If you could make the internet disappear, would you?

On Coronation Street last week, David Platt wished away the internet. He's having trouble (again) with his girlfriend, the lovely Tina, who he thinks is "up to summat" online.

If it wasn't for the great strides ITV has recently been making online, you might be tempted to think that this is the unspoken secret wish of a traditional media owner - with an unstoppable business model before the internet became so mainstream - who is having to make great adjustments from old media models to the present day.

These kinds of sentiments might have prompted a senior manager at a print publishing company to confide in me recently about a parlour game he plays at parties.

He asks other guests: "Imagine a big red button that you could press and the internet would disappear for good. Could you resist the urge to press it and have the world go back to how it used to be, to simpler times?"

There are of course many arguments for resisting that temptation - from the fact that you can now find out more or less anything you want to instantly, to the internet's ability to highlight the struggle for democracy in places such as Burma.

Personally, I'd hate internet shopping to disappear, and there are millions of small businesses worldwide whose fortunes have been transformed by the opportunities provided online. And although social networks raise additional challenges in parenting, they help people make friends all over the world.

The internet also played a huge role in the US Democratic presidential nomination race.

Hillary Clinton raised her money in the conventional way - from a limited number of big contributors. However, Barack Obama raised money via the www. He raised more money that way, from millions of supporters - the average donation was $100 - and his funding went on long after Hillary's had been spent.

Obama also acquired e-mail contacts for a huge support network and actively encouraged them to canvass their friends and family to support him too.

It is well established that the internet can be used to sell a "long tail" of inventory by retailers. Now, for the first time, the "long tail" of potential supporters that the internet provides has been exploited by a politician.

Pandora's box is open: the internet isn't going to go away.

The winners in the new media economy will be those who find the best way to exploit the unique connections the internet delivers from a "long tail" of consumers, and not just those who respond to ads immediately and directly.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom, sue.unerman@haymarket.com

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