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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

I was interested to see this week that Coca-Cola has launched a competition to design the ultimate vending machine…and that it is doing so not by going to the usual cadre of vending technology experts, but going to the next generation of consumers via websites such as SecondLife.com, MySpace.com, and YouTube.com.

Now, when the winner is selected, it will not exist in the terrestrial world. Rather, it will be found on SecondLife, a site that exists as a kind of alternative universe for people and companies that want to explore virtual realities. Coke says that the winning concept also could find its way into other kinds of media and communication platforms. And, depending on how things go, the machine could even find a physical existence…Coke plans to use the virtual world as a source of inspiration for what futuristic vending machines may look like.

Coke doesn’t expect to change the world right away. In fact, the media coverage of the virtual launch of the competition stressed that it was small in scale, with limited immediate interest…but the company expects it to build slowly and organically.

It’s interesting that this story pops up at the same time as the trade papers are lambasting Anheuser-Busch for its Bud.TV experiment, which is designed to be an online television network with content for Budweiser’s target demographic. Participation and traffic aren’t anywhere near expectations, and conventional wisdom seems to be that Anheuser should cut its losses.

That’s the conventional way of looking at things. But I hope that Anheuser decides to be patient with this new way of creating community, just as I hope that Coke is a raging success with its competition.

The Internet, properly used, is a wonderful place for creating community. Trust me on this one…I’ve been lucky enough for the past five and a half years to be part of the MorningNewsBeat community, which more than a few people have informed me via email has less to do with me and more to do with the quality of people who share their opinions and passions each day. Ultimately, that’s what both Anheuser-Busch and Coke ought to be seeking – the seeding of communities that will grow and evolve naturally.

They shouldn’t think of their communities as being the virtual version of housing projects that are just plunked down on a piece of land, looking like they are just occupying space rather than being part of the land. If they expect that kind of immediate return and enthusiasm, they may well be disappointed. But to be able to have the time and the patience and the money to let these communities find their own shape and size and texture…that’s a rare opportunity.

I hope it is one they embrace. And that other companies – manufacturers and retailers alike – will do the same.

It’s not a cost. It’s an investment.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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