: citizen journalism, the rise of the blog as a corporate tool and as the favourite “anti-boredom” weapon.
Interestingly, the large corporate players in the Web 2.0 world seem to be getting very good at being innovators themselves.
Perhaps the days when only small companies had the best new ideas are coming to an end. It is perfectly possible. Web 2.0 is creating a new universe for business and society, and the rules are undergoing a paradigm shift.
If you are not thinking about all these things, you can bet that someone in your industry is, and may soon be eating you for lunch.
Julie Meyer runs Ariadne Capital, a London-based investment and advisory company. www.ariadnecapital.com Tel. +44 (0)20 7653 0204.
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