By AJ Musial
Though limitations experienced on the Internet have steadily been resolved over the past thirty years, more barriers have been broken in the past few years than ever before. Data storage and portability limitations will soon be a problem of the past; the average consumer is only months away from being barrier-free in this regard. And the phrase “Take it to the streets” has new meaning these days, to me at least. What once meant physical interaction with the end-consumer now means engulfing and engaging the chosen market on the virtual highways of the Internet. As the success of my fellow GenYers increases exponentially, the uninformed prior generations, fearing obsolescence, are frantically trying to catch the curve-setters. Internet is the new T.V., for some people are spending hours trying to learn about the media possibilities and others have already begun using them. For companies to thrive they must embrace the future that is the Internet, and there are numerous websites to help companies do just that.
Google, a force to be reckoned with, has revolutionized the web. With a free version of online applications available, Google quickly puts Microsoft’s stake as the app leader in jeopardy. E-mail, a word processor and a spreadsheet application can be used from any web-connected computer, negating the need to purchase applications for PCs. Employees who find themselves continually on the move may enjoy the portable nature of Google Apps.
Another online application solution is Thinkfree. Though quite similar to Google Apps, many users claim that Thinkfree is not only faster, but also offers a broader variety of application possibilities. These include the ability to save documents as PDFs and graph spreadsheet data. As of December 2006, Google was amidst negotiations to acquire the seemingly superior online application website.
Zoho, a third contender to revolutionize business, is similar to Thinkfree and Google Apps. Zoho fails to contend with these two companies in the word-processing and spreadsheet sector, but makes up for these shortcomings with a long list of other applications. Among these are a wiki creator and a project management tool that allows the user to create to-do lists, assign tasks and even track client billing.
37signals, the fourth online business solution, focuses not on processing applications, but on collaboration. Offered at 37signals are the tools Basecamp, Backpackit and Campfire. Basecamp is a project management and scheduling tool, Backpackit is a similar program targeted more toward individuals than companies, and Campfire allows users to talk and type in real-time while sharing photos and documents with seamless ease. These applications will allow users to see and hear what is being discussed in real-time.
The next online application, Salesforce, is targeted directly to companies. Created by former Oracle executive Marc Benioff, it is a CRM company which prides itself on software independence. The Sales Force Automation application allows representatives to access sales and marketing figures online, which is a first in the industry. This data can be tracked and analyzed from any web-connected computer around the world. What’s more, a company can manage finances, facilities and human resources with the new AppExchange program, all inside of a web browser. With this ability to not only track, but manage and edit company numbers, company leaders can be more mobile than ever before.
Wikipedia’s software, MediaWiki, offers companies a free and easy way to edit and add company content to the web to be viewed by the masses. Though there are more supportive, for-profit wiki programs, MediaWiki gives smaller companies a fighting chance in a big-budget market.
Information’s Golden Age is no better exemplified than by MySpace. One no longer has to socialize physically to learn everything they need to know about someone or something. With this in mind, it’s a no-brainer for companies to create a MySpace profile. With free access to an audience of over 100 million, it’s hard to pass up the chance to create discussion groups about one’s company and do targeted searches for individuals to gain publicity and generate interest amongst consumers.
The final web utility to focus on is Shycast. While very similar to MySpace, Shycast differs in that it is much smaller and more focused on being a resource for branding. Members of the Shycast community are encouraged to discuss their favorite products and companies. IKEA has taken advantage of the site’s potential for its “Break the Rules Bed-Making Contest.” IKEA fans can upload bed-making videos in an attempt to win a $5,000 prize. This site is the ultimate feedback machine for brands. Everyone wins, because customers will make suggestions, changes will ensue and the world will be a more efficient place.
As one can see, new products and career-changing opportunities sprout up on the web that weren’t there nine months prior. Since people are inherently quick to adapt but slow to change completely, I see these advances as being an evolutionary process in the way we live, not a revolutionary one. There are still other ways to accomplish the same aforementioned tasks. Whether they are better or worse is for each individual to decide, but one thing is undeniable: the Internet eliminates boundaries each and every day.