The Digital Democracy

By Bobby Martinez, Friday, February 6, 2009
Internet Image
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

When the internet became a vast public entity in the late-1990s, no one could predict how important personal information would become in the general scheme of the digital community. Most corporations saw web earning potential in interactive entertainment, rather than the digital community we now experience. Where film and television, as digital media, have become the mainstays of commercial programming, the internet continues to evolve into a more democratic medium.

With television, the programs are chosen by corporations, paid for with advertising dollars supplied by other corporations, and reinforced in schedule and content by ratings supplied by still further corporations. On the internet, any person with a camera and a computer can suddenly become their own program. Podcasts and webcasts allow simple internet users to become newscasters and to comment on the world around them, free of the direction or control of corporation-run media.

Almost immediately when AOL launched the first major dial-up campaigns, there were concerns about video and audio piracy, information sharing, and digital distribution rights. The changes wrought by digital information sharing have affected every other media in existence, even on a legal level, leading to new laws about digital distribution rights and royalties.

Flash forward to what futurists are predicting in the world of our future, perhaps not even twenty years from now. Volkswagen recently launched a “2028” website, showing their designers’ predictions for the cars (and the culture) of our world in a mere 20 years.

While the flying cars and oddly shaped cityscapes of science fiction are woefully absent, there is a strong emphasis on precisely what has changed our culture so much in the last decade: digital information sharing. In their simulations, vehicles in the next few years will become increasingly full of information displays showing maps, prices for commercial businesses, advertisements, and historical information. As a user drives, they will be able to view interior photos of buildings, learn what each business sells, and eventually discuss this information with other motorists.

Imagine, if you will, approaching a restaurant in a crowded commercial district, and reading the reviews of other motorists just now leaving the same establishment. You could know as you approach what the wait times are for the tables, which dishes might be sold out, what the soup of the day is, or whether the establishment is understaffed for the evening. This “secondary” layer of information is similar to our present culture of blogs and message boards, only more readily accessible in context. Rather than having to stop one activity to glean this level of user-generated content, drivers will be able to view the information in the context of their current setting and to respond to it with their buying decisions as well as their own personal experiences.

So how does all of this relate to the internet as it is today? And how does it affect our design process, and our decisions about content and website architecture?

The web is, and has been, drifting closer and closer to this incredible level of interaction. Projects like the ShiftSpace Plugin allow users full control over their internet experience. They also allow other users to experience internet content as we ourselves interpret it, meaning that not only is the information itself open to comment and interpretation but the vessel or vehicle of its presentation might also be modified.

Interactivity is, and has been, the name of the game for the last few years. The establishment of blogs and forums allows clients and customers to feel they have a democratic say in your business. These utilities help brand various types of products, particularly those related to the service industry, and ensure the growth of brand loyalty among a client base.

While there are technical risks to information sharing and user-generated content, one can be assured that there are millions of programmers working daily to find solutions to malicious internet activity. The business of protecting internet commerce has grown so much, that many viruses and spam programs are now nothing more than annoyances, and are powerless to limit the financial rewards reaped from allowing interactive content.

As the internet evolves beyond the sterile commercial vehicle it was first thought to be in the mid-1990s, we can be certain that the market reflects this evolution. When the digital focus turns to user-generated content and public information sharing, businesses with publicly accessible content will be offering their clients more value than similarly-priced brands without that democratic appeal.

Posted in: Austin Web Design, Web Design, WWW Learning Center

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