Archive for the ‘The Future’ Category

Pssst…Microscopes Weren’t Meant For Star Gazing

June 9, 2008

This isn’t quite finished but what actually ever is? I am becoming increasingly frustrated with a growing number of posts definitively stating what is or isn’t right with FriendFeed or Twitter and how we should or shouldn’t be using these tools. On one hand these are simply more ideas thrown into the mixing bowl – ideas that will help all of us work through a very new set of concepts. On the other hand, as the title of this post suggests, I feel like we have discovered a new planet and are trying to understand its importance by analyzing a 1-inch by 1-inch plot of dirt.

I am quite certain that there will be many that believe I am overstating the importance of the communication shift that tools like FriendFeed and Twitter represent. That is understandable since services like these utilize technologies already in place and familiar to us. (Much like mobile phones were conceptually similar to home phones – but you will be hard pressed to convince me that mobile phones have not had a massive impact on our world.)

In a FriendFeed discussion the other day Alexander van Elsas posited that he wasn’t sure “if we are at the start of a new era of interaction” because “Only the scale differs.” To me – scale is everything.

Why Scale Matters

The central goal of the technologies that have shaped and defined the world we live in has always been to facilitate an expansion of our ability to share information. The innovations that have truly altered the way we communicate have, and always will, be those tools that expand our abilities exponentially.

The shift from ink and quill to fountain pen was surely a welcome change but did it massively alter communication? Of course not. What about the printing press? Technically, the printing press was merely a change in scale wasn’t it? And yet, that change – the ability to make a greater number of copies of a document – completely altered the history of the world.

I believe the concepts represented by applications like FriendFeed and Twitter offer an expansion of our ability to share information that is large enough to again change the world we live in. The contrast of life before and after mass adoption of technologies like these may not be as stark as the before and after periods surrounding the development of the printing press but the impact will be similar. Here is why.

The Inevitable Change

If you were able to create a formula that tracked the speed with which information could be shared that also accounted for the number of people that information could be shared with on average I have no doubt that a graph of communications from the beginning of recorded history would show a constant increase.

I state the obvious to illustrate that a constant, unstoppable force expanding the speed and scope of the dissemination of information has always existed. This is why the concepts of FriendFeed and Twitter will, at some point, inevitably become an intricate part of the fabric of our daily lives.

We have already experienced some seismic shifts in the way we communicate and nothing highlights the impact these changes have had better than blogs. It is hard for us to conceptualize the impact blogs have had because we can’t turn back the clock and replay the last few years without them and, like frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water, the changes seem fairly incremental to us. Even so, the accountability and additional sources of information blogs provide have dethroned a media giant (Rather) and forced corporations and political candidates to take greater care with the public statements they make.

These alterations of the status quo occurred because a wider pool of individuals, each with knowledge and insights unique to them, were able to take a piece of information and add to it. The more this happened, the greater the volume of information shaped the story. Rather and his team had a piece of information, they no doubt sought the input of several others while determining whether and how to share the information and based on pre-blog level of thinking they probably felt pretty good about the evidence they had in hand. The newly expanded scale of individuals who could add their information to the story provided a much different conclusion.

The underlying concepts of emerging social media applications will immensely amplify our access to different sources of information, the speed with which that information can be passed along and the scope of its potential recipients. Take my experience with FriendFeed as an example – through existing communication mediums like email and reading and commenting on blog posts I would NEVER have interacted with any of the people I exchange thoughts with now on a daily basis. If you have had a similar experience, think back over the last month and try and remove EVERY new thing you have learned or opinion that has altered your own thoughts in any way as a direct result of a social media application. While impossible to do it at least gives some sort of idea of what kind of impact the concepts that power these applications will have when mass adopted.

The technology exists to give each of us the ability to share any activity we wish, from any location we choose, with anyone we would like – at this point it just needs to be developed and applied. I firmly believe that the application of those technologies to our daily lives will dramatically change the world we live in – whether we realize it or not.

