Social Media + Web + Smartphones = No More Analog Systems

A decade ago, supporters and pundits predicted the end of analog ways, classifieds, bulletin boards, and libraries. It wasn’t until the explosion of social networks and the expansion of smartphones/tablets, however, that the digital services that replaced the analog processes had the momentum to take off exponentially. Now, smartphones and social networks, in conjunction with trusted gatekeepers, are spinning the threads of social connection that were once made through local social groups.

Check out this list below, which includes both start-up and established online entities that have built digital pathways for analog problems. If you have additional suggestions, post a comment and we will expand the list.

Books PaperBack Swap
Classifieds/Goods Exchange Claz Hand Things Down




Disaster Relief Housing Sparkrelief
Platform for Reporting Local Issues SeeClickFix

The grandparents and great-grandparents of the current generations lived in a time without mass transit, without telephones, and without worldwide networks. Social groups were small and heavily rooted to geography. Technological and logistical breakthroughs like the United States Post Office (now the USPS) parcel post service, railroads, the combustion engine, refrigeration, radio, telephones, and television connected ideas, services, and goods with people from afar. Before those breakthroughs, local social networks centered on societal kingpins, the social butterflies of a group who acted like the router and switch between not only conversation but the ability to fulfill needs within social circles.

For better or worse, today’s gatekeepers are the “admin” and moderators of trusted online sites and communities. Often, an organization’s legal team develops terms and conditions that govern the operation of the body, and then a team (paid or unpaid) manages the operation of the sites. Others are even more laissez-faire and use a self-policing model where users report issues to system administrators and moderators to correct. These websites have replaced the classified ads and the grocery store bulletin board and are infinitely more useful because they are more timely, targeted, searchable, sharable, and integrated.

The major benefit of analog networks was that the user’s anonymity was protected much farther down the line than with today’s digital variations. A user could traditionally wait until literally the moment before completing a transaction before exposing his or her identity (assuming that no one involved in the process knew his or her face). Anyone could anonymously tear the contact information off the bulletin board, jot down the information for an event, or browse the shelves of a bookstore without leaving a trace. Today, the entities that have built pathways to connect users to their needs put up tollbooths to collect information on those who want what is on the other side. Sometimes the data is used to safeguard the community from the likes of criminals and those who detract from the conversation. The amount of data that users must give up varies from site to site, but the burden of protecting this data falls to the builders of the pathway. The financial and healthcare industries have been saddled with this data security issue for the full length of their tenure on the Internet, with every possible transaction requiring a high level of data security to protect both the organization and the end user. Much of the security in both industries is tied to professional standards or government legislation, further placing data security as the focal point of operations for any financial or healthcare organization.

So what about all these new online organizations and the data that users are providing in order to gain access to the pathways and communities that they have built? The same level of attention needs to be paid to any information a user gives to any sort of online community or entity for no other reason than trust. An online hack or security breach, whatever the size, undermines the fundamental trust of users in an entity, ultimately eroding the very community they built.

Whether user or pathway builder, both must remember to be vigilant about data security and support the community with whatever means possible. Recent news of organized online “hacktavist” groups and their high-profile targets are the digital protests of today, comparable to the nonviolent protests and sit-ins of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the middle part of the last century. These online communities and tools––the replacements for the analog bulletin board distribution systems––are the future. The rate of adoption is yet to be determined, but they will become more and more mainstream as the user base increases. Sites will come and go, with brands starting and ending as the economy and market shift, but look at eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. Founded in 1995, 1994, and 1995 respectively, each has defined a transactional service in three distinct areas––and has seen the subsequent rise of competitive online services––but each is still a strong entity in its particular segment. Entrepreneurs are taking risks with new ventures to provide digital solutions to analog processes. Wait until the next wave of start-ups carves out niches in the interwebs and replaces existing analog needs. The world we live in, the Internet-connected world, can be as global or as local as you choose––you just have to change the search radius.

How will you leverage trust (and innovation) in the communities that you build around your brand, service, or product?

Author: John Carew


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