Editorial: Individuals will define the digital age

In digital, happily, it is actually quite common to be inspired.

There are plenty of people working in the sector who see it less as a trade and more as a cultural movement that's changing the texture of many people's - and businesses' - lives.

Still, a recent sad event left room for there to be inspiration of an uncommon scale. The tragic death in October of Richard Duvall, who is best known as the co-founder of Egg and then of peer-to-peer money-lending service Zopa, prompted a wave of respect, fond memories and, most of all, tales of how he had inspired people, from, seemingly, all those who had met him.

Many of these tales were posted on the Zopa web site, which, in a bitter-sweet twist, was relaunched on the very day its co-founder passed away. Most interesting of all was a link left by Julie Meyer who, having founded VC dotcom get-together First Tuesday during the boom, now runs Ariadne Capital, a VC vehicle that invests in stand-out ICT businesses, including Zopa. She directed people towards a video of a panel debate she had organised to celebrate Ariadne's fifth birthday. Star of the show that day was Richard Duvall.

It might have been a vision that anyone who had ever heard him speak knew well. But, for this correspondent, his world view left a lasting impression. He spoke brilliantly on the rise of the individual as the defining theme of this digital age; he saw internet communications as the platform for a fifth industrial revolution on the cusp of the point where people and markets are enabled to make the most of it; and he painted a heartening picture of people and companies empowered by new technologies to fulfil their goals. But, most of all, he came across as a bloody nice bloke.

Coincidentally, one of the industries Duvall referred to as being shaken by the digital age was music, a challenge being grappled with by this month's cover star, HMV. In the past, its performance online has been poor, especially given that Amazon.com operates squarely in its space. Plus, the stakes are high since most of its products are likely to be traded entirely digitally at some point. It is a positive sign then that its new e-commerce director seems to have the conviction to drive change through at this venerable business. Another is his plan to launch a new site as early as next spring, offering CD sales alongside digital product such as MP3 downloads and mobile ring tones. Such a site meets the challenge that most businesses have been set by the latest industrial revolution - to offer customers what they want, however they want it. As we think Richard Duvall would have agreed, when the individual is all-powerful, such an approach is key.


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