Although the history of the internet can be traced back to the 1950's, it was during the 1980's when the concept of a world wide network, which was all interconnected, called the 'Internet', was introduced. However, it was in the mid 1990's with the widespread use of email, Voice over Internet Protocol phone calls, and the maturing of the World Wide Web, when the 'internet' started to have a revolutionary impact on the way we all live and work.
When people started to use the internet and the World Wide Web, it was something people 'dialed into' in order to access information. In many ways, therefore, it was no different from accessing a book, catalogue, newspaper or some other form of information. In fact, in the days of 'dial up' connections, it was often slower and more challenging than using more traditional media.
However, as the internet and World Wide Web have matured, together with the fast pace of innovation in digital technology, the whole nature of these channels has changed.
The onset of broadband meant the web was no longer 'dialed into' but 'always on'. With the introduction of the Apple iPhone in 2007, the first smart phone to really capture the public imagination, mobile has increasingly become our primary access point to the internet and web. In other words, it is not just always on, but with us all the time.
The creation of social platforms, adopted by the masses, such as LinkedIn and Facebook meant the web transitioned from a 'web of things' to a 'web of people'. As this has occurred, more of the social interactions we have, including making arrangements, and sharing stories and information, has migrated to these platforms.
Today, the world wide web has become the major access points for many of our daily activities including shopping, accessing the information we need, watching programmes and films, reading books and interacting with business colleagues, family and friends. We are seamlessly dipping in and out of the web during the course of our busy day without giving it much thought.
It is this integration which companies need to start thinking about, in order to ensure they serve their customers and prospects in the best way possible. In so doing, of course, they will be able to maximise their own commercial opportunities. Businesses in all sectors and sections of the market need to ask themselves:
How do they deliver a seamless experience between the information, products and services that they deliver 'online' across laptops, tablet and smart phones, and how does this integrate with the 'offline' delivery of products and services?
For example, as I walk through a store looking at 'real life products' can I access more information on my phone, about the product, simply by using the camera on my phone and hovering my device over the product. Moreover, does 'augmented reality', the ability to enhance the physical environment with digital technology, allow me to see what a product would look like in my home by being able to hover my camera over the product with the backdrop of a picture I took of my living room?
The point is, companies need to start thinking about how their information 'online', which we can access 24/7, can help us engage in the physical world; in other words, taking the 'online' and making it part of our 'offline' experience. This is the idea of 'The Outernet'. In other words, it is a way of thinking.
Location based social platforms already allow us to see 'online' which friends may be available for a drink in our current locality 'offline'. These same networks as well as many other platforms, will allow us to identify local restaurants, cinemas and other local activities which can be decided upon 'in the moment'. It is the idea that some have coined 'SoLoMo', the concept of social, local and mobile all coming together providing consumers with a richer experience and companies with commercial opportunities. However, it is not simply the accessing of information at the relevant time, but how that information integrates between the physical and digital world. In many ways, Google Glass is Google's first attempt at integrating these two worlds in a more seamless way.
Ultimately, it is about understanding 'the context' in which people are likely to search or want to find out about your products or services. This is regardless of whether your business operates in a business to consumer or business to business environment. Opportunities can be created for a business, and better experiences offered to customers by understanding how any company can integrate their 'offline' with their 'online', in a world where people use the two together seamlessly all the time.
Consequently the 'Outernet' is a concept, a way of thinking. Increasingly, the best companies will be asking themselves, 'How can they merge the digital with the physical in order to create a richer and more engaging experience for their customers?