Although the history of the internet can be traced back to the 1950s, it was during the 0s when the concept of an interconnected world wide network —the internet — was introduced. However, it was in the mid 1990s, with the widespread use of email, Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls, and the maturing of the world wide web, when the internet started to have a revolutionary impact on the way we all live and work.
When people started to use the internet, it was something people “dialed into” in order to access information. In many ways, therefore, it was no different from accessing a book, catalogue, newspaper or some other form of information. In fact, in the days of dial-up connections, it was often slower and more challenging than using more traditional media.
However, as the internet has matured, together with the fast pace of innovation in digital technology, the whole nature of these channels has changed.
The onset of broadband means the web is “always on”. With the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007, the first smartphone to really capture the public imagination, mobile has increasingly become our primary access point to the internet and web. In other words, it is not just always on, but with us all the time.
The creation of social platforms, adopted by the masses, such as LinkedIn and Facebook means the web has transitioned from a “web of things” to a “web of people”. As this has occurred, more of our social interactions, including making arrangements and sharing stories and information, has migrated to these platforms.
Today, the world wide web has become the major access points for many of our daily activities including shopping, accessing information, watching programmes and films, reading books and interacting with business colleagues, family and friends. We are seamlessly dipping in and out of the web during the course of our busy day without giving it much thought.
It is this integration which companies need to start thinking about, in order to ensure they serve their customers and prospects in the best way possible. In so doing, of course, they will be able to maximise their own commercial opportunities. Businesses in all sectors and sections of the market need to ask themselves:
For example, as I walk through a store looking at “real life” products, can I access more information on my phone, about the product, simply by using the camera on my phone and hovering my device over the product. Moreover, does augmented reality, the ability to enhance the physical environment with digital technology, allow me to see what a product would look like in my home by being able to hover my camera over the product with the backdrop of a picture I took of my living room?
The point is, companies need to start thinking about how their online information, which we can access 24/7, can help us engage in the physical world; in other words, taking the “online” and making it part of our “offline” experience. This is the idea of the “Outernet”. In other words, it is a way of thinking.
Location-based social platforms already allow us to see online which friends may be available for a drink in our current locality offline. These same networks as well as many other platforms, will allow us to identify local restaurants, cinemas and other local activities that can be decided upon in the moment.
It is this idea that some have termed “SoLoMo”, the concept of social, local and mobile all coming together providing consumers with a richer experience and companies with commercial opportunities. However, it is not simply the accessing of information at the relevant time, but how that information integrates between the physical and digital world. In many ways, Google Glass is Google’s first attempt at integrating these two worlds in a more seamless way.
Ultimately, it is about understanding the context in which people are likely to search or want to find out about your products or services. This is regardless of whether your business operates in a business-to-consumer or business-to-business environment. Opportunities can be created for a business, and better experiences offered to customers, by understanding how any company can integrate their offline with their online, in a world where people use the two together seamlessly all the time.
So the Outernet is a concept, a way of thinking. Increasingly, the best companies will be asking themselves how they can merge the digital with the physical in order to create a richer and more engaging experience for their customers.