Is the Internet a place and why does it matter?

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As time moves on and we begin to understand more about the world, our definitions of things change and evolve. In this article we explore two initially simple-to-understand concepts, “place” and “the internet” and unpack what they really mean in relation to one another and why this is of growing importance to businesses in a modern digital world.

Place

“What is a place?” seems an odd and rather straightforward question to ask. The dictionary defines place as “A portion of space occupied by a person or a thing”, this definition, however, does not investigate the full extent to what a place really is. A more recent definition considers “How the economic, political and social interactions of a community influence the consumption and representation of that space”. This shift in understanding changes how we can consider and use the tools at our disposal.

The Internet's place in the world

Using this advanced definition of place we can begin to consider the internet as more than just “A means of connecting a computer to any other computer anywhere in the world via dedicated routers and servers” but instead as its own unique physical place in the world. This idea isn’t as alien as it sounds when first read; The internet currently has over 20 communities with populations of over 100 Million “active users”, and each one of these communities experiences and shapes the internet in their own unique way. This in turn influences their daily lives by their interaction with it. This concept is strengthened further when considered alongside three factors: Economic, Political and Social interaction.

Economic

It is clear that there can no longer be a separation between the internet and the Economy. There are a number of case studies to consider about the influence that the digital world has on business, including our recent article considering the interaction of Social Media and Investor Communications. Another example of the economic influence of the internet is the rise of digital economies and in particular the Bitcoin, which, according to the US Treasury, is the world’s first decentralised digital currency with a trading value of over £400 to one Bitcoin.

Political

The political world has dramatically changed as a result of the internet. The political arena has expanded from the conference halls and political buildings to incorporate the realms of social media sites and online video conferences. We have seen the announcement of the Labour parties “Digital Revolution” and in the past year there has been a rise of populist politics in the USA and UK with candidates such as Trump, Sanders and Corbyn all utilising a strong social media platform and vocal online community to drive real world political campaigns.

Social

Society is the clearest of the three influencing factors for the internet’s consideration as a place in the modern world. The most obvious is the rise of “social hacktivism” in groups such as Anonymous, opting to protest through online social disruptions instead of by imposing a physical presence in the lobbies of companies or political parties. However a less extreme example of the internet’s influence of society can be seen in sport. We are beginning to see a revolution in the consumption of sports across the world; no longer does a fan have to go to the arena to experience the excitement of a football game. The introduction of teams such as Hashtag United, a team whose games are viewable exclusively online; or the decision by top flight football teams such as German club Wolfsburg to hire full time professional FIFA players to the club, show that sports are now increasingly adapting to the digital marketplace.

Why this matters

It’s clear to see there’s more to “place” and the internet than first meets the eye, and from here the key question is, how does this affect my business?

Thinking back, have you ever been to a restaurant or shop and experienced bad service? It may have made you not want to return or been so bad that you’ve told others to never go there? The feelings and memories we attribute to these negative places remain with us, long after the experience itself. Viewing the internet as a place can now help you place this same analogy to a website. If a potential stakeholder leaves your site feeling frustrated or unhappy because of the user experience be it difficult navigation, hard to find content or poor viewing on a mobile or smaller device, the feeling will remain with them. The memories they have of your unique place in the internet cannot be ignored. A company’s website is now equally or even more important in some circumstances than their physical location. It is the first place many people will encounter you, a digital shop front of sorts; the first place you can showcase your true value and in some cases the only chance you have to convince them to return to your site.

It’s important to understand that your website is a key component of your corporate communications. It should be carefully considered and created with your audience needs in mind. For more information on how to craft a user driven corporate website, talk to the team.