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Strategic insights
A Massive Amount of Choices

Written by on February 24, 2009

What is the most important change when it comes to understanding the new web? The answer to that is rather simple. The most important change is "choice". Or more specifically the number of choices you can make.

The biggest obstacle today is that there so many other things that people can do, that getting peoples attention is hard. We are drowning by the noise of other people. And even though we now live in a much faster world, the effect is often that it takes a lot longer, and requires much more effort to reach people.

Back when choice wasn't a choice

To put this into perspective, I would like to take you 250 years back in time. Back then people didn't have a choice. There was probably only one or two newspapers in your area, and people were probably only subscribing to one of them. And even at that, the "news" was merely reprinted letters of little real value to the public.

Here is one of them from April 8, 1728. It was published weekly, and contained a very low amount of pages.

When it came to "news" you really didn't have a choice. You could get this newspaper, or no newspaper at all.

Since then the world has changed quite a bit. Today you can subscribe to a thousand different newspapers, who all contain more than a 100 times more information. You can read another 1000 different magazines, focused on every single topic you can possibly imagine.

You can go online to read several million online opinions about anything, or you can turn to the radio, TVs, Podcast, Vodcast and any of the 280 million blogs. And when you are done reading those, you can turn to the gazillion news sources embedded within people social profiles. You can get direct information about people on their Facebook page, or you can look up images for a specific event by turning to Flickr. You can also get interesting links about anything else at Delicious.

And if that still hasn't satisfied your "hunger", you can turn to the good old Google Search, and look up the answer to life, the universe and everything.

In 1728, all you needed to do was to create "more". The lack of choices meant that anything new would be an instant hit.

The same could be said about the internet 15 years ago. Back then it was still fairly small. You only needed to create another choice or a different experience. Just make something that people could spend their time on. People wanted more, people wanted to experiment, and the "old world" didn't provide enough "entertainment".

We also experience the same when the App Store on the iPhone was released. The number of choices was scarce during the first few months, and the only thing you needed to do was to create another iPhone App. It didn't have to be really good, because people were more interested what you could do, than it being really useful.

Today we have so many choices that we cannot decide which ones to take. Giving people "more" just ads to the frustration. The web has become incredible saturated, and people no longer use your product on the iPhone (at least not for long).

So what should you do in the modern age?

In the modern age there are generally 3 things that may well turn out to be a failure. A few years ago, all of these were commonly suggested as being a good thing to do.

These were:

  1. Giving people yet another choice
  2. Creating "alternatives"
  3. Do the same, just better or using "more".

On the other hand, there are also 4 things that are very likely to turn out to be a success. These are:

1: Find the great stuff, so that people don't have to

Instead of creating just another magazine, create one that focuses exclusively on great things. For instance, if people want to find good-looking wallpapers for their iPhone, they can either turn to the 33 million websites in the world... Or turn to Smashing Magazine's article "100 really great iPhone Wallpapers".

This is the way to create value. Its like the Personal Shopper, who will help you find just the right product. Sites like Smashing Magazine will help you find just the right content.

The same goes for web application developers. Don't create yet another choice. Look instead at how you can filter the choices and just give them the right ones.

2: Make all the other choices seem silly

The second really amazing thing you can do is to change the rules. When Apple decided to make the iPhone, they didn't create another mobile for you to choose between. They created something that made all other mobiles seem silly in comparison

BTW: Now, two years later, the competition has recovered from the shell shock and are producing their own iPhones.

The same is happening with eBooks (although much more slowly). In 5 years buying a traditional book, printed on paper, is probably going to seem silly too. The same will happen in the automotive industry. The cars of today will seem silly in the future. Or the way that Podcasts are transforming the radio. Or how Nike+iPod has transformed running with friends.

There are so many opportunities out there when you focus on doing something that makes your competition appear silly in comparison.

3: Be number one

This is, of course, simpler said than done, but there is no substitute for being number one. Coca Cola and Pepsi are pretty much identical, but because Coca Cola is the number one, they come out on top.

While Pepsi are spending ridicules amount of money rebranding their logo, Coca Cola is casually surfing the wave.

Don't try to be number two, just one of the pack, yet another alternative, or in the top 20. Be the number one.

Of course, doing this also means that you will have a number of hard choices. You cannot be the best at everything, so in order to the best at something you have to decide what you want to do poorly.

4: Invent new ways... Not new variations

Finally, it is still (and probably always will be) a good idea to invent new ways of doing things, although the focus has changed slightly.

In the past you could invent new tools because we wanted more tools. Today you have to invent new tools to replace older tools. We want fewer choices, and we want the new choices to be based on creating value in a smart way.

But most importantly. Anything that has already been done by other people is not worth doing again.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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