With every cool startup touting their latest marketing technology as revolutionary and better than sliced bread, it may be hard to figure out what’s really game-changing. Not many technologies actually make history once the dust settles. In that respect, below is a list of what I believe are the watershed movements in the history of Internet marketing. I’ll even claim that the most impactful innovation of them all is barely out of the gate and one you’re yet to fully understand; It’s the Open Graph. I placed a big bet on it a year ago and it paid off.

It started with email

The history of Internet as a marketing channel started back in 1983 when Compuserve launched the first commercial Internet email product. Internet messaging had previously been available only to the military and universities. Now consumers could send electronic messages to other individuals (I assume male engineers…) with an Internet email address. While marketers didn’t flock to email the 80’s, they sure didn’t miss a beat as email became mainstream.

The web

A decade later, a “browser” for Tim Berners Lee‘s hypertext protocol became available as a free download from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Mosaic, as the browser was called, was soon followed by a more household name, the Netscape Navigator.

This was the birth of the Web, including interactive marketing and advertising, as we’ve come to know it.

eCommerce

Very few people and companies thought the web would have any impact on their ability to sell goods and services (Microsoft included, btw.). As Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com in 1995, most business analysts thought it would flop as consumer would never use their credit card online. ‘Nuff’ said.

Search engine marketing

The next watershed moment in Internet history was Google Adwords, launched in 2003. Google wasn’t first search engine, but it was the first to offer a system whereby  advertisers could serve ads in response to users’ real-time intent and desires.  It’s still the king of Internet advertising and remains a $20BN market today.

Mobile apps

In 2007 the rules changed again. Mobile content consumption, previously tightly controlled by the carriers (at least in the US), was suddenly controlled by a device manufacturer as Apple launched the iPhone. What’s more, Apple allowed 3rd party developers to create their own phone applications, giving consumes a choice in how they wanted to consume content and services on the go. In just a few years, the smartphone market matured into a lucrative marketing channel to consumers, with unprecedented ability to customize content, offers and experiences based on the individual’s preferences and location.

The Open Graph

I’m my opinion, the most radical and impactful marketing innovation yet is the Open Graph, a Facebook technology launched in April 2010. It’s more radical than the launch of the ‘original’ Facebook itself. It’s a technology that pulls off an unprecedented feat: it gets consumers to volunteer their identity to marketers across the web (wherever a Facebook Like button is present). The implications are HUGE.

These implications will be the topic of a later post. Stay tuned…