Monday, April 17, 2006

Power to the People

APRIL 17, 2006
Web Services
By Steve Rosenbush

Power to the People
New Web services are undermining the status quo -- not only in entertainment but for office tasks as well. The Establishment better watch out

(...)That's just one of many "damn cool" services that are sprouting up all over the Internet. Web sites have become simpler and more powerful while putting more control in the hands of the individual. "The number of new tools and applications on the Web is growing fast," says Jeff Lanctot, vice-president and general manager of Avenue A Razorfish, an interactive ad agency owned by aQuantive (AQNT).

MY NEWS, MY WAY. Regular people are using these tools to make their voices heard, upsetting the balance of power in industries from software to entertainment. Consumers can tap into the expanding universe of blogs and social networking sites to provide constant and sometimes unwanted feedback on products and services, creating a challenge for companies that carefully defend their brand (see BW Online, 11/15/05, "Users Crowd into MySpace").

The combination of powerful new Web tools and the always-on communications ability of blogs is upending the old order in many industries. Journalism, for example, faces a huge online challenge, and not just from bloggers.

Readers can use sites like Newsvine and Digg to comment on stories and simply vote for which they think is most interesting. That creates a potentially threatening grassroots alternative to professional news judgment. With these new services, readers are able customize their news reports.

(...)Many of the new Web services are linked to the growing popularity of video on the Web. VideoEgg gives people the ability to take homemade videos from all sorts of different devices and edit, store, and share them on the Web.

That used to be a difficult task, requiring a fairly advanced knowledge of rival technical standards. But VideoEgg, launched last year by three recent grads from Yale, works in the background to help devices communicate, so that users don't have to worry about the technical details. YouTube has grabbed an early lead in the increasingly important area of video search. And Veoh is an entirely Web-based TV network with a broad range of shows from cult classics to politics.

The latest generation of Web tools isn't limited to entertainment, though. Other seemingly mundane tasks such as word processing and contact management have been reinvigorated on the Web. Writely provides a free online word processor, 30 Boxes is a free online calendar, and Box is a free online document-storage site.

If these features become widely adopted, the implications could be huge. Manufacturers of expensive hardware and desktop software could suddenly find themselves on the wrong end of technological disruption. The only sure winner would be the individual, who would benefit from these powerful and free Web tools.

(...)The Web's first big boom was all about communications and efficiency, and moving industries online. The latest boom is putting more power in the hands of the individual. As those individuals come together in ever-expanding communities, they have the potential to be the most productive, or disruptive, force the Web has seen to date.

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