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— Todd, Founder of BeerAdvocate
Let’s face it. Without the internet, craft beer wouldn’t be what it is today—more specifically, not as popular as it is today. In the late ’90s, much of the US was beginning to feel the decade’s bubble burst and witness a slew of brewpub and brewery closures by 2000—even our hometown of Boston lost half of its local brewers! Many called it the end of the trend. Sales statistics might have told a different story for some, but perception often becomes reality.
At the same time, this thing called the “worldwide web” was gaining momentum. From 1995 to 2000, internet usage rose from roughly 16 million users worldwide to 360 million.
1.0: Back in the Day
Take a step back. Before websites, there was Usenet and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), from the ’70s to the ’90s. These now-archaic dial-up and internet-based communities appeased tiny pockets of early beer geeks for a while; however, in the late ’90s, the internet forum was launched, and it brought the discussion to the more user-friendly web browser interface.
In 1996, BrewGuide was launched, and in 2000, it was rebranded as BeerAdvocate (BA). Also in 2000, ratebeer.com (RB) was launched. Though different flavors for different folks, both were ahead of the times as far as social networking goes, hosting strong communities and offering an outlet for those who want to learn about, rate and talk beer—the forums being the driving force. Arguably, BA and RB are jointly responsible for a good chunk of the ongoing success that the industry enjoys today—especially brewers who have embraced the technology and community. If it’s about beer, it’s on BA or RB.
2.0: Age of the Blog
The concept of a blog, an online diary, has been around for quite a while, but didn’t become popular until early this decade. Because they’re easy to start, everyone and their moms—literally—are blogging these days, giving a voice to a single individual. While there’s been much debate over the line between blogging and journalism becoming blurred—especially as many professionals also have blogs—there’s no denying this is a grassroots channel for spreading the word about beer, and there are a ton of great beer blogs to subscribe to.
Blogging also went audio/video with podcasts, allowing users to subscribe to their favorite podcasters, followed by video spinning off into vBlogs—thanks to sites like YouTube, which made it easy for anyone to capture, upload, share and embed video footage.
3.0: Popular Social Networking
In 2003, MySpace allowed the industry to start free (and faux) web presences in order to collect and market to “friends.” In 2004, Facebook launched as a student-only network, but was opened up to everyone in 2006. Since then, it has emerged as a powerful tool for the industry and individuals alike.
Also in 2006, social networking and blogging was mashed into micro-blogging by a company called Twitter. Limited to 140 character-long blurbs called “tweets,” users (and businesses) can send powerful instant updates to their followers via the web or mobile device—follow us @BeerAdvocate, by the way.
That brings us to today. Knee-deep in what we’re going to call Beer 3.0—in the context of beer online. Internet usage was estimated at 1.6 billion worldwide this year. Access to beer-related data has never been easier. Consumers and the industry have been brought together in a mutual dialogue about beer. Feedback is instant. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone can be heard, by thousands. Brewers and their beers are followed online like rockstars. A beer or brewer can be hyped to stardom or trashed overnight—hey, it happens, and so does bad beer. We’re babbling now.
What’s our point? Let’s face it. Without the internet, craft beer wouldn’t be what it is today. So cheers to anyone and everyone who is a part of beer online!
Respect Beer. ■