Sometimes when I am really relaxed (this always seems to happen on a weekend 😉 ) I sit back and imagine about possible consequences of things that seem important now. If you follow social media news a bit like I do it seems that there are a few trends becoming increasingly important. But what if we would try to imagine what would happen with human behavior if we drive this trend to the extreme. In other words, let’s forget about technology for a moment, what about the human factor? I like these little thought experiments. It isn’t that they predict any kind of future, it’s more that they help me form an opinion about the present.
So let’s do this exercise on a few things I’ve been thinking about this weekend. As my posts tend to get too long, I will break it up in several. So more to come the next few days 😉
Trend no. 1: Everything will connect with everything, walled gardens will be torn down -> But we will still need a destination
First we had social networks. Large, closed sites where people go to in order to interact with friends. Now social networks are forced to open up. Google’s OpenSocial and Friendconnect, MySpace, Facebook, they are all taking their first steps into data portability. It isn’t because they want to, or because the technology has arrived. It’s because we are now beginning to understand that users don’t like to be contained in parts of the web.
Services pop up everywhere that allow the user to interact with or over any object it seems. Every site or service becomes social. As a result of this, walled gardens will be torn down. I read an article that Doc Searl has written in 2003 (!) already about the web. He and David Weinberger then called it “The world of Ends”. I like that metaphor, but Doc Searl updated it a bit later in 2006. He builds on the concept of a Giant Zero, a 3 Dimensional hollow sphere, first described by Craig Burton (in 1999 wow). An excellent post, worth wile a good read. It describes the web more or less as I imagine it, no walls, open, a utility.
The question that comes to mind is the following. If everything becomes socially connected, if there are no more walled gardens, if we can interact anywhere we want, would there still be a need for a destination? Can we live an on-line life without an anchor point? Surfing the web without some on-line place that we can call home?
I am a fan of the User-Centric web, that is a web that evolves around its users. A web where not the destination or the network is important, but the user. It sounds like a destination-less web. But the more I think about that, the more I believe that even within the User-Centric web, people will still have a need for a central place.
A place where they can start and end their journey. A safe harbor that provides the comfort and shelter of the known. That place will become our most important destination. It will be “home” on the web. Even if we can interact with anyone, anything, anytime, or anywhere we want, we will still feel the urge to return to that place that will be ours. It won’t be a Facebook-like Walled Garden destination. But it will be a Facebook-like place that is owned by the user himself. It would be interesting to try and describe this “home” but that would be the topic of another post and most likely the business model of some new venture 😉
Trend no. 2: “Always on” will have a huge social impact -> But it will lead to a need to disconnect
Technology allows us to be “always on”. To be part of a never ending conversation. Simply plug in, anywhere, and you can join in. Friends are spread out across every timezone, so there always are people available to interact with. Technology becomes smaller so we can take our connection device with us, wherever we go. Connection technology provide us a network that spans the entire globe. Wifi, UMTS, HSDPA, WiMax,no matter where you are there is always a way to get on-line.
Services are playing with this concept already. Many web 2.0 services are providing us with life streams, traveling plans, shopping behavior, localisation technology, interaction platforms. Even if you are not on-line, at least the people that follow you know exactly what you are doing. This technology feeds an urge for us to share what we are doing, and to follow what others are doing. It is never ending. I find myself sometimes fire up Twitter or Friendfeed or whatever service late in the evening, just out of curiosity. What are people up too right now?
But there is a downside to this as well. The more time we spend on-line, the less time there is for the physical world. This behavior of “always on” will have significant impact on physical relations. We may find inspiration, fun, pleasure, profession on the web, it is the relations in the physical world that matter in the end. Family, friends, co-workers, we will need to find a balance between the “always on” and the off world.
If we take this “always on” to the extreme, then I believe that it will be accompanied by an increasing need to disconnect or hide. With our desire to be in an constant on-line interaction we will build up a need to disconnect. To get away from that all. To spent time outside the web and not care about what on-line friends are doing. And with this desire to disconnect we might see a hide function appear in life streams. Instead of broadcasting every step we take, we might want to interrupt that flow on purpose.
I believe that when everything becomes a life stream, the impact of that life stream might become less. Life just isn’t all that interesting. There are moments of glory, and there are moments when nothing really happens. And once we see that same pattern appear on-line life streaming won’t be such a big deal anymore. Right now we get all excited being able to connect on-line and discuss everything we want. Once this has become the norm, then its value will decrease, we will not be “always on” for the sake of it. Instead, we will chose our moments more carefully. I described this in a previous post called “Piercing through the myth that always on and instant access are important”. It’s all about finding a balance between the on- and offline world we live in.
I’ll stop now, there are a few more trends that I would like to discuss here. But the post is long enough for now. What do you think? Does anything I say here make any sense. Do you recognise any of it in your on-line experiences now? Does thinking like this help us understand the present better? Let me know your thoughts on this.