…but don’t get lost in there

June 4, 2008

I wanted to briefly follow up on yesterday’s post because I get the feeling sometimes that the people instigating and taking part in the social media debates that have become ubiquitous on FriendFeed are unaware of exactly what it is they are participating in.

It is a rare thing to be able to watch a large group change, grow and work through a concept in real time. Many times paradigm shifts can occur at such a slow rate that it is only after they have taken hold that you realize what just took place. I believe we are in the midst of such a shift right now.

It is unlikely that the general public has ever heard of any of the key players. It is also unlikely that they realize that one of the central characteristics of the change underway is that anyone can become part of the process anytime they wish, from anywhere.

Unfortunately, it will not always be this way – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, technically, services like FriendFeed or Twitter don’t matter either. In my eyes it’s not the interface that is going to impact our world in such a dramatic way, it’s the foundational concepts they are built on. (I am going to follow this post up with some thoughts about why those concepts are so revolutionary, what benefits they will bring and what we will lose along the way)

The eventual death of unfiltered, unfettered social media as we know it right now has been predicted clearly through thoughtful posts like this and this. As much as I wish it were untrue they are right, human nature dictates that a service like FriendFeed will never be widely adopted in its current form.

In a few years, with rare exception, very few of the individuals who are currently central players in many of the discussions taking place on FriendFeed or Twitter will have gained any wide notoriety than they have today (Maybe Scoble will have become the web’s official talk show host by then – sorry couldn’t resist). Social media applications will be scaled down, repackaged and users will enjoy the ability to instantly share and communicate with a vastly smaller universe of individuals with similar interests.

In the meantime I plan on enjoying the ability to interact with an unfiltered universe of individuals who, whether they know it or not, share one thing in common: they are all, in some way great or small, helping shape one of the most powerful shifts in communication in all of history.

Dear “tech elites” We Need You to Continue Navel-Gazing

June 3, 2008

Updated: Original title misspelled “navel” as “naval” leading some to wonder why I thought they needed to keep their eyes fixed on the high seas. I’m still laughing with at myself for that one…

Alexander van Elsas recently posted his navel-gazing induced thoughts on why he believes many of us are attracted to FriendFeeds “always on” conversation stream and, more importantly, why many of those reasons are built on faulty foundations. In Alexander’s mind many of the discussions in FriendFeed regarding “noise” levels, the need for filtering and social media’s ability to bring “enlightenment and salvation” to the masses are the myopic considerations of a community who has forgotten that there is a larger, much different world of people around them who live their lives in much different ways.

While I would agree that the world at-large is not spending a nanosecond trying to figure out how they could share and access an unlimited stream of information anytime, anywhere, I humbly submit for consideration the idea that Alexander and others immersed in social media with similar opinions just might be falling prey to the very thing that causes them to diminish the importance of the conversations currently underway.

What I don’t think many of the tech and social media types understand – from Scoble and Arrington to individuals like myself who are little more than observers to the madness – is that they are all, right now, in every conversation they have, helping to shape the philosophical and practical applications of these services for the world at large.

I recently added one of Twitter’s luminaries to my LinkedIn account. After scanning her contacts I wrote to her laughing at the fact that at NO point did our contacts intersect.

The fact that I am not a techie-type or social media insider is the very reason I began to emerge myself in the worlds of Twitter and FriendFeed. It is also the reason that I view and filter what is currently happening from atop a somewhat detached perch.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that the bulk of FriendFeed’s current user base are an amalgamation of uber-early adopters, tech vanguards and other PR and marketing types who seek to offer their clients unprecedented knowledge and analysis of new developments in social media. Oh, that and navel gazing is the order of the day in social media land.

