The DVR battle for control of the Web

The stakes for control of the world economy have never been higher, and looking realistically at the prospects for technology pulling us out of the morass is Job One. Watching the market swan dive each day as it approaches the closing bell can be unnerving, but it says little about the fundamentals of the economy, or what can be done about it. If the tech bubble was the demo of what we’re going through now, what does the release version portend for a bottom or eventual recovery?

At a minimum, companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, and even Google live for these types of events. When discretionary buying is triaged, moved below essentials like food, shelter, and security, we adjust according to flexibility and ROI. Television and radio appear to be free, as does the Internet, so devices that bridge those domains are more highly valued than partial solutions. News programming becomes a staple because of its potential for heading off impact on job, cost of living, and health issues.

At work, the ability to compress information streams into actionable summaries quickly surpasses many services in value to the company. Monitoring competitors, community feedback sites, and influential nodes in the social media space often proves much more relevant to strategic analysis and business imperatives. From the individual perspective, those companies or groups that support these channels offer potential recovery from layoffs or a path to combining project participation into something close to full time work. Location-based tools such as those emerging around the iPhone 3G further accelerate the real time flow of optimized actionable intelligence.

At a higher macro level, what we do for so-called entertainment becomes magnified in these clustered spiraling phases. We escape to comedy, music, chat services, more aggressively pungent versions of news designed to both aggravate and alleviate the fear that underlies the times. Sandwiching these release valves into our lives becomes the end game, with devices such as the Slingbox, its new companion Slingcatcher product, and smartphones at the top of the list. The use of Youtube clips of cable news and political coverage has skyrocketed as the markets continue to fluctuate so dramatically from second to second.

How these trends manifest themselves at the market level itself will take a few months to materialize, but already the use of real time services from email news alerts to RSS aggregators to Twitter and its bretheren is pushing cable and radio networks aside. Tw*tter is the DVR of the Web, a Play, Pause, Fast Forward, and Rewind controller for navigating real time prioritized data and interleaving it with work, travel, and what now passes for relaxation.

The tools required for this are clearly immature, but smart technologists are already starting to establish virtual teams producing component code to patch together into stable-enough on demand services. Amazon has dropped prices for steady customers, Google and Mozilla have seeded Labs skunkworks to accelerate cloud-related assets, and Microsoft is within weeks of exposing the underbelly of its cloud development infrastructure to its third-party troops.

The election and its aftermath should prove a handy lens with which to view the new winners that will spring from the bloodbath in which we’re dogpaddling. Watch the river flow and you see the shape of things to come – a fragmenting of media from watching other people win and lose to “playing” along at home with real dollars at stake. Influentials must increasingly learn how to absorb confidential data and turn it into consumable fragments that stay ahead of the market rollercoaster while not overwhelming the audience with cross- and up-sells. The campaign rapid response team model needs to be baked out across industries, consumer protection alliances, and best practice educational and heath service watchdogs.

The winners will fit best into the DVR model, creating a quality of reliability and integrity akin to the virtual version of the family doctor, the general practitioner who depends on his business coming from knowing yours. We’re way past micromessaging as brand management or promotion; it’s now and for the foreseeable future the one device we need to be working, the one bill we need to keep paying until the fires die down and we return to our once familiar dog-eat-dog world of competing to get ahead. For now, it’s about keeping our head.