There's an excellent article on Slashdot right now about the "long tail" of the creative industries like music and book publishing. The article reveals that less popular, niche items now have an audience through the Internet (which is quickly becoming known as the place to find obscure books, movies, etc.)
The article is a great read, and parallels what I see in my everyday life. Back in 1996, I was downloading MOD files (anyone remember those?) from the Internet. Some of them were awful, and some of them were really good. I eventually collected so many of them that I made a website about which ones I liked, which proved to be rather popular.
MOD files -- for those of you who don't remember them -- were stuck somewhere in between MIDI and MP3 (this was before MP3 came out.) Producers used what was called "tracker" software to produce them, and stuck synthesized sounds together to create music. The MOD files were labeled by the number of channels used to create them; the number of channels denoted how many different sounds could play at once. (4-channel and 8-channel were common.) Most of the music created in that tiny industry was pretty strung-out house, chill, and dance music. Some of it featured beats from popular dance mixes of that era; some was so far out there that the beats used to create them were unrecognizable or made up by the artist. (I've decided to throw one of my favorite MOD files up for download so you can see exactly what I'm talking about. This MOD was created in 1995, downloaded by me in 1996, and I've managed to move it to every computer I've owned since the 486 I used to download it.)
So there I was, back in the day, a geeky kid interested in this new "scene." I knew that the music I was hearing here bore little or no relation to what was currently on the radio, but that I liked it more than 99% of the stuff I heard on the radio. That was my first realization that the Internet held much more power than a simplistic "push" medium like radio; here we had an entire underground scene of music creators and listeners; websites with ratings for each song; and music publishers who were, in reality, just normal people "tracking" from their basement or computer room.
And this was in 1996.
Fast-forward to 2001. My mother (who was, by all means, computer-illiterate) discovers Amazon.com. My mother is a complete book junkie -- a habit which I've inherited as well. My mom, however, loves finding out-of-print and hard-to-find books by obscure authors (especially mysteries) and reading them. She owns hundreds of obscure mystery novels, and also has a list of which ones she's still actively looking for.
She discovered Amazon.com's out of print section, and the next day had ordered hundreds of dollars worth of out-of-print books. I don't think I saw her for another week! Mom has since become hooked on Amazon -- not just because they sell books, but because she can find what she's looking for with one click -- and then find out what everyone else who liked that book is reading, as well.
My dad really didn't get into the computer or Internet revolution at all. Even today, he won't email me -- he has his secretary do it. We (that is, my mother and I) couldn't get him to use the Internet at all until I got my parents a Netflix subscription earlier this year.
My parents live in a small town of 2500 people, which, by the way, is the town I grew up in. (2500 people is small...you don't realize quite how small until you live there!) Anyway, my father hated the local video rental store because they only carried "crap." "Crap," to my dad, is anything that a) is mass-produced; b) spends actual money on special effects; and/or c) caters to an audience larger than "older male who just wants to see some alien get the shit kicked out of it."
Enter Netflix. My dad promptly discovers that they have every horrible sci-fi movie ever produced, including a whole ton of Dr. Who movies, and plops down in front of the computer. An hour later, he had added over 120 movies to his Netflix list, and was on the phone with our neighbor (who happens to share the same love for bad sci-fi that my dad has) gibbering about how they needed to throw a Dr. Who party. "They even have 'It Came From Outer Space!'", I hear him yelling into the phone. (Meanwhile, my poor mother, knowing she was about to be subjected to horrible Dad-movies, was browsing the Romantic movie section, hoping to offset a few of Dad's selections.)
The Internet really has shaped my life -- but that's to be expected. What I don't think anyone anticipated was the impact it would have on "normal" people like my parents, who wouldn't really be using the Internet at all if it wasn't for me. People around the world just like my parents have found new music, new books (and really old, bad independent movies) that they never knew they would like. This Wired article summed it up from an economic standpoint, but I figured I'd share my own personal experience as well. Hey, if something can get my dad interested in the Internet, that's a sure-fire winner.