By Mark Chataway, Agency Confidential
Three years ago, I would have told you that the future lay in personalized news and ever-more sophisticated Web searches. Tell the New York Times that you are interested in breast cancer and it will flag every article published on the subject; list it as a Google Alert and you will soon read more than the average practising oncologist (or you may be an unusually diligent oncologist).
We, in the agency world, were quite comfortable with this because news services still need content and they have to fund themselves through advertising. Google discovers and aggregates content, but it still takes its users to content provided by news services or to Web sites, adding its own targeted advertising along the way.
Content needs PR agencies, Web sites need ad agencies, and advertising obviously needs a funky pool table, a swish office, and an expense account. So, search and aggregation is still a big part of the future.
What we all underestimated, however, was the human instinct to be part of the herd and to follow the crowd.
Searching Google is a very individual pursuit: its algorithms try to take into account how many people look at each site and who links to each page, but the decision on what you click and what you believe is yours alone.
That is not, though, the way most people previously did things. We relied on what our neighbors thought, what the minister said, what Walter Cronkite judged important, or what the local newspaper thought fit to print. Twenty–first century people, on the other hand, worry that the minister is just interested in their tax-free donations. They don’t know their neighbors. Only the older ones watch nice, young Katy Couric or read the local newspaper, if there is still one. Most modern people follow the pack through Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn Connections, or Twitter Followers.
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