I have been thinking a lot about the topic of history in the digital space lately because of some recent discussions with friends, and also because of a book I will talk about in a little bit. In my own book, “Search and Social,” I had written about some key thinkers who laid the foundation for what we now consider to be “modern marketing,” even though they projected today’s landscape many years in the past. I am a firm believer that credit should be given where it is due, though this should go without saying. Through my research for the book, I found some thinkers who had actually written about some of the ancillary concepts I thought were new, and I attributed them accordingly.
One key way innovation occurs is when we translate or synthesize prior common knowledge into something new. Common knowledge is based on the past. Though we don’t always acknowledge it, some of our “new” things are not new, and were previously documented 5, 10, 50, 100, or a 1,000 years ago.
When we start to champion and cheer on something old as “new” and “innovative,” innovation loses. I am referring more to digital strategy in this column, but of course this could apply to many other things. Considering how fast things are moving, marketers need to get a better handle on the history of the way things have been done in the past, to avoid making the same mistakes in the future -- and, even better, so they can take their digital marketing to the next level.
Reading Mel Carson’s book, “Pioneers of Digital,” is a great start toward developing a basis for true innovation through education. Carson could have written his own book based on his level of knowledge in the digital ad space, but instead paid homage to some interesting people who did some amazing things. For the search space, he profiles Vanessa Fox and Danny Sullivan.
Gurbaksh Chahal and his amazing story is profiled as well. I wrote a post about something I thought was an entirely original idea a couple of years ago, called the “share graph,” only to find out that Gurbaksh and RadiumOne had championed a similar concept for network ad targeting a couple years prior (though their names didn’t come up in a Google search for that concept). While I'd added to the definition of the concept, it was clear that Gurbaksh had thought of it first. But what did I do when I found out? I didn’t try to bogart credit for the concept and term. Instead I included RadiumOne in my book, because Chahal’s innovative and original thinking made my little addition that much stronger. Maybe someone else thought of it before we did. By all means, call us out, as it may lead to something even more interesting.
I don’t have the answer for how one becomes fully immersed in Internet history. I learned a lot of what I know through thousands of hours of research, and by living through many iterations of digital marketing dating back to its earliest days.
But just a little bit of research will go a long way -- even if it's a quick review of your favorite search engine.