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The 'word of mouse' has arrived

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DQW Bureau
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The fascinating thing about IT is that the more it reveals itself the more it

has to hide. Every time the tip of the iceberg becomes larger, means the iceberg

itself is growing. One of these hidden trends, which is now becoming visible, is

sharing. The Internet has made sharing possible in an unprecedented way.

Anything digital can be shared-globally, and in super quick time.

Why do people share? There are many reasons-and not many are explained by

economics or logic. There is fun in sharing. I do not mind sharing if I still

get to keep what I have-music for instance. Sharing gives me a higher image in

my peer group-which today is electronic. I genuinely believe in sharing as a

way of improving the world. I do not like large corporations, which have been

making too much money at my expense. I want to share insider information to get

back at my company. And more.

Whatever the reason sharing is changing the way the social and economic

structures of this planet work. At the social level it is creating new

communities of likeminded people which eventually will impact the way society is

structured. At the economic level it is changing the way business happens.

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The most impacted are the industries whose products and services are digital

in nature. Knowledge, music, entertainment, media, advertising and IT software

fall in this category. Encyclopedias (Wikipedia) are being created by sharing

and becoming popular and better. Music is being shared-and will continue in

that fashion. So are films and that will only increase as the bandwidths

improve. Music and films are also being created by a process of sharing. Blogs

are becoming a potential threat to media. Search engines which are based on

people sharing their information are becoming advertising vehicles. And open

source software continues to grow. These industries have choice—they can

compete with this wave being unleashed or learn how to tap it and grow along

with it. Eventually the latter is the only choice.

These are industries getting impacted directly. There are others where the

impact is indirect. The physical goods industries—where sharing is not

possible except in a limited way— have their own pressure points coming up.

First, of course, is the security of their copyrights and ideas. The threat of

espionage is directly proportional to the ease of information sharing. As the

ease increases so does the threat. Similarly, customer opinions can be formed

and shared very quickly. And


they can impact sales heavily. Product reviews are not the exclusive creation of

a few critics and reviewers but the viewpoint of many real and potential

customers. Unstructured and cacophonic at times—but views all the same. The

same mass is being tapped by companies to design and test products—so that

they can predict behavior better. They are trying to get the feedback in

advance. The same information sharing is also being used for marketing purposes.

Word of mouth is now word of mouse. And this most potent form of marketing and

influencing customer opinion has a new life.

So are we heading to a state of everything is shared and free. Not likely.

And everything cannot be created by a mass of networked individuals. That

process needs ideas—which come from flashes of individual brilliance, it needs

direction, it needs control and it needs tangible benefits at the end of the

day. But many things that we have paid for so far will become free or extremely

cheap (there is still the bandwidth cost to be paid!) and new products and

services will emerge on this free layer. Software basics could be free but

services and specific applications would be charged for. Standard music would be

free but high quality and indexed music could be charged for.

The extent of the impact is debatable but nevertheless sharing will change

the way many industries are structured.

(The author is Editor-in-Chief of CyberMedia publications. Shyam

Malhotra
)

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