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As Blogs, Forums, Newsgroups, and Opinion / review sites gain in both numbers and popularity, the purpose for “going online” is also changing. Rather than going online to “check the email and local football results”, consumers are spending a larger percentage of time online discussing, sharing and learning. Ironically, sharing of knowledge and opinions is where the internet began.

Is is possible that we are returning to days of old where people would gather at the market place to discuss new spices and fabrics found in distant lands?

Trust in mass media is in decline, as people realise they have a tool that allows them to seek, hear and also give honest feedback to others.

As part of an increasing trend to utilise the growing consumer voice in the online world, several companies have made it their business to create and encourage community ratings.

Audioscrobbler takes searching for Music to a new level. Extending the Amazon version of “People who bought this, also bought that”, Audioscrobbler allows users to create their own unique music profile and then connect with others who have similar profiles. In this way they help induce people to grow their music interests by downloading more songs.

Storycode is applying the same principle to books. They have a unique scoring system which you use to describe books that you have read, and then they are able to recommend other books based on matching your responses to others readers.

Movielens is research project being conducted by the University of Minnesota pitched along similar lines.

Whether these sites will still be around next year is hard to say, but they are picking up on an important trend. People do listen to other people, and the internet is making it easier for people to give and hear those opinions. Community voices are definately finding their pitch, but many companies are still not listening.

So what should companies do to stop this trend and ensure that people only listen to what the PR agency wants them to hear?

Well, I think rather than ignoring this trend, companies need to open up their intranets and let consumers get involved with their products!