As publishing houses struggle to stay afloat in the era of the web, a fundamental question remains: What is the web?

Paul Ford attempts to answer this question in this must-read article: The Web Is A Customer Service Medium

Brace yourself for the initial angry wave of criticism: How dare you, I hate it, it’s ugly, you’re stupid. The Internet runs on knee-jerk reactions. People will test your work against their pet theories: It is not free, and thus has no value; it lacks community features; I can’t believe you don’t use dotcaps, lampsheets, or pixel scrims; it is not written in Rusp or Erskell; my cat is displeased. The ultimate question lurks beneath these curses: why wasn’t I consulted?

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If you tap into the human need to be consulted you can get some interesting reactions. Here are a few: Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, Hunch, Reddit, MetaFilter, YouTube, Twitter, StumbleUpon, About, Quora, Ebay, Yelp, Flickr, IMDB, Amazon.com, Craigslist, GitHub, SourceForge, every messageboard or site with comments, 4Chan, Encyclopedia Dramatica. Plus the entire Open Source movement. If you spend more time on sites like those listed here than you do reading books, watching TV, or visiting sites like ESPN.com or NYTimes.com, then, like me, the web is now your native medium.

The obvious example of WWIC at work is Wikipedia, created for free by unpaid labor. It tapped into the basic human need to be consulted and never looked back.

Then there’s YouTube. It was created so that anyone could upload and distribute videos. So that’s one level of WWIC—to hell with TV, people should look at me! The site has comments, so people can discuss the videos—a second level of WWIC. But there are now also thumbs-up/thumbs-down icons so that you can rank the comments and the video, a third level of WWIC.

Anything I say about this article only strengthens Paul’s argument — I’m after all miffed at not being consulted. I feel similarly about the web and Paul has articulated it beautifully in a manner I never could have. However, I feel the Why Wasn’t I Consulted? question can be generalized into the need to share. Think about it: Facebook and Twitter, two of the largest services today cater to vanity — the need to share one’s feelings, one’s thoughts. The Why Wasn’t I Consulted question is at its core the need to share one’s opinion. We are in a web that facilitates sharing. The question that the web answers is: How can I share?

This does not apply to markets where the internet has just penetrated. In those markets, the web is still about discovering a universe of information, much like the web was in U.S.A. in the 80s. But it is only a matter of time before someone who has just discovered the internet starts tweeting about what he/she is doing and we Like the same.

Link via Jitendra V.

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