A digital representation of your non-digital life

peopleincafe.jpgI’ve been toying for a while about what I actually think Web2.0 and all that marketing nonsense actually means and how it affects people, and given the job I do, how it affects business, and how it can be used by business.

My reaction has always been that “web2.0″ is a marketing phrase that clouds the fact that “web2.0″ is just exactly what the web should have always been – socially inclusive, driving collective opinion with a 2-way dialog between website and webuser, and then between webuser and webuser. To my mind, this is what drove the development of the web forward, until brand managers got hold of it and created brochure-ware hideousness.

However, the development of new technologies over the last couple of years has really enabled the web to fulfill these goals in a large-scale way for the first time. Usenet might have been around for years, but there was still always a barrier to entry for the average person on the street (“whats a modem?”). And therefore, perhaps the advent of new technologies has changed the way we use the web, and the way brands and businesses should use the web.

I’ve started summing this up with the phrase “a digital representation of your non-digital life” – to me, this is an ethos where web sites, applications and other digital technology is being used to create human situations; taking digital and modeling it around human interaction. The reason I like Facebook is that its like having constant really short conversations with all your friends at once – you feel up to date with their lives, and can sit there and procrastinate together – its like the ultimate pub conversation. Second Life, and other virtual worlds, are very literal interpretations of this idea, and of course, blogs (some would say in their very worst form) are your diaries and notes that you’ve always wanted the world to see.

For brands and business to use this successfully then, I think there are 3 elements that they need to consider:

1) Themselves. Are they willing to be open, honest and inclusive? Do they want to build an even relationship with the consumer? Will they listen to what the consumer has to say, without censoring them? It won’t work if they won’t take this step.

2) The Product or service and its audience. Do they have something that is of interest to people? Will people want to talk about it? Is there an angle to take to encourage people to debate and discuss it. Is there an audience here in the first place?

3) The technology to enable it. What best suits them and their audience.

The key thing is to create something your audience actually wants, to give something out to get something in return. The Cluetrain Manifesto guys got this a long time ago, but maybe now the rest of the population has caught up.