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Let’s take it back to first principles: the internet is not a promotional tool for music. Nor is it a retail platform. It’s not even a method of distribution. It’s electricity.

One of my main points over the past few years, when talking about how musicians, music businesses and broadcasters (I talk about them too, when I’m not writing this blog) can use the internet — is that it’s best to think of the internet as being like electricity.

Instead of thinking of the internet as a brochure display case, as many do — or as a retail outlet without walls — think instead of the internet as a common power source into which a range of different appliances can be plugged.

As an analogy, it solves most of the conceptual problems that most people bring to the internet, when they try and figure out what it is they should be doing online. It also provides a neat little springboard into creative solutions that might otherwise never take place.

For a start, the web is not the Internet. While web pages dominate most people’s use of the online environment, a web browser is far from the only appliance that can be plugged in to the internet. Other appliances include email software, instant messengers, Voice Over IP clients (VOIP – like Skype), media players, podcast clients, RSS readers, IRC software… and so on.

Like a toaster plugged into the electric socket, these appliances are plugged into the internet, allowing you to do the online equivalent of making toast.

Now (to stretch the analogy a little), it is possible to dry your hair with a toaster. You can make an appliance like a web browser do quite a lot of the things you want to do online. But it’s so much better when somebody comes along and invents the hair dryer.

I would argue that most of the appliances we will ever use on the internet haven’t been invented yet. Likewise, there have been absolutely mainstream internet technologies like UseNet, Gopher and IRC that have fallen out of widespread use.

But when you think about the internet in this way, it opens up a range of really interesting possibilities.

When you get out the big piece of paper (something I’ll talk about more here soon) and map out all of the different aspects of your music business and how that connects with the online environment, have a think about appliances that don’t yet exist, but which could solve problems or create opportunities for you.

In this way, by partnering with technologists, music businesses can do the music business equivalent of inventing the hairdryer: building something that solves music business problems and allows for music business to take place online in a less clumsy fashion than the brochure cabinets and wall-less retail outlets we have today allow for.

And, more to the point, it opens up our thinking at least to the point where we ask: what appliances currently exist that we can put to use as part of our music activities? Rather than simply ask ‘what should my web page look like?’ we start to explore the more interesting possibilities about making money from music in the online environment.

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What internet appliances do you use as part of your daily music business activities?