Yesterday I wrote down my thoughts on what the next generation might do on the web compared to our generation. My main point was that I felt they would find the public interaction that this generation is now discovering less important. As a result the interactions within a next evolution of the web might become more local and within smaller communities. The post started discussions both in the comments section and on Friendfeed and it inspired both Colin Walker and Mark Dykeman to write lengthy, in-depth replies. I would urge you to read both posts. They took the time to write it and deserve the attention. Let me recap the three posts a bit and then I will try to develop these thoughts a bit further.
I realised that when the discussion started I failed to write down my thoughts in such a way that the reader could pick up the main aspects from it. Colin pointed this out first when he said:
I can agree with Alexander’s ideas to a point but I can see the focus in the social web splitting and going two ways – there will be a bipolar existence but the extremes will not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
I agree with Colin, I didn’t mean to suggest the youngsters of today will not participate in public interactions tomorrow. Of course they will, in both the physical world and the web. Coin ends his post with:
In the local sphere I imagine public appearance to become of even greater importance but not in the exhibitionist way we are currently used to. Instead, the emphasis will shift to the ‘public‘ further encouraging us to take our online relationships offline and increase the actual face to face interaction almost as a backlash to the virtual world we are currently inhabiting.
The shift to more focused, smaller communities will allow this to happen as you will only be trying to organise meetings with a finite group improving the relationships within it, but it will not be at the expense of the global conversation.
Mark picked it further up and reacted to different aspects of my post. I said at one point:
“This ability to become a public figure has also fueled the idea that we can all become our own personal brand….but most of (this younger generation) aren’t building a personal brand, they aren’t part of every public conversation.”
And Mark responded:
Alexander’s right about this, but also a bit wrong. True, most of the people who are active in social media and who are branding happily along are not students, but professionals or otherwise active in the workforce. Personal branding is a big part of career mobility and advancement – that’s one of the most difficult lessons that I’ve learned in my 17 years in the workforce. The Web allows us ways to extend our personal branding activities to a larger audience.
People in entry level or junior positions are generally busier with acquiring the technical knowledge and expertise with their chosen careers to work much on personal branding. Later, if they decide to explore leadership roles within organizations, their focus may change. In fact, it will probably have to change. Public social media interaction will become more attractive at a different stage of life.
I agree with Mark that in different stages in life people behave differently. As a youngster building a personal brand is extremely important, but only within the (small) group of friends. Later, when a professional career starts, this will extend to a more public stage. Hutch Carpenter made a similar comment on my post.
I like the example Mark provides that sort of supported the point I was trying to make:
Let me describe a theoretical example of the type of application that I think Alexander might be talking about. Let’s say that a group of young people are planning a vacation trip to a foreign country. They might want to have private discussion groups to plan the event and talk about it. They might want to have a Wiki-like resource to provide reference information about the trip. They might want to have a joint file-sharing site to house pictures, audio, and video related to the trip. They might want to have dedicated microblogging and instant messaging about the trip as it occurs. And, finally, they would want to have the ability to keep all of this information exclusive to their group – forever.
Lets see if I can rephrase some of my thoughts a bit. Tudor asked be to provide one example where I based all of these thoughts on. One of the sources that has inspired me to write about this is the excellent blog by Zephoria. While I’m no expert on the subject, she writes often about teens and social behavior. She pointed me to a study a while back that analysed the behavior of teens with social media. One of the findings of the research was that although teens participate in all forms of social media, a large percentage of them restricts access to their content to friends only. It seems that they are more concerned with privacy than this generation is (even though they use social networks like Facebook etc.).
I believe that a next generation will not be as excited about the ability of public interaction as this generation is for at least 3 reasons:
- Their parents discovered it, and they don’t want to look like their dad who is a cranky old fart. Sorry about that Steven Hodson, I don’t mean you by that of course
- They are already showing behavior that they are more concerned with privacy than this generation
- Unlike this generation, they will have tools available that will enrich their on-line interactions in a much smaller community. More local, more personal, much more mobile, and more immersed within the physical environment. This will provide them more value than the value this current generation gets out of the public interaction tools of web 2.0.
Wrt the first point, Josh a 17 yr old said in the comments of my earlier post:
“email is the new snail mail”
As a 17 yr old I’d say you’re spot on here Alex, in fact if I need to ask someone something I’m more likely to sit on MSN and wait for them to come online then shoot off an email.
I think the only email conversations I’ve ever had are with adults, not peers.
Also the observations about Teenagers being interested in keeping up to date with their friends, not with social networks in general are very true too. Teenagers have always just used the best tool available, 30 years ago that was the phone, now its myspace or text msgs etc.
Of the people I know who sit on Myspace or Facebook all day, none of them are even remotely interested in “social media” itself.
So the public conversation will never disappear. If anything, it will become more intense and be held in ways we can’t right now. But at the same time, in a next evolution of the web I believe we will see technology that enables the users to obtain more value out of smaller communities, personal, localized, familiar, private, targeted on the user and his friends. The technology to support it is already worked on right now.
More importantly, it will mean new business models that partially replace the mainstream web 2.0 business mode, which leverages the value of a large walled garden network. Business models that scale down to these smaller communities and leverage user or community value instead of network value. Business models that aren’t focused on storing large amounts of data in a single database, but are focused on the here and now, the interaction that is taking place within that smaller community.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see the future unfold. A next evolution of the web is bound to appear. I couldn’t say if it will look remotely what we discussed. But I learned a lot the past few days from writing down my thoughts and seeing so many reactions to it. Thanks to all of you that took the time to respond 😉 and if you have more thoughts on the subject, leave a reply!
I want to end with a great quote I found yesterday by Doc Searl. Fits the subject perfectly.