Why you can’t really break the internet

I’ve read a lot of articles recently and heard a few reporters comment that people like Kim Kardashian have ‘broken’ the internet. Of course they haven’t because for some of the reasons below it isn’t actually possible to ‘break the internet’.

I know that in the context of celebrities (and I use the term loosely when writing about anyone with the surname Kardashian) and the context of viral media content, ‘breaking the Internet’ means engineering a story to dominate Facebook and Twitter at the expense of more newsworthy things and not actually breaking it.

That’s basically because in the real world, you can’t break the internet, why? Because the internet isn’t a single entity that can be broken in the same way that you can break your smartphone, laptop or tablet device. The internet is a complex mix of elements, maintained and owned by multiple organisations across the globe. You may be able to break a website in the sense that you can take a website offline by using a DDOS attack (Distributed Denial of Service) in the same way that the BBC website and iPlayer were taken offline recently using the same technique. But you simply can’t break the internet, not all of it, not at the same time.

The simple reason is that the Internet is a collection of computers, servers, hardware, cables and the like – not to be confused with the World Wide Web (the WWW bit) which is all of the websites that sit on top of the Internet. Every website, email, e-commerce shop etc lives on a part of the internet that is situated in different places, in different countries across the world. So breaking this simultaneously would be virtually impossible.

Like anything that is getting old in a technology sense, (think how long your shinny new iPhone is going to last until Apple brings out another 2 updates), some parts of the Internet are getting on a bit. Routers that should have been retired years ago have failed, which can leave any website vulnerable to getting ‘lost’ as nothing on the internet either knows where it is or knows how to get it the site even if it does. Add to that regular shark attacks on the cables that run under the Atlantic connecting us to the USA and there is an very realistic possibility that some parts of the Internet will at some point break. For real.

The biggest cause of concern that is more worrying is that the Internet is running out of addresses. It’s like the Royal Mail running out of Postcodes or the changes we had to make in the UK to the phone system because we were running out of phone numbers, something that will happen again in the next few years if things don’t change. For the Internet the problem is IP addresses. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is the identifier for every device that goes online, so it follows that the more devices that there are online the more addresses we will need. Using the current 32-bit number, which gives around 4 billion IP addresses, will eventually run out, especially if you think there are around 6 billion people in the world who may all need an IP address at some point.

So can you break the Internet, no.

Will it break itself, possibly. But as it is made up of some many parts I doubt it will all break at once, or be broken for long if the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon to name but a few have anything to do with it.

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Have Amazon dropped the ball?

I often use Amazon as an example of a company that is a pioneer in the way that we use the web today. From an ecommerce perspective, our expectations of where elements are placed on the page have come from using the likes of Amazon for books, CD Wow (remember them?) for CD’s, Play.com for DVD’s and Ebuyer or Dabs for computer components. Most of the ecommerce websites today can thank these (and others) for researching and developing how we browse and shop on the web today.

Whilst the competition has floundered, with the closure of Play.com and before that the removal of it’s own products leaving it as just a market place, Amazon must have been rubbing it’s hands with glee. After all, their aggressive pricing policies and free delivery had us turning to them for more than just books, you can now buy almost anything on their website, either directly from Amazon or from a multitude of sellers in the marketplace.

But all that has changed.

No longer is Amazon the cheapest place to buy products, especially one of its staple products, CDs and DVDs. The shop itself has become a jumble sale, allowing the likes of you and me to add products at will, regardless of whether the same products exist on the site already (I know, I’ve done it). Not only that but the super saver free delivery option has gone unless you spend over an ever-increasing threshold, currently set at £20.

You could point to the drive towards getting more people to use the Prime service, which gives not only free next day delivery, but also access to the online streaming service, as a reason for the shift in policy on delivery charges. I can only guess that the powers that be want to take the money up front (currently £79 per year) for delivery that they previously gave away for free. After all they will need the money to pay for Jeremy Clarkson et al’s massive wages for the eagerly awaited Top Gear follow up reported to have been snapped up by Amazon Prime.

Having spent the best part of fifteen years going to Amazon to find almost anything on the web at a good price with free delivery, I now find myself drawn further towards that other stalwart of the web, EBay. There was a time when EBay was just other people’s junk, second hand tat that you could pick up for a few pounds in the hope that it is better than the pictures make it look. These days you can pick up almost anything, brand new, at a decent price (if you know where to look).

Like other market places you still get products that are vastly over priced, so it is worth shopping around to find the best deal and always check people’s negative feedback. And with PayPal (even though it has now split from EBay) you get the piece of mind that if the DVD you bought doesn’t turn up or turns out to be fake, you are protected as a buyer.

So have Amazon really dropped the ball? (No rugby World Cup 2015 pun intended) Or is their inflated product pricing and delivery policy really a masterstroke to move the company into being a streaming media provider (Prime Instant) rather than a physical product store?

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Have You Ever Had a Paper Round?

It might seem like a bit of an odd question to ask at an interview for a web developer or social media manager within an advertising agency, but it is a question I have been asking over the years for a very good reason.

Firstly it isn’t really the question that is important, more the meaning. What I am really asking people is are you a self starter, did you do something when you where younger that set you apart from others, made a bit of money and showed that you are willing to work hard even from a young age.

Of course in a digital age when most people I know read the news online, through their smart phones, tablets or computers, there is less need for people to deliver newspapers. Indeed my wife used to deliver milk (and no it wasn’t a question I asked before I married her in case you were wondering), again showing at a young age it isn’t just newspapers that needed delivering. Not that you can consume milk online but you can buy it and have it delivered with your weekly shop making the daily milk delivery as rare as the paper boy.