Now, navel-gazing could easily be construed as a pejorative so allow me to clarify. In a previous post I posited that classical philosophers would have loved the forums for idea exchange that services like Twitter and FriendFeed create – that was a misstatement on my part. I realized this after another FriendFeed user (Louis Gray natch!) shared the story and one of the comments said that I should better illuminate the connections between each philosophers ideas and Twitter and FriendFeed. What I should have said is that the followers of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have loved these services.

On one hand social media services are merely an extension of a movement that has spanned all of time, driven by nothing less than human nature itself. On the other hand these services are so immensely different from anything we are used to that they are completely disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives.

The Historical Drive for the Diffusion of Information

I am not a historian but as I look back over time I see a consistent pattern of the development of tools to diffuse information faster and more efficiently. The innovations seem to be borne of the same innate human desire to share information.

I touched on this a little in the Plato post but each new technology has been developed with the specific intention of broadening the reach of information. From the creation of written language, to the development of ink and parchment, to the printing press, the moveable-type printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, mobile phones and finally the internet humans have never stopped looking for new ways to broaden the reach of information.

Today’s technologies – call them social media, web2.0, whatever you want – are not only a natural extension of what appears to be a prime human directive but an exponential increase that eclipses all previous attempts because as amazing as all of these previous methods of communication have been they have largely lacked one thing: the ability to facilitate instantaneous mass interaction.

Disruption on a Massive Scale

As I stated before I agree with Alexander’s assertion that the world at large is largely unaware (even uninterested) of applications like FriendFeed. The development and adoption of the mobile phone (and subsequently mobile devices providing email and web service) was jarring enough. “I have a phone at home, I even have an answering machine, why the hell would I need to be able to talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime?” was a common refrain when mobile phones first came out. Try living without one today. (Note: We are all aware that there are still millions of people who, by choice, or due to economic restraints, still don’t use mobile phones. It would be impossible to discuss any of these new technologies without focusing on how they relate directly to the segments of the world’s population that can and do use these kinds of technologies)

In much the same way individuals look at something like FriendFeed and think “I have email, I even have a Delicious account, why would I need to be able to instantly share information or interact with others?” This is the question that the “tech elite,” as Alexander calls them, are debating day in and day out. Whether they know it or not their points and conclusions will continue to shape the ways in which these technologies are eventually presented to and adopted by the public.

I was recently describing why applications like FriendFeed are so important to our society to a skeptical friend who happens to be an attorney. I asked him to name the individual he believed to be the preeminent legal authority alive today. I then asked him if he had a relationship with that individual that allowed him to shadow this great thinker for an entire year, not only seeing what he read but hearing his thoughts about the things he had just read – what he agreed with, where the author was wrong, etc – if he thought that he would be a better attorney because of it. My friend’s response was obvious: “of course.”

That to me is the power of these new technologies.

In my opinion services like FriendFeed and Twitter are only the tip of the iceberg. Their existence reshapes the way we function and communicate and in turn will give rise to the cross-application of the core concepts of these applications to other areas of communication.

I was driving home the other day and listening to my ipod – a song came on and I instinctively reached for a button so I could immediately share the fact that I loved this song with my social network. It wasn’t there.

Later I was watching a fascinating documentary on our nation’s complete history of nuclear weapon testing. Again I instinctively grabbed the remote to send the show to friends I knew would enjoy it. It wasn’t there. I also found myself wanting to be able to interact with others on-screen through my tv, to look up more details on the web and share them, to engage in discussions about what I was seeing. Those buttons weren’t there either.

But they could be and they will.

The services that some of us are using to view and comment on a constant stream of information from a constantly expanding social network is unlike just about anything we have ever experienced. Although it utilizes the same web technologies it is such a drastic departure from the web capabilities we are used to that it makes the web in its previous form seem like a stone tablet with pictures. As a result it is going to take the public a while before they can wrap their heads around something that, once again, completely changes the way in which they interact and communicate. The conversations currently taking place on FriedFeed and elsewhere will be one of the largest contributors to whatever form these applications finally take to facilitate mass adoption so navel-gaze on dear tech-elite.

