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By Thomas Baekdal - April 2009

Where is Everyone?

These days, everyone is trying to figure out how to connect with other people. It used to be simple, you just placed some ads in whatever newspaper that was most suited to your product, but now that world is becoming ever more irrelevant. So how do you connect with other people today? And more importantly, how do you do it tomorrow?

In this article, we are going to take a little tour through the history of information, or more specifically, where to focus your efforts if you want get in touch with other people. It is a really exciting time, because we are currently in the middle of the most drastic change since the invention of the newspaper.

We are seeing an entirely new way for people to interact. One that makes all traditional ways seem silly. It is a fundamental shift, and it will completely change the world as we know it. And the best thing about it is that you get to help make it happen.

So join me on this (unscientific) tour of the last 210 years of information + 10 more years into the future.

But before we start to explore the future, let's explore how we got here. Let's go back to 1800 - back when information was nothing like what we have today...

Note: The graph predicts influence over time.

1800 - The face to face period

In the 1800, the only way you could really interact with other people was to go out and meet them. It was all about face-to-face communication. If you wanted to sell a product, you would go to the local marketplace, where you would setup a stand. But this also meant that the only way for you to get information - or to give information back - was to be at the right place at the right time. You didn't really know what happened in another part of the city, nor could you sell your products to people in another place.

Some people did talk about this new thing called the newspaper. But it wasn't really the same. You had to meet people in person. That was the only good way to interact.

1900 - Read all about it!

By the year 1900, the newspapers and magazine had revolutionized how we communicated. Now we could get news from places we have never been. We could communicate our ideas to people we had never seen. And we could sell our products to people far away.

You still had to go out to talk other people, but you could stay on top of things, without leaving the city. It was amazing. It was the first real revolution of information. The world was opening up to everyone.

1960 - We will be right back after these messages

During the next 60 years the newspapers dominated our lives. If you wanted to get the latest news, or tell people about your product, you would turn to the newspapers. It seemed like newspapers would surely be the dominant source of information for all time to come.

Except that during the 1920s a new information source started to attract people's attention - the Radio. Suddenly you could listen to another person's voice 100 of miles away. But most importantly, you could get the latest information LIVE. It was another tremendous evolution is the history of information. By 1960's the two dominant sources of information was LIVE news from the Radio and the more detailed news via newspapers and magazines.

It was really great times, although some meant that "The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio is simply to get out better papers", an argument that we would hear repeatedly for the next 50 years.

1990 - Tune in Tomorrow

During the next 40 years a new technical revolution, the television, was introduced. It started to gain public interest in the 1950s, and by the year 1990 it was huge. It had surpassed the newspapers and magazines, and it was slowly obliterating the radio. Now people could not only hear information, they could also see it.

The 1970s-1990s was also the time where the newspaper executives were realizing that something was going terrible wrong with their market. They have had many problems competing with radio, but the TV was in a different league.

1998 - The dawn of the Internet

Only 8 years later, television is ruling the world, radio is almost reduced to 'a place where you listen to free music' and newspapers are doing everything they can to stay relevant. But the constant evolution of technology plows ahead with never before seen determination. A new phenomenon is looming in the shadows - the Internet.

1998 was the year when the internet changed from being a geeky place that had little relevance, to 'every company needs to have a website'. The revolution had started 3 years earlier, but in 1998 it reached critical mass and caught everyone's attention.

It still wasn't used much, and most people didn't have access to it, but everyone agreed that it was the future. It was the dawn of a new era. It was a place where everyone could get information from everywhere - at least in theory.

People also started to realize that the internet was more than just information. You could give something back. You could join the conversation. You could be a part of the experience instead of just a spectator. And most importantly, you could choose what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it - a concept that hadn't been possible since the 1800. The possibilities of the internet were just mindboggling.

2004 - I decide what to do!

In 2004, only 6 years later, the internet had revolutionized how we approach information. Televisions and newspapers still dominated our news sources, but the new world was definitely online.

In 2004 everyone was making new websites. People were exploring the world of web applications, and online workflows.

People could do an incredible amount of things, and participate in so many areas, that a new concept appeared - information overload.

For the first time in our lives we were being exposed to more information than we could consume. In the age of newspapers we had to choose what we wanted to see. But in 2004 we had to choose what we didn't want to see.

This had a devastating effect on the traditional forms of information. In the past, you could get people's attention simply by making something. People wanted more choices, so you simply had to give them another choice. But in 2004 this changed. People started to have enough, and now you actually had to make something better. It was not enough that it was different.

2004 was also year when a new phenomenon started to take off - Social Networking. The concept had been slowly gaining ground with the concept of blogs. It was an easy, simple, and affordable way for everyone to share their ideas.

For the first time, everyone could create their own sphere of information without doing 'technical things'. Information changed from being tools for the professionals, to a tool for everyone to use.

