BBC Technology Expert, Kate Russell

TV technology expert and BBC Click! host Kate Russell talks to The London Word about her new book and why she believes the internet is fundamentally changing the high street – for the better.

The impending closure of HMV and its iconic Oxford Circus branch has led many to lament the death of the high street as we know it. But for Kate Russell the internet is actually rejuvenating small businesses.

‘What changed the high street away from independent retailers was the big chain companies coming in and undercutting everyone in price – they knocked a lot of smaller businesses out in the first place.

‘I think we are going to see a reversal back to way things were, with more pop-up shop collectives, and independent craft makers.

‘Perhaps that is a hopeful and positive outlook. But commerce is evolving,’ she says.

‘The internet is enabling smaller companies to club together to increase their buying power, in the same way that consumers use Groupon. And it’s also allowing micro businesses to work more flexibly as all they need is a laptop and WiFi connection’, says Russell.

‘For example if you are looking at a design establishment, it used to be a case of having to meet and collaborating with designers in a specific area. All that happens over the internet now, which means businesses can take on the best people for a job from across the world.

‘I’ve got a friend in Argentina, who just works for UK companies. They meet in the cloud and have a perfectly functioning relationship. It means businesses can draw in the best talent.’

For freelancers looking for work, smartphone apps such as WorkAround.me are enabling greater flexible working. ‘If you have half a day free and are in a certain area, you can just ask if anyone’s looking for work within that square mile radius. So you can connect directly with people that have the work, without being tied to overheads in London, for example,’ she says.

‘We are seeing a “cappuccino culture”, where people without an office are moving from café to café and meeting clients at the drop of a hat. This is where I’m coming from with the book, which a friend described as a plumber’s guide to internet.’

Working the Cloud: The ultimate guide to making the internet work for you and your business  is Russell’s attempt to unpack the idea of the ‘cloud’ as something too scary and technical to understand. ‘The internet itself is the cloud. Even if you are using Gmail you are using the cloud,’ she says.

The book is also accompanied by a website and smartphone app containing tools and resources reviews for small businesses to share ideas and get a march on larger companies and enjoy the range of free and low-cost internet services available.

But as more transactions happen over the internet, there is a fear that our lives are becoming unhealthily digital. For Russell it’s the opposite, with online shopping freeing up time to enjoy more experiences.

‘I love the cultural things you can do in London. On a crisp sunny spring morning there’s nothing better than a stroll and nose through book stores. And there’s always something free going on.

‘There are a couple of really great search tools that you can use to find stuff to do, which means you can just go to a location and fire up an app and see what’s happening. For example, I found out about a really cool fire sculptures exhibition outside the National Gallery that way, which I saw on a November evening with some friends while sharing a bottle of red wine.’

Kate Russell’s book Working the Cloud: The ultimate guide to making the internet work for you and your business is available for £14.99. For more information visit Kate Russell’s website.

Photo courtesy of: Gianluca de Girolamo

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