History is being made by this first Internet recession, and I’ve been eager to discover how the Web has influenced our moods, our support systems, our decision making, and our access to what we need and when we need it. My first find? Barter is making a comeback.
I have hugely fond memories of barter because it led to such unexpected connections. Years ago, while working in New York, I helped re-design a Brooklyn-based specialty food store’s newspaper advertising to make it more visual and practical. I also created new promotions for a Greenwich Village print shop, increasing their sales. Eventually, my own promotion at my day job cut into my personal time, added to my financial well being, and ended those bartering days.
The Internet makes the trade and barter business easier and the recession makes it more necessary. Matt Bandyk, in his Risky Business blog on U.S. News & World Report’s Web site, contrasted the informal barter arrangements proposed on sites like Craigslist with fee-based barter exchanges that boast about 400,000 businesses worldwide. Like the system in which I participated in New York, barter exchanges create their own currency so members can do work for one firm but “buy” from another. Membership applications for such exchanges are up as much as 15 percent according to the industry source cited by Bandyk.
Another recession winner for the Internet is social networking. LinkedIn, the business-focused social networking site (quite a few of us at The History Factory, including me, participate), reported in January that unique visitors increased to 7.7 million—22 percent over the previous month. Perhaps more significantly, total minutes spent on the site doubled from 47.6 million in December to 96.8 million in January. Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell blog for Forrester distinguished between the success of word-of-mouth versus Internet advertising during a recession, highlighting the fact that the information that comes through a personal connection has more influence than the awareness that comes through an ad. That explains why Monster bragged about a 76 percent increase in traffic in January 2009 versus January 2008, but warned that help-wanted advertising revenue would decline 30 percent in 2009’s first quarter.
Other online analysts and bloggers, however, are concerned about the negative effects of social networking during this recession, one of which is the fact that global information is readily accessible. From my home office North of Philadelphia, I read a report by Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, who was sitting in London’s British Library rummaging around the Internet. There, she found a Huffington Post story about an unemployed, but well-dressed woman begging on New York’s Madison Avenue.
“The internet,” Kellaway wrote, “has created a global psyche. The web has mentally joined us at the hip, so we can no longer put our heads in the sand.” Making a similar point, Julia Cheiffetz, an editor for a HarperCollins imprint, reported that she subscribed to themediaisdying on Twitter but then wondered about the cumulative impact of all the information—accurate or not—flooding to us. “Do I really need to know that Metro France let 3 reporters go, or that PCM the owner of the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant is downsizing?” she asked.
However, the Internet is praised for that very quality—accelerating the global sharing of information—as it enables users to fight back against the recession. The Community Marketing Blog used LinkedIn to start a discussion about “Reasons why twitter might be right for your business” and then shared great examples. One response came from a Sydney, Australia entrepreneur who explained how he changed his business model to rely more on the Internet, which helped him to sustain his sales despite the recession.
Time will sort all this out and history will speak to the significance of the first Internet-age recession. However, as we gorge on all the information and opinion available via blogs and Web columns, one bit of history seems appropriate. The blog platform Movable Type, which celebrated its seventh anniversary in October 2008, was created by an unemployed victim of the dotcom bubble-burst and first used by out of work developers to discuss their daily activities (thanks to SiliconValleyWatcher’s Tom Foremski).