The world's best experts on your product or service don't work for your company. They are your customers, or a hobby tribe.
Companies need user groups almost as much as users need them. User groups are better than advertising when customers are happy, and worse than cancer when they are not. Used properly, aficionados can make or break products.
The network economy has the potential to enable a civilization of aficionados. As customers get smarter, the locus of expertise shifts toward affiliates and home-brew groups, and away from large corporations or the solo academic professional. If you really want to know what works, or where to find it, ask a hobby tribe. And not just in the realm of high-tech knowledge. All knowledge is pooling into aficionados. Because of shared obsessions among horse lovers, there are more horseshoers working today than a hundred years ago, in the age of cowboys. There are more blacksmiths making swords and chain mail armor this year than ever worked in the medieval past. A network of aficionados is already here.
The net tends to dismantle authority and shift its allegiance to peer groups. The cultural life in a network economy will not emanate from academia, or the cubicle of corporations, or even primetime media. Rather, it will reside in the small communities of interest known as fans, and 'zines, and subcultures. In Future Shock Alvin Toffler sets the stage: "Like a bullet smashing into a pane of glass, industrialism shatters societies, splitting them up into thousands of specialized agencies . . . each subdivided into smaller and still more specialized subunits. A host of subcults spring up; rodeo riders, Black Muslims, motorcyclists, skinheads, and all the rest." That initial shatter is now several thousands of subcultures. For every obsession in the world, there is now a web site. What industrialization began by shattering, the network economy completes by weaving together and serving with great attention. The web of broken shards is now the big picture.