Last year I did some research (unpublished) into the future of internet retail. It covered a number of themes from behavioural changes to alternative media to manufacturing changes and transparency.
I then organised a couple of brainstorming sessions with Matt Webb, Mark Fowler & Suw Charman to look at these subjects again - both by the way are very smart cookies. The emergent themes were the same but with a much stronger emphasis. (I will publish this all when I find time to complete it and I'm satisfied that it all fits as a coherent structure).
One particularly strong theme was the development of curators and P2P reputation systems. I discussed this with Steve Whittaker and also the Enterprise 2.0 lot at Andrew Mcafee's session.
As "the conversation" becomes increasingly more important than "the product" itself, then companies run a danger through not being open completely with information and engaging with the web 2.0 world.
The danger is that if they don't become the canonical source of information about themselves then someone else will - we coined the term 'curators' to describe these sources.
I've just picked up this post by Tim on a Wall Street Journal article that argues that this is already happening.
According to the article, there are a vast number of "hidden influencers" who have taken root online. Now I'd suggest that though digg and technorati have the basics, we will eventually see P2P reputation and those "hidden" influencers will become very public.
As this develops, some may start becoming those curators or canonical sources of information we talked about. In other cases it may be bloggers or it maybe companies.
How these curators emerge will be dictated by the internet - however the first signs are there and flourishing and reputation is likely to play a strong part.
The scary thing is that as a company, you don't get to choose or decide who will become the canonical source. You may well find in the future your customers listening to Tom's Hardware rather than you and if you don't provide open information on yourself and your products then someone else will (wikipedia, some blogger etc).
I produce a product and someone else is the voice?
In order to have a chance at even being the voice, I have to be totally open and honest with information both positive and negative in order to build trust - no guarantees I'll win in any case
I can see some PR managers / lawyers having wobbles over this one.