Quick, who’s your agent? Don’t have one? Not an actor or a pro sports jock? Don’t worry, we don’t call them that yet, and it may not be the term du jour, but it’s one that will be critical in the next ten years.
An agent is going to filter content for you, and hopefully just you. Current examples are when you shop at Amazon and you get all those suggestions- “people who bought “Potato chip collecting for dummies” also bought… or when my TiVo selects shows I may like based on what I watch. Mass marketers feared the 500 channel universe because audiences would fragment making it increasingly to introduce new products like the square potato chip, while niche marketers were celebrating the advent of the potato chip network, which featured chips, chips and more chips, 24 hours a day.
If there is one problem that hasn’t been solved yet for the coming TV over IP, it’s how to let audiences know what shows are worth buying and what isn’t. The great thing is, we will no longer have to have an assigned date and time to watch the first episode of “The Potato Chip masters,” it will be available on demand, any time we want, for as long as we want.
Agents will make all the difference. Radio used to be the primary agent for the music industry, you’d hear a song, like it, and go buy it. The second level agents were your friends, the guy at the record store and music magazines. Now, with idiots like Clear Channel homogenizing radio nationwide, local record stores a dying industry, you are left with friends. These days communities of like minded connoisseurs are getting together on the web and invariably, a few people become the influencer of the group- these are the new “agents” of influence, and over the next 10 years they will become more and more important to anyone selling anything.
You will need a network of agents and communities for them to infiltrate. You will also need agents to steer you to the communities, but these already exist, to an extent in search engines. If you search, and the community is solid, it should show up in the first 10 screens of your search. Communities are still learning their way to build themselves. We have yahoo groups to join, and there are peer networks like myspace, tribe and friendster, and specialty sites that focus on topics like Slashdot that bring people interested in the same thing together, over time, these will become your filters for your personal information system, through RSS feeds and AI agents that sort and aggregate content based on your interests- think of it as askjeeves meets a real butler/friend/teacher type.
If there is one-reason newspapers are having such a hard time keeping subscribers it’s because they never really understood their role as agents for a local community. They were supposed to be the one stop agent for their community first, regional second and national and global third. It was up to them to make the regional up to global relevant to their local community, and to be the leader in pollinating the local leaders.
This brings up something; all agents have ranks. Sort of like the military, only different. It’s not the number of people that you influence and direct that is most important, it’s the number of other agents. The agent system is viral in nature, and the number of nodes of influence you reach are critical to the rank you will achieve.
Explaining viral marketing is a subject for another entry. But for now, take a look around and think- who ARE your agents, and what are they doing for you?

I’d love to hear what you think.