Just How Large Is The Business World’s Digital Divide?

image credit:  pbo 31 via flickr

I’ve been traveling this past week – and Thursday morning as I stepped out of my hotel room for a series of meetings, I noticed a usual sight: a copy of USA Today sitting at the steps of my door.

And, my usual response was to pull it inside my room and set it aside where it remained, unopened and unread. Perhaps a better idea would be to bring it downstairs and ask them kindly to save the energy and paper and not deliver my news in this arcane format.

As I have said before, the whole idea of someone bringing you news as words printed on paper with ink in the digital age is a quaint and archaic notion.  It is wasteful, harmful to the environment and pretty much irrelevant.

I enjoyed my breakfast while reading RSS feeds through my iPhone – where I am receiving exactly the information I want without ads that are of no meaning to me and without articles that don’t pertain to my world or industry.  There is only a fleeting amount of time (the most precious resource) daily, and there is no reason to waste it reading something that was designed for a previous era.  The one-size-fits-all, shotgun approach is over.  Let the age of customization begin.

Customization of news is so much more efficient I do not understand how anyone can read a printed newspaper any longer.  Everyone reading this through RSS is well aware this is the future.

Okay – I have ranted about the continued existence of printed newspapers enough here, so I’ll spare you more words on it, you know how I feel.

This brings us to what I’d like to talk about – the digital divide.

I am starting to think it is even larger than I initially thought, and it is not purely a divide between young and old. There are plenty of people my own age (25) or younger that are at the same level (perhaps even further behind) than those twice their age.  In fact, age has nothing to do with this, there are many high level and highly influential bloggers/social media power users that span demographics.

The divide exists between those who have dove in and actively use the innovative tools of communication that have changed our world forever, and those who have not.  I’m not talking about people who merely use social networks for personal use.  I am talking about those who know how to bend the network to their advantage, follow the undercurrents of the social web and have a deep understanding of the space.  I’ve linked here before, but if you haven’t read it, read this now:  programming is the new literacy.

Change, adaptation and staying at the edge are necessary to stay relevant

My friend Gaston Mendez, CEO of Xpander Communications and I had a good discussion about this and he put it pretty succinctly: “People being afraid of change? That’s how the world works.”

And, he’s right.  The new version of Facebook is far superior in many ways, yet millions of users were vocal in their opposition to the new format.

The designers behind the site clearly have a keen vision for aesthetics and the company has thought out all of the usability issues deeply.  They are highly-skilled in their craft and understand how to make the most efficient product for their users. Yet, people complain because they are afraid of change and the unknown. It paralyzes them.

This is what has happened around blogs and new media. They are hardly new, however many professionals still have not taken the time to learn about what they mean for their specific industry and how they have changed the world we live in forever.

I can’t believe I’m spending more words on this, but it is still a big issue.  Many continue to push “business as usual” and doing what they always did without considering the shifts.  I can only speak for my specific industry on this, however, I’d like to hear what has happened in your industry in the comments.

Some ways marketers/PR people are lagging behind:

  • Still using E-newsletters and not blogs to present content (Why not both, if you can’t give up the e-newsletter?  It is no addition work to give huge added value for your content)
  • Still designing websites in all flash/video, not considering usability, SEO or building sustainable traffic
  • Still presenting complex PowerPoints with slides that look like reading tests and end up communicating nothing instead of simplifying their messages (I will touch more on this in a future post)
  • Still blasting out press releases designed for traditional media to bloggers
  • Still trying to apply mass-marketing techniques to the social web
  • Still thinking the TV-to-consumer model is not forever broken
  • Still thinking that banner ads are a good way to spend a huge sum of money online
  • Still using push marketing online instead of pull
  • Still using trite, cliched adver-games that are a massive waste of resources to develop
  • Still not thinking through what a website’s function should be, and just throwing something together
  • Still not taking advantage of incredibly flexible tools, like RSS
  • Still not jumping into global the conversation in a way that makes sense while competitors continue to broaden their presence there (and have been for years)

I could go on here, but I’ll spare you.

The changing media landscape

image credit:  will lion via flickr

The shift in our world is towards 2-way dialogue, conversations, niche media, customization and community. The shift is away from broadcast,monolithic media, print, and one-size fits all approach. That print copy of USA Today being left outside every room of a massive hotel with hundreds of rooms will soon be a relic.

From a keynote speech on Saturday, 9/21/2008 by Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati at Blog World Expo 2008 in Vegas:

133 million blogs have been indexed by Technorati since 2002.

Blogs = Information and influence. Blogs are media.

Who blogs and where are they blogging? The fact is that bloggers are all over the country and the worldwide chart is interesting as well – 48% of blogs are from North America, 2/3 are male, 70% have a degree, 72% are in English, 79% are personal bloggers.

Bloggers are also very serious about blogging, from their surveys, 1 in 4 blog 10+ hours a week. Also, 43% of the Technorati Top 100 post more than 10 times a day. Bloggers also immerse themselves in what they do, the average one uses 5 web 2.0 apps.

Note to marketers – 4 out of 5 bloggers write brand / product reviews, 80% talk about retail customer service experience. 71% of bloggers say they are getting taken more seriously as sources of information.

(Credit:  miss604 – read the rest of her post for more details on BWE 2008’s keynote)

Do marketers and PR people know just how passionate and influential bloggers are?  Many do – however, from my personal experiences, many are still far behind on what is happening in this space.

Understanding, and ultimately being successful here involves more than reading numbers, demographics and statistics, it involves being a part of the culture.  You either join, learn what’s happening and get into the conversation, or you fall further behind.  There is no way to be successful other than having a thorough understanding.


In the pre-Google era, those people and organizations that possessed book-like memories and vaults of information were highly valued.

Since anyone can now access any piece of information for free, whenever they want, merely being an information holder has zero value. Those that can organize and present that information in meaningful, innovative and useful ways are emerging as those with power.  This is just one major way the world has changed.

Creativity in how you find, manage and then process infinite information is the important skill of today.  So is being agile and having the ability to manipulate the global network for your needs.

There are so many ways things have changed due to technology on both macro and micro levels, but you would never see them unless you were paying attention.

There are those organizations holding on to the past, but they will be made irrelevant as we move further into the future and the divide grows. Being afraid is not an option. Being smart, understanding the digital landscape and able to adapt proficiently to a rapidly changing world is the only way forward.

Related posts from The Future Buzz:

Newspapers Still Have Much To Learn About The Web

For Music And News Industries, Power Is Now With The People

The Internet Is A Communications Medium, Not A Broadcast Medium

Related posts from around the web:

Newspapers Realizing That News Is Interactive (Techdirt)

CNN Twitters Its Way To Direct Audience Engagement (Micro Persuasion)

How Social Networks Are Disrupting Everything You Know About Business (Marketing Profs Daily Fix)