Belfast Telegraph

Web culture inspires success in ‘real world’

By Mark Nagurski

It used to be that the web was the web, and ‘real life' was something quite different indeed.

Online we sent emails, played games and surfed the web in search of distractions. Offline we did our jobs, chatted with friends and met new people.

Social media, the mobile web, and always-on networks have blurred those lines.

You can chat with friends on Facebook, send snaps via Twitpic, and let people know where you are via Gowalla and Foursquare — and you can do it whether you're sitting in a pub with an iPhone, on the bus with a laptop, in front of the TV with an iPad, or at work with your desktop.

The web has become such an integral part of so many of our daily lives — both personally and professionally — that it would be amazing if it didn't start making in-roads into our offline lives and businesses as well.

But it's not just the functionality of the web that's affecting our offline lives, but also the ideas, business models, and ‘web |culture' of it.

In short, for many people the conversation has become, “if I can do things one way on the web, then why can't I do them that way offline too”, and it's this thinking that is driving innovation in both business and culture.

Let's take a uniquely web-based idea as an example: open source. Open source simply means that the materials and information used to create something are made open to anyone to use and adapt to their own needs.

Usually this means that the code used to develop a bit of software is made available to anyone to improve upon and change, often on the understanding that whatever changes they come up with are in turn made available for anyone else to build upon.

Online, open source is a movement, and has resulted in wholesale changes to the way in which software is developed.

Offline has, until recently, been a bit different. If you happened to be a car company, for example, your designs, schematics, and specs were are all super-secret. The process was a closed shop.

This is undoubtedly still the case for the vast majority of car companies — with the exception of c,mm,n who just happened to have developed an open source car (www.cmmn.org).

According to the company: “C,mm,n follows the open source model; as with open source software, we focus our services around the product.

“Anyone can use it to offer mobility services, just as long as any derived work produced is released back to the community under an open source licence.”

And it's not just cars. Open source has begun to make its way into everything from events (OpenCoffee, BarCamp, Twestival, Idea Hacking) to sustainable housing (www.os-house.org).

Open source isn't the only web idea which is leaking offline.

Web-driven concepts like peer-to-peer networks (see the Pirate Bay or the original Napster file-sharing program), crowd sourcing (a la wikipedia), and even cloud computing are all beginning to make their presence felt in the world of bricks and mortar.

Where Napster enabled people to share digital music, bypassing the record labels, companies like WhipCar, RelayRides, and DriveMyCar allow people to share cars, bypassing car hire companies.

And if you don't like the idea of owning your own clothes, you can now tap into the cloud computing inspired ZeroBaggage, which allows you to put together a wardrobe of clothes sourced from local retailers anywhere in |the world.

So the next time you jet off to Rome, you can ditch the luggage and pickup the latest Italian fashions when you arrive, before having them collected again when you're done.

You can do the same thing with children's toys, family members in Japan, and even pets in America (Flexpetz.com).

So what does this mean for businesses?

Simply put, let yourself be inspired by web culture and the kinds of business models the |web has produced, then look |for ways to make those work |offline too.

Mark Nagurski runs a publishing and events company at www.ownbrandmedia.com , blogs at www.iddictive.com and hosts www.ideahacking.com

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