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Idea: The Web is Not a Duck

It can be very tempting to apply the “duck test” to explain what the web is all about. The duck test is that folk-wisdom adage that suggests, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

However, on the web, things often look, swim and quack like ducks—but aren’t. One reason for the confusion is that a lot of the ways we’ve used to describe the early web have depended on metaphors related to print media: webpages, ebooks, email, newsletters, hypertext.

If early metaphors applied to the web had also focused on place or identity to the same degree they focused on print media, today we would be less tied to thinking of the web as a means of publishing and distributing content. We would be more aware that the web is as much about who we are as people as it is about who we are as data, as much about community as it is about commerce, as much about customer “followship” as it is about opinion leadership.

We would not have to spend a decade or two using a term like “social media” in the same way earlier generations depended on terms like “moving pictures” or “horseless carriages.”

When you attempt to describe the potential of the web as mere content, you fool yourself into thinking it’s something one-sided and controllable. You’ll see it as old forms of advertising and PR merely updated for screens rather than paper.

It’s time to understand that the web is more about people connecting with people than brands connecting with audiences.

Bottom Line for Marketers: You can serve your company and customers to a much greater degree by thinking beyond the web as a place to publish content. You can use the web to add measurable value to your products and extend customer relationships dramatically. But as long as you limit your understanding of the web to metaphors of print and other mass media, you will be challenged to understand it as a place where people live; where people are more than data, leads or demographics. Where the web is more than something you use—it’s something you are. It’s time to accept the reality that the web is not a duck.

Image: Thinkstock.com

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