The Watershed Moments That Pushed the Web Forward

What Will Be the Next One That Reshapes How We Use the Internet?

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Mat Zucker
Mat Zucker
I was meeting with a new client the other day and talking about watersheds in digital -- major events which helped, for example, create shifts like this: Brochureware ---> being useful ---> tools and apps ---> brand experiences ---> networked ecosystems ----> detachable, portable platforms.

It got me thinking about big unsung moments in the web. In 1997, for example, T. Rowe Price responded to the introduction of the Roth IRA by posting a calculator on its site to help compare tax savings with a Roth vs. a regular IRA. Millions rush to use the calculator, quickly copied by everyone, and it's how I believe tools became a big part of the web experience for brands.

Of course, as several colleagues reminded me today, there are many digital watersheds:

1980s-90s: Bob Greenberg of R/GA (my former boss) innovates the integrated digital studio, which changed how we all create work.

1994: Web browser wars begin.

2002: AT&T launches SMS voting for Fox's "American Idol" -- the first time most Americans use the text messaging feature built into their phones. This instantly helps mobile messaging take off (finally) in the U.S. It's a biggie.

2003: Search existed, but according to Jeremy Daly, our director of planning, "it was as exciting as the Yellow Pages. Google understood how people really want to find information -- and how companies and websites want to be found. They understood the best way to serve is to get out of the way as much as possible."

2004: The "Numa Numa" amateur video is shared globally, although Felix, another planner, chided me that "The Star Wars Kid" (2002) and "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" (2001) are examples of viral videos that predated "Numa Numa." "Numa Numa," though, shows how viral evolved to allow others to participate in more ways than just forwarding it. And, duh, it helped build YouTube.

2006: "LonelyGirl15" is the first interactive reality show, blurring the line between internet and television for entertainment delivery. The fact that it tricked people into believing the star character was a real video blogger gave hope to a generation that, indeed, anyone can be a celebrity.

Blogging software from Wordpress or Typepad or Blogger could also be added to this list since its simplicity and accessibility made it easy for us all to join in. Here's more moments.

The Next Watersheds: Predictions From Our Planners and Developers

Overlay your physical, visual sense with information from a network. This is "Matrix" meets "Minority Report." Rather than looking at my phone, I'm wearing sunglasses and there is a real-time stock feed, news feed and video playing on the inside of my sunglasses. As you walk around, you can see the public "tags" people have listed about themselves on their social-network pages.

The death of the corporate website. A controversial theory being bandied around (and hotly debated in our planning group) is that consumers no longer use corporate sites for product and service information and instead rely on blogs and forums and the like. Service sites, like online pizza ordering, banking services or customizing sneakers, are fine, but basic corporate brochureware -- gone. Extinction Level Event: A few CPG companies shifting their websites to mobile sites to be more convenient for retail.

Web2.0+Nettop One of our top developers, Won, sent me a case for the end of operating systems and utter reliance on just the network (plus maybe a browser) to get anything done. Network = Work. A few examples from one of things you can do directly from the network: The watershed? It's already happening: The $100 laptop.

Anybody else got any? Not just what's to come but what will be the watershed?
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