2007 - Me too

3 years later the social element of the internet showed just how powerful the voice of the people really is. TV was no longer the primary source of information, and newspapers are struggling to survive.

Everyone wanted to create their own little world, and connect it with their friends. But 2007 was also the turning point for the traditional websites. It was once the most important change, but now people compared the traditional websites to newspapers - a static and passive form of information. We wanted active information. We wanted to be a part of it, not just looking at it.

The blogs also started to get in trouble. Just as TV had eliminated radio (because it was better and richer way to give people LIVE information) so are social networks eliminating blogs. A social profile is a more active way for people to share what they care about. Social networks are simply the best tool for the job, and the blogs could not keep up.

2009 - Everything is Social

2 years later, today, the new internet is completely dominating our world. The newspapers are dead in the water, and people are watching less TV than ever. The new king of information is everyone, using social networking tools to connect and communicate.

Even the traditional website is dying from the relentless force of the constant stream of rich information from the social networks.

In the past 210 years we have seen an amazing evolution of information. We could:

  1. Get information from distant places
  2. Get it LIVE
  3. See it LIVE
  4. Get to decide when to see something, and what to see
  5. Allow us to take part, and comment.
  6. Publish our own information
  7. ...and in 2009... be the information.

But 2009 is also going to be the start of the next revolution. Because everything we know is about to change.

The Future

The first and most dramatic change is the concept of Social News. Social news is quickly taking over our need for staying up-to-date with what goes on in the world. News is no longer being reported by journalists, now it comes from everyone. And it is being reported directly from the source to you - bypassing the traditional media channels.

Image credit: Wulfmorgenthaler


But social news is much more than that. It is increasingly about getting news directly from the people who makes it. Instead of having a journalist reporting what some analyst are saying, you hear it from the analyst herself. Social news is about getting news from the source, directly, and unfiltered.

A new wave of entertainment is emerging (the light blue and purple areas), one dominated by the games, video and audio streams. Instead of tuning into a TV channel, you decide what to see and when to see it. We are no longer subscribing to a channel, where someone else decides what you can see. You decide and control everything about the experience.

And a new concept in the form of targeted information is slowly emerging. We are already seeing an increasing number of services on mobile phones, where you can get information for the area that you are in. E.g. instead of showing all the restaurants in the world, you will only get a list of the restaurants in your area.

This is something that is going to explode into in the years to come. In the world where we have access to more information that we can consume, getting only the relevant parts is going to be a very important element. And, this will expand far beyond the simple geo-targeting that we see today.

2020 - Traditional is dead

In the next 5-10 years, the world of information will change quite a bit. All the traditional forms of information are essentially dead. The traditional printed newspapers no longer exists, television in the form of preset channels is replaced by single shows that you can watch whenever you like. Radio shows is replaced podcasts and vodcasts.

The websites have a much lesser role, as their primary function will be to serve as a hub for all the activities that you do elsewhere. It is the place where people get the raw material for use in other places. And the websites and social networks will merge into one. Your website and blog is your social profile.

Social news, as described previously, is going to be the most important way that people communicate. The traditional journalistic reporting is by now completely replaced getting information directly from the source. Everyone is a potential reporter, but new advances in targeting will eliminate most of the noise. The journalists will turn into editors who, instead of reporting the news, bring it together to give us a bigger picture.

The news stream of the future will be personalized to each individual person, and is constantly adjusting what you see - much the same way as is doing today with music.

Everything will incorporate some form of targeting. You will be in control over every single bit of information that flows your way.

In 2010, two new concepts will start to emerge. One of them is intelligent information, where information streams can combine bits from many different news sources. Not just by pulling data, but summarizing it, breaking it apart and extracting the valuable parts.

Instead of reading 5 different articles on the same topic, you will be presented with one, highlighting the vital point of interest.

The world of information is also going to be available almost everywhere. The concept of having to get the paper, sit in front of your TV, or look at your computer, will be long gone. Information will not be something you have to get. It comes to you, wherever you are, in whatever situation you happen to be in.

In the same way, information will not be something you 'consume' a certain times - like what you did with prime-time TV. The information stream will be a natural part of every second of your life. It is not something you get, it is something you have.

The static and controlled forms of information that we see today will soon be a thing of the past.

Get ready!

Ask yourself. Are you still trying to get journalists to write about your products? Are you still making websites? Is your social networking strategy to 'get a Facebook Page'?


Are you making yourself a natural part of people's stream of information?

Download bigger version of the graph, or get the white or black desktop backgrounds

Update: Graph without a 'flexible' time-line

A lot of people have commented that the graph were misleading or downright inaccurate because the time line is not linear. So I created a new graph (very quickly I might add) that shows you the same, with a single day increments.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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