Here’s the thing: the Net’s killer app has always been other people. There are side benefits, like access to all the world’s information. But the links that matter aren’t between pages but people, and they’re strong and rich and subtle. Multiply the infinite flavors in human relationships by a thickening bundle of means-to-connect; that product is what’s new and what’s good and what’s exciting. People who are looking for the Next Big Thing are mostly looking in the wrong places. And anyway, you don’t need to look, it’ll find you.
History · During the early years of the Web, I used to run this thought experiment: “Suppose they banned email; would it be worthwhile keeping the Internet running just for the Web?” The answer was, well, maybe. “Suppose they shut the Web down and all you had was email; keep it running?” The answer was yes, obviously.
It’s not quite the same today. Google did what they said they would, figured out how to provide access to all the world’s information; which is another good reason for the Net. And guess what, that news story is more or less over. I just don’t believe we’ll see dramatic improvements in search quality, and the balance of forces is such that anyone who husbands good information now sees it as their responsibility to put it where Google and friends can find it.
Simultaneously, email’s importance fades; the young use it less and less. But the volume and intensity of conversation keeps cranking up, it’s just moved onto chat and blogs and wikis and Facebook and Twitter and Flickr and so on and so forth.
Coffee Shop · It feels pleasant to step into my local on the way to the office (double latte in my own cup). Yeah, it’s warm when cold outside, shady when sunny, smells of coffee and baking. But that’s background; what matters is the faces I recognize and others I don’t, and always, always, the buzz of conversation.
That’s what the Net’s starting to feel like. I’ve got my email (two accounts) and my chat (a half-dozen) and IRC (three rooms, usually), and now Twitter. Each has its own combination of latency and message size and one-to-one-ness or otherwise. Wouldn’t want to be without any of ’em.
What about Facebook? I don’t know; clearly, it’s just the thing for getting your college dorm or high-tech mixer set up. But for me, the value is in promoting intimacy, seeing what my friends are doing. And Twitter hits that 80/20 point, bringing me that news without all the Facebook bullshit and lame groups and dorky apps and stupid ads and data lock-in. So recently I don’t Facebook much.
The Next Big Thing? · Two fearless predictions: it’ll be about a new way to connect to people, and it won’t show up first on either Techmeme or TechCrunch. What actually got this post going was a Twitter exchange. I posted Techmeme is boring. The real news is elsewhere in places they're not looking and Scoble pushed back I read 800 feeds and TechMeme doesn't miss much.
I dunno, I go there and see the same stories about the RIAA and Paul Graham’s latest essay and what Apple might be doing, the same stories that are on Slashdot and Ars Technica and boring old ZDnet too. Plus a smattering of whatever Scoble & Winer & Arrington & Calcanis and their posses are up to. Plus all these vendors trying to convince everyone that they need “Rich” Internet Applications. (I think rich interaction is about people not animated vector graphics, but what do I know?) There’s nothing wrong with it. But also nothing I’m not getting already.
TechCrunch? The top story when I last checked was “Pixsy To Power Search On Veoh”. I’m containing my excitement.
It seems there’s an inward-facing circle scattered around San Francisco and its peninsula; they’re smart and experienced and money-hungry and very alert. But when the next big thing comes along (and I love this business, because I know it will) you won’t have to rely on the professional noticers to tell you because it’ll touch your life directly. Probably by opening another conduit for the flow of ambient intimacy (that link showed up on one channel or another while I was writing this; dig it). And here’s me on Twitter from September 12th: sinking ever more deeply into the ambient Internet human buzz.
In the big picture, I’m not sure anything else matters much.