A recent edition of Fast Company featured a provocative cover story suggesting the Web was heading the way of dinosaurs. I’m not particularly savvy on the technical side so I’m fuzzy on one of the critical distinctions made in the article (the internet being distinct from the Web) but the key point I took from the piece is that the browser has become increasingly irrelevant to the Web experience. The explosion of content delivered through apps, cloud programs and semi-closed or private networks has created an internet experience that is fluid and incredibly diverse. This means not only that the browser has lost relevance, but that we access the internet through a range of mobile, interchangeable devices. The critical lesson, according to the article, is that users will migrate to tools and technology that simply work, reliably and simply.
There was predictable churn about the article – with some saying it was hyperbole (check out this Ragan video interview of NYT writer David Pogue calling the Web demise claim “nonsense) and others that it missed the mark on intranet growth or was weakened by contradictions. More than one comment, in fact, mentioned the irony that much of the debate on the article was taking place on the Web. To Fast Company’s credit, it included contrarian commentaries alongside the cover story.
My favorite take on the argument was a thoughtful analysis by Steve Lohr in the New York Times that shifts the discussion away from the cycle of overblown technology predictions (of imminent demise) and proclamations (about the “next big things”.) As Lohr puts it, evolution – not extinction – has always been the primary rule of media ecology. Most providers and platforms adapt and survive, and that is not cause for alarm. Lohr’s second key point is that a characteristic of evolution in the Web 2.0 environment is the accelerated pace of change and innovation. The result, he posits, is a proliferation of digital media forms and fast-shifting patters of media consumption.
Once again, I take the discussion back to the central question for me – what does this mean to professional communicators and their clients? The most obvious implication is that failure to remain informed – at minimum – and strategically nimble and innovative – as the ideal – is a ticket to irrelevance. Lazy, static tactical recommendations that may have had a shelf-life years ago now lose their potency within months. Given the pace of evolution in the technology that drives communication, PR staff need to remain educated about trends and tools to provide relevant counsel and support. No need to be on the cutting edge or a tech wizard, but there’s no excuse for being less informed than the average corporate client. Professionals need to have a basic understanding of the new tools and platforms – and the related benefits and implications.
What’s interesting about all these changes is that the fundamental objectives and best practices of communication remain relatively constant – I don’t hear much of a debate about the sustained importance of leadership credibility, audience segmentation, manager outreach or two-way communication. What is changing is the toolkit at our disposal. That dynamic presents an exciting opportunity – there’s a real charge in working in a business which is reinventing itself – but also a constant challenge.