From Social Media to the 3-D Internet: Companies Need to Change Up, Says Former RealNetworks Exec Kelly Jo MacArthur

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customer service, but as important is understanding how the tides are really shifting. That’s been one of the most fascinating things about working with all kinds of businesses, from tech to non-tech.

X: How are the tides shifting? Is it about more than just how to reach customers?

KJM: Often businesses are used to thinking about connecting to their consumers through traditional media outlets—advertising, traditional websites. I work with industries ranging from the performing arts to traditional media, groups trying to effect major change in culture or in policy— environmental, social, or political. They often begin by trying to understand, how do we communicate with our constituents? How is the media shifting? If you take someone all the way through the process, I find we need to think, “These are tools available to us,” but it leads you back to a strategic review of your business and why you’re really there. Why you’re relevant, how you stay relevant in the future, and how you use these tools to connect differently or more in-depth.

But most importantly and without exception, we’re finding that consumers want to reach each other and affect the output. We have great power as consumers. That’s providing businesses with all kinds of opportunities. It’s a time for businesses to be very hopeful. They often think they don’t understand technology, but really we’re in a place and time where we need to understand communication, human behavior, media, all the underlying forces that drive us forward as a society.

X: Given your experience at Real, you have some valuable perspective on the rise of the Internet and social media. Where did all of this come from?

KJM: Netscape launched the browser in 1992-1994, which really opened the Internet to commercial applications. Thinking about RealNetworks, [founder] Rob Glaser was still at Microsoft, and he said, “It’s because of this commercial browser that I see the possibility of turning this network into a new mass medium.” That was the genesis of RealNetworks. Not necessarily to sell streaming media technology, but to create an alternative to the then-current mainstream media. He saw it as an ability to reach citizens around the world in a very social way, much as we’re beginning to see realized today. He introduced RealAudio in 1994. Some of the most interesting early applications were enabling people to create channels for communication of non-mainstream ideas, or ideas that were difficult to publish through the mainstream, all over the world.

One of the things that was particularly exciting was we got servers into Yugoslavia at the outset of the Bosnia war and allowed people to … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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  • Kelly is spot on. I particularly like the way she emphasizes the power of people as citizens and consumers, and how it is vastly enhanced via social media.

    Her analysis goes beyond the blunt and obvious “Now people can broadcast their complaints” assessment of social media impact. Instead, she seems to understand that this media gives companies a chance to let people actually form their very offering. Their core value. We are doing this at Daily Grommet, via “Citizen Commerce” but we have the luxury of forming a business around that central notion of asking people create our business with us, in creating a participative commerce experience. But it is SO much harder for a big company to backfill with this kind of participation and sheer personal touch.

    I would be interested to hear Kelly’s POV on the relative balancing of power between small and large business now. I argue that social media levels the playing field and that small is a huge advantage. I think the days of nameless/faceless business are over. Social media takes us back to the notion of living in a village where you know who made your bread and forged your horsehoes.