Reality check : the era of validation

I was fortunate to be able to attend Mashable Connect last weekend, a social media conference organised by the social media blog, Mashable, founded by a fellow Scot, Pete Cashmore.

Among a bucket-load of interesting things I took away was the recognition that we are in the early stages of a new and distinctly different era in terms of how we use the internet.

A couple of talks touched on this, specifically regarding how just much marketing has changed from being all about image – perfectly typified by the old, style heavy cigarette advertising in the 50’s and 60’s – through to today where brand perceptions are increasingly reality infused and driven by direct customer advocacy (or disdain) on web based services like Facebook and Twitter.

In his talk, Steve Rubel perfectly framed this new era as the internet’s third act; “the era of validation” following on the first two acts; “the era of commercialization” (online retail and business websites) from 1994 through to 2001, “the era of democratization” (anybody can create, blog, take part) from 2001-2010.

Rubel made a strong case that the biggest challenge we now face after fifteen or so years of the web is information overload, and this forces us to find better ways to filter out the noise from the stuff that matters.

It’s through this lens that services like Twitter begin to look a lot more like filters than idle time-sinks. We select and curate the lists of people or companies we follow for a number of reasons, but certainly because we value their opinions on things we care about or they’re just good sources of news or information.

Compared with ten or twenty years ago, we increasingly make many more decisions about how and where to spend our hard earned cash based upon the reality based feedback we get from our communities of friends and families “Liking” things on Facebook or re-tweeting interesting information on Twitter. And markedly not through two dimensional billboard or TV advertisement.

As theories go, I’m buying it.

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