How Internet decreases the world’s cultural landscape?

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The digital revolution started in 29 October 1969 when for the first time one network was made between Leonard Kleinrock’s Network Measurement Center at the UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science  and Douglas Engelbart’s NLS system at SRI International (SRI) in Menlo Park, California. This was the starting point for Internet. Today, we have 2.1 billion people online or at least using internet regularly.

Are we experiencing a new revolution? It is hard to say no. At the end of the 19th century, the industrial revolution changed the way we were manufacturing products. The steam-machine technology brought new possibilities and changed the world.

The end of the 20th century brought the Digital culture into a huge phenomenon and today we believe we are facing a new revolution, the Digital revolution. 30% of total global population is online now. Out of this huge technological breakthrough, social networks and the way Media content is used brought new paradigms.

Some interesting figures:
– 800 million people have a Facebook profile. More than 500 million are active users.
– 30 billion pieces of content is shared on Facebook each month (videos, pictures, sounds, texts…)
– Youtube has 490 million unique users and has 92 billion page views per month.
– Wikipedia hosts 17 million articles thanks to 91,000 contributors.
– People upload 3,000 images on Flickr every minute and today Flickr hosts 5 billion images.
– 190 million average tweets per day occurs on Twitter with 1.6 billion queries daily and 500,000 new users a day.
– Google+ has now more than 25 million users. They reached 10 million in 16 days.

Digital technology is changing not only our lives but also the way we consult, search, watch, listen or read cultural content. Just with some clicks, any person connected to the internet has access to an enormous amount of cultural content. It seems that next year, there will be more content produced online than in the last 4.000 years of human history. This is huge. But now the question is: how can a human person manage all this information and how can we find our way on this avalanche of content? How can we choose a book, a film, a video or a text to consult among such great richness. Here is what we know:

We know that Apple iTunes stores has more than 6 million songs hosted, which represents in average more than 500,000 albums. This is more than the biggest disc store in the world has.

Amazon has in total 1.8 million books + 500.000 ebooks available online. This is more than the biggest book store in the world has.

Netflix has almost 100.000 films available, which is more than any film store in the world has.

This is amazing but how can we choose the perfect book for holidays? How can we choose the perfect film for tonight? Which great song am I going to listen to during my flight next week? Difficult to answer. Imagine yourself in front of 100,000 DVDs in the store and your mission is to pick up one in less than 15mn as you want to start your delightful evening…. We need advice. In the “real” world, you can always ask advice to the sales person of the store. Probably you will be happy with his advice or not. In the “virtual” world, we do not have a person to advice you as this would be too complex to handle. We have a nice invention called “algorithm”. In deed it is a mathematical complex equation that will help you choose the perfect video or book based on different information that you provided but also that other people provided.

Apple iTunes store has their algorithm called “Genius”. Genius is a program that will scan your personal music library and propose new songs and artists you might not know. So if you like Amy Winehouse, Genius might tell you “you may also like Duffy”.  If you go to Amazon and buy a book, Amazon will tell you “other people who bought this book also bought this other one”. Netflix has “Cinematch”. They even made a 1million dollar contest to get the best recommendation algorithm possible.

So, getting a recommendation is great but what happens when a machine or a mathematical equation plays the role of prescription? Well what happens is exactly what is happening today. the more a content is read, watched, listened to, the more this content is read, watched and listened to. This brings us to a poor figure: 80% of world content views are made on 10% of the total content available.  So the more content we have, the less we see. This happens because we loose the “feeling” of a person’s choice. We do not take in account ideas, feelings, emotions or even personal opinions. It is just mathematical. Also, I believe that having global, worldwide “stores” brings a kind of level down into the lowest common denominator. It needs to suit all laws, all cultural differences, all “political correct” behaviors. And this is hard. A disc store in the US will not have the same exact catalog than a disc store in France or than in Switzerland or than in China. This is normal. And even more: an independent disc store will not propose the same catalog than a main player in the disc industry. The important idea here is to have the CHOICE.

The same phenomenon happens in the social networks. “Appropriate” content is requested as social networks become global platforms. We cannot display anything on Youtube, otherwise we get flagged or restricted. I am not talking about copyrights. This is another problem. I am talking about what one person may think about the content you produce. Not some time ago, one of luxuryactivist videos was flagged as “softporn”. Basically it had some images of an official Victoria Secret’s catwalk shows. For someone, this was shocking and considered as soft porn, so I am now rated for 18 years old only with that video. So from a personal idea and feeling (that we need to respect of course) we get described and put in with a label. This label puts the content in a specific “shelf”. From one single person opinion, we get globally affected. That is why global appropriate content is hard to find and to have. That is also why 80% of the total content views are done on 10% of the existing content.
Google+ is one of the most fast growing social networks online. They have now 25 million users and it took them only 16 days to reach 10 million subscribers. For me they are the summary of these diktats that puts you in a case that puts you in a “safe” model that is “appropriated”. Luxury Activist created its profile on Google+. Everything was going on well and after 1.800 people on the “circle”, we got a mail from Google+ saying that the profile does not match the Google+ policy. In deed Google+ wants people to use their real names. Why? Nobody knows. So because of that the Luxury activist profile was suspended. After several emails with no answer (do not try to get someone from Google to answer) I am still suspended and with no possibility to communicate with my 1,800 members of the circle. At LuxuryActivist it is not really a problem but it shows how big companies who tries to generate global business have hard issues to solve.

If we take the example of Apple iTunes store. It was created by an american based company on a very simple model : one country, one language. So what happens in a country like Switzerland where we have 4 official languages + english? Apple decided “by default” that the iTunes store would be in german. So if you rent a film, you probably end up with the german translation version.

The future challenges will be how big companies will manage local contexts and also how to keep the cultural richness. Today it is easier to watch the last Harry Potter movie than the last local documentary about a local subject in Brazil or Vietnam. Of course there are also an issue of copyrights deals. It is easier for a video rental company to acquire the catalog rights of Warner Video (in which you get access to thousands of videos in one negotiation) than trying to negotiate in one-to-one with all small independent movie companies.

Global companies will need to understand that concepts like the “global village” was last century ideal. In the 21st century, local is more important than Global. People matters and a more personal approach should be implemented. Genius might be a wonderful multimillion dollar solution but Apple should perhaps invest more into a multi-million dollar of real online advisors. Otherwise, a time will come in which local businesses will take over the globalized company. Quantity is not the definition of quality and richness. Money does not make the world go round… it is the people who makes the world.

LA

 

info sourced at: wikipedia.com, internetworldstats.com, socialnetworkingwatch.com, jeffbullas.com, socialmediamagic.com 
All images are not free of rights. All copyrights reserved to their owners and should not be reproduced. 

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