The world, now illuminated

I recently came across a very telling graphic at the BBC’s News website called SuperPower: Visualising the internet.  The animation lets you click a play button and watch the growth of the Internet from mostly North America in 1998 to many other corners of the globe by 2008.

The graphic makes me imagine a large, dark city as the lights come on in stages after a power outage. In fact, this is exactly what we’ve begun to witness in the last decade. The lights are coming on in the form of information and human connections, and we’re slipping away from the first chapter of human communications—one that was dependent on physical location.

For service-sector industries like insurance and finance, the inexpensive global reach of the Web will take niche marketing to a whole new level. In fact, what we consider niche marketing today, we’ll probably think of as “mass marketing” in ten years.

It will soon be possible for an insurer or financial services firm in Anytown, USA to market a niche product to a community in India or a specific demographic in Brazil. The reverse could just as easily happen. Geographic location will be irrelevant. The number of untapped markets—representing regions and individuals with unmet needs—is too great to even imagine right now.

And what ideas might those previously unconnected individuals have to offer First World nations? Billions of minds previously silenced by the absence of modern web-based communications could potentially help solve the unsolvable insurance issues of today, such as healthcare.

A recent New York Times article indicates that the US government recognizes the value of social media “exports. . .”

Seeking to exploit the Internet’s potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan.

It will indeed be interesting to see how quickly information begins to flow in and out of areas previously encapsulated by geographic and political barriers.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mozzarellahead/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

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