These days I do get odd looks now from the twenty somethings who usually ask “what’s a paper round”. Maybe I will have to change the question to “have you ever had a Saturday job?” It would seem that most 16 and 17 year olds would say no, judging by the recent research conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, suggesting that “Only one in five has a part-time job while in college or doing A-Levels”. The BBC newsbeat team have reported the reductions in their article here, which is what prompted me to write this post.

Although never a deal breaker, I can safely say that the overwhelming majority of people I have employed over the past 15 years have either had a paper round, milk round or some sort of work outside of their school / college time. Also speaking to people who are in positions of authority within companies, either clients or other agencies, I have found the a large amount of them will have done something at a young age, paper round, milk, round, working in a shop on a Saturday morning etc.

It has become more and more important as an employer to see people who have more than just academic skills, but also have real world employment skills too. Even graduates or placement students (working for a year as part of their degree) will have more valuable skills to an employer if they have done something, preferably to do with the job they are applying for, than those who just studied and got a better degree.

So I will be telling my kids, one of which is almost a teenager, to go out and find something outside of their studies that will help them in later life, you just never know who might be asking if you have ever had a paper round.

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Every Little Helps

I shop at Tesco’s for 90% of my groceries. I get my TV, phone and broadband from Sky. I use Money Supermarket to get my car insurance. I use my iPhone to entertain me from games to music to web browsing.

I do all this not just because it’s convenient, but in doing so I can save both time and money.

I’m sure I’m not alone. This is the way of the nation and probably most of the western world. Large organisations have adapted to and built around what the consumer needs. Sure, there is opposition. What about the independent traders, the experts, the local farmer? Most people agree there is a need to support these people but circumstances dictate how we live and really, why make life harder than it needs to be?

Of course I’m using this comparison to illustrate how integrated agencies operate and flourish in today’s financially tough, time-restrictive climate.

But, like the opposition to supermarkets and shopping malls, integrated is seen as a naughty word. Is a marketer seen to be lazy, weak or soft by going to one agency that can fulfil all their needs? Or are they busy, budget-conscious and focused?

The debate surrounding using either a specialist digital agency versus an integrated one has raged for many years and probably won’t go away anytime soon. What we have seen over the years is trends pointing first one way and then the other.

In the early days of the Internet there weren’t many specialist digital agencies so there wasn’t any choice, digital campaigns were done by advertising agencies or repro houses (remember them?).

Once there were enough people with Internet experience small, independent, digital agencies were born and the shift towards using these specialists for digital work was complete.

More recently there seems to be a shift back to the integrated agencies who can offer digital not only as a bolt on, but as a segmented, stand alone offering within the business. This is of course nothing new but there is a growing feeling in the industry that this is the way things are going and may be the way things stay.

The big question is why?

In the beginning digital only agencies were small niche businesses focussing on one thing, website design and build. This is long before you had to put any effort into online marketing to rank highly in Google.

The move from niche to mainstream happened quite quickly as the Internet took off and more businesses wanted a web presence. Good digital agencies then offered ancillary services including online marketing (Search Engine Optimisation and Pay per Click), email marketing and online advertising.

It has been this move from niche to mainstream that led the traditional advertising and marketing agencies to look at these businesses as a threat to their share of client revenue, especially with the increases we have seen in spend on digital activity over the past 10 years.

It makes perfect sense to use specialists where only a specialist can give the required results. However as a marketer it also makes more sense to keep your budget, timescales and more importantly your brand consistency in one place.

This is true not only of integrated campaigns, but also for individual projects too. I think it is safe to say that the majority of major brands now have their own website, be it good or bad, so are generally looking for campaign work rather than a complete digital overhaul or new build without any precedent.

What has been happening in recent years is that specialist digital practitioners, who have worked in pure digital agencies, are helping traditional advertising agencies embrace the digital ‘revolution’ by adding a digital capability to their offering. This allows clients to keep their campaigns in one place rather than having separate agencies for on and off-line projects.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and a place for everything and specialist agencies are no different. I do think those that will flourish at least in the short term are the niche agencies that offer services like Social Media and Search Marketing.

Both of these can be handled by integrated agencies that have the people and capabilities and will probably be swallowed up in the same way as traditional design and build has.

Having said all of this, some will be nodding in agreement; some will say that integrated agencies have been offering digital capabilities for a long time. This is very true and whilst some have always had their own specialists, a lot of them used to outsource the digital parts of campaigns to the niche digital agencies. Some of them still do.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that and is one of the other ways in which specialists will survive, by going back to being the niche design and build agencies that they started out as.

Integration can be seen as shorthand for choice, convenience and collaboration. It is the binding together of resources, knowledge and skill. It also brings consistency. With brands fighting it out across multiple channels, brand consistency is paramount.  In the current climate, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that if you can’t offer an integrated, collaborative solution then you are in danger of not having the ability to fully deliver the whole package.

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In the begining…

…man made the internet, then the world wide web (yes there is a difference!) then filled it up with websites no-one has ever seen.

Man then made Google so that he could find what he was looking for.

Man keeps on filling the internet up with websites that no-one can find unless they pray to the god that is now Google, in the hope that they get first page listings for the products / services they are selling.

As one leading digital marketing consultant once said “if you can’t find something on Google or Ebay it doens’t exist, does it?”

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