In Thursday’s “Huffington Post,” Arianna Huffington, who knows a thing or two about the Internet, announced that “the Internet has grown up.”

It has matured she says to the point where, “the qualities we care most about offline are being increasingly reflected in our experience online.”

What are those qualities we so cherish that the Internet is now reflecting? According to Huffington they are qualities of “community, connections and engagement.”

Huffington built a news website into a multi-million dollar empire that has just begun to seriously make its way into Canada. So when she spells out the keys to success, we do well to pay attention.

the companies and brands that succeed in the coming years will be those that most take advantage of the fact that there is increasingly little distinction between “virtual reality” and, well, reality. People don’t want to give up their humanity when they go online. The Internet is no longer a “virtual” public space where we have the semblance of connection — it’s a real public space where we really connect.

Remember all those scary movies about how humans were going to become machines in the future? Well, as it turned out, the machines ended up enabling us to be more human instead.

She goes on to paint a glowing picture of the future for savvy Internet users and to give helpful guidelines for finding our way in the grown-up Internet world.

The Internet of the future, the mature, grown-up Internet, has the potential to take what’s best about the human experience — our passion, our knowledge, our desire to connect — and channel it into an online experience that truly resonates with how people live.

The bridge to this more connected, more human future is to be found in directing our energy and resources to the foundational pillars of trust, authenticity and engagement — principles that can help all of us navigate the world, whether it’s the real world or the World Wide Web.

Let’s start with trust:

In the newer, more mature, more human Internet, trust isn’t something that comes because an old institution or authority figure demands it. It comes the same way it comes offline: It’s born out of connection and relationships. If brands and institutions want to have our trust, it must be earned, and then continually maintained — the same way it is in relationships we have in the offline world.

Truth is an important element of trust, but truth isn’t just about facts. As NYU professor Jay Rosen says, “information alone will not inform us.” Information free from any context isn’t meaningful to us and is not going to be trusted. So those who supply the context to the facts and information become extremely important. We know where our friends are coming from, we know who they are. So the information we get from them is more trusted.

The second pillar of the mature Internet is authenticity.

As users of the Web have become increasingly overwhelmed with information, and with competing messages, so too have they become increasingly sophisticated about sorting out the real from the fake, the genuine from the manufactured. The modern media landscape requires authenticity in order to make an impact.

In the new, grown-up Internet, the ordering principle is social, not hierarchical. It’s person-to-person, not top-down. And social media turns out to be an incredible tool for recognizing, building and fostering authenticity. That’s what it’s about — and this holds true not just for individual users, but for brands as well.

New media and social media tools have enabled people to shift their focus from passive observation to active participation — millions worldwide now want in on the creative process and have much to contribute to it. And companies are eager to use that passion and connection. But it’s a two-way street. Through social media, people tell companies who they are and what they value, and companies also tell people who they are and what their values are. And increasingly, companies that have both of those figured out have also figured out that doing good is good business.

Our third pillar is engagement… the grown-up Internet is all about engagement and community — after all, we’re social animals. The human desire for connectedness is universal. The Knight Foundation and Gallup recently conducted a survey to find out what emotionally attaches people to a community. The results were instructive — and they were consistent, from people in big cities to those living in small towns. The study found that the key drivers of people’s emotional attachment to where they live are: an area’s physical beauty, opportunities for socializing and a community’s openness to all people.

That’s just as true online as off. People will eventually find a way to make any activity into a tool for engagement, connection and community, and the Internet is the most effective tool for community building the world has ever seen. In fact, this invention — this thing we think of as a piece of technology or a series of machines — is now at the stage where it’s actually allowing us to tap into our full humanity.

What this may mean for people like me who endlessly put words out into the blogosphere, is that the most important part of my blog is not what I write, but is the often despised Comments Section. Here is where people connect. Here is where people allow themselves to be known, where they open up to different ideas and ways of seeing the world.

So, comment on brave pioneers of the wide open new world of connectivity and communication that is the Internet.


For Huffington’s entire post, which is worth reading and thinking seriously about, see: