8 November 2008

Empowered to the people

What do Jonathan Ross, Barack Obama and UK Banks have in common?

All have been subject to the force of Joe (and Jo) Public since I last put keystroke to keyboard for this blog, and the Internet has been instrumental in their respective fates.

In the fuss that followed in the wake of Mr Ross and his buddy getting a tad over-excited, it was quickly forgotten that at the time of the very objectionable broadcast, only a handful or three of listeners to the show complained about the duo's behaviour.

(Personally, I think this means the BBC should look again at its audience measuring method as I find it hard to believe that any more than a couple of handfuls of listeners would not have found the reported broadcast objectionable - but I digress.)

Most of those who did complain in the days that followed clearly did not hear the broadcast live. It seems that quite a lot of them have since watched a recording of the show on YouTube and the vast majority of those who contacted the Beeb about their wayward children did so by email. Auntie's bulletin boards almost went into meltdown because so many people were trying to post their comments about the programme.

Fast forward to the events in the USA last week and I don't mind admitting that I got a tad emotional at the sight of the Obama family (and what that represented) on stage in Chicago in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

(Another aside: why oh why can't we have a Jon Stewart too?)

Much has been made of the amount of money President-elect Obama raised for his campaign, but only passing attention has been paid to the fact that his team raised millions of dollars from many individual donations and got a huge proportion of the vote out by running an extremely effective Internet-based campaign.

And that brings us to events here at home and the last couple of days.

Within minutes of the Bank Rate reduction being announced on 6 November, a head of steam was building up from Mr & Ms Public anxious to get the cut passed onto them in full. Once again, bulletin boards started to glow as consumers signalled that they had had enough of the cake-and-eat-it actions of the Banks, and that they expected this Rate cut to be passed down the line.

The press, having seen how quickly the public could voice their displeasure over a broadcast few of them had actually heard , knew that the backlash to the Banks for making even more money at the public's expense would eclipse the BBC row in hours.

They sprung into action with headlines demanding the cut be passed on. The equally fleet-of-foot politicians jumping on the rapidly accelerating bandwagon swiftly followed it. And low it came to pass that the cut was passed on.

Of course, the Internet is hardly new. (Am I the only one that sees the irony in the fact that if former Vice President Al Gore who helped to establish the Internet, had used it more effectively himself, he may have won against George W. Bush in 2000?) But it is paying an ever-increasing role in the lives of everyday people.

In the last few weeks we have seen examples of how the Internet can help to empower the public in ways that have not been possible before and the genie is out of the bottle. There is no going back.

The Internet can be a power for good and you ignore its potential at your peril. Any business that does not have an Internet strategy in place is going to suffer in the years ahead - and that's a fact.

Meanwhile, the banker who announced that there was a 'line in the sand' regarding the passing on of further Bank Rate cuts, should perhaps be careful with his words.

The expression 'line in the sand' comes from the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution in 1836. The commander, William Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited any of the Texan soldiers that were holding out in the Alamo who were willing to fight to the death to cross over the line.

All that crossed over, including Travis, died in the ensuing battle.

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