I think one of the greatest changes the ‘net has brought about, or maybe faster and more global communication has brought about, and which the ‘net is at the forefront of is immediate product / action feedback.
The feedback is so immediate that it starts well before the product even hits the shelves.
In the past, maybe a small core of fans and people ‘in the know’ would start talking about a new movie or a new game or a new book long before it came to light, and there would be a bunch of people who knew about it but the vast majority would not. Even those who did know might not have any way of sharing their concerns or joys with the people producing their product.
If we look at computer games in the mid-80’s, there were plenty of monthly magazines which talked about possible games, and reviewed existing ones. They had some letters pages, people wrote in, but the market was small and the hype about games was still confined to small groups of people. People making the games may have read the magazines, but what impact could three or four fans have?
Sure there was Fidonet and bulletin boards, and I’m sure there was chatter in those locations about stuff coming up. But the big change I think is when not only fans but producers of products started using the same medium for talking. I’m not sure when it happened and I’m too lazy to go and do a load of reading around the subject, but if you skip to today you can see the vast difference.
Now, months before a product is even seen people are claiming it is rubbish or the best thing since Jet Set Willy. Fans claim products have ruined their lives long before those products ever turn up. Movies, music, games, technology and everything else you can imagine, lampooned, praised and analysed months before they arrive.
Once the product is actually in the market, the feedback is immediate and abundent (if not always entirely objective). Prospective buyers can trawl Google for a thousand comments on a product that’s been out for a few weeks, companies get to see the impact of their product almost in real time.
It’s a big change.
I was thinking about this in relation to 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. Long before it turned up, when Wizards were leaking/revealing details, people were worried and claimed it would ruin the legacy of D&D. Some people said it would be fine. Within days of it being released the ‘net was covered in feedback. I wonder how that differs from the release of the Master edition of D&D or even the first release of 2nd edition AD&D? I wonder how companies handle that information, if they do anything with it during the production phase and the post-release period.