Plato, Socrates and Aristotle Would Have Loved FriendFeed and Twitter

May 13, 2008

FriendFeed and Twitter have become a modern day Greek countryside as some of the social networking community’s leading thinkers gather daily to discuss the possible uses, drawbacks and relevant considerations of the myriad of new innovations that have the power to make our world smaller.

For many these applications are simply ways to keep in touch with friends and family, for others they offer a new means of self-promotion.

I can’t say for certain what will happen to the community that has formed when these types of tools “go mainstream” and experience mass adoption. It is very likely that the excesses that seem to be inherent with the democratization of any medium will lead to the development of better “noise” filters.

What I can say with confidence is that these innovations have already successfully facilitated the creation of information sharing mediums that will continue to exponentially increase our society’s growth curve.

Centuries ago the privileged class were the only ones who could readily access the thoughts and writings of current and historical thinkers. Information was largely passed by word of mouth and diffusion was a slow arduous process. Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church – the modern day equivalent of a web page in kind with no where near the power in reality.

The invention of the printing press allowed for the mass dissemination of thought but the process was still limited by literacy rates, financial realities and the hardships inherent to making a living back them that left little free time for such pursuits.

The tools of social networking will continue to change the way we share information and debate ideas – I am not sure any of us can truly fathom where we will be in 25 years. It is definitely an exciting time to be alive.

Jeremiah Oyang Asks: Purist or Corporatist?

May 6, 2008

I’m probably somewhere between 5 and 7 on his scale.

I strongly believe that both have something beneficial to offer – corporatists posses a proven understanding of the existing dynamics of society and the marketplace and purists are blessed with the ability to see things not for what they are but for what they should be.

Without purists we would have little to no innovation and society would stagnate and decline – Without corporatists the excesses of the purists’ vision would never be trimmed away and as a result the changes they propose would never be adopted en masse.

Every ying must have a yang – no?

The Downside to the Democratization of Information

May 6, 2008

UPDATE: A post titled: “The involuntary redundancy of A list blog sites” from just came across my FriendFeed tangentially discussing what I wrote about below:

There are a couple of interesting issues brewing with regards to the democratization of information on the web.

It cannot be disputed that the web generally and apps like Digg specifically have exponential democratized the sharing of information on the web. Theoretically, By allowing users to see which stories and web sites garner the highest ratings we are able to sift through the overwhelming amount of information on the web in hopes of highlighting the best and ignoring the rest.

Like pure democracy in the political sense this process has begun to display its weaknesses. As the number of individuals contributing their take increases, so has the popularity of sites with inane stories and pictures of cute cats. This has given rise to a new wave of more republican (not in the ideological sense) applications and sites like (an extension of already established sites like Drudge Report).

One of the biggest benefits of tools like Twitter and Friend Feed is that it allows me to follow individuals who have proven themselves to be thought leaders in fields that I am interested in. As a result I am able to expose myself to the sources of information they deem most credible and also gain insight into certain topics by way of their comments.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying the democratization of information is a bad thing. I just find it interesting that more and more tools are popping up that tame the excesses.

Microsoft Not Immune to Challenges of New Technology

April 17, 2008 Interesting Microsoft story via

This is a great addendum to the Google post earlier.

I know it sounds insane to say that THE company that spawned the world’s richest man (depending on the year) is in danger of fading away but when you think about the changes currently underway I really don’t see it as a stretch.

For years Microsoft has enjoyed the relative security that comes with controlling a product (and subsequent line of productivity software) that is THE cornerstone of personal computing. The first computer I ever bought was a Mac and I remember vividly the frustration of walking into a computer store whose walls will brimming with software titles for Windows – the Mac section, by comparison was a pathetic shelf or two.

Individuals and companies alike have favored Windows-based PCs – in part because of their lower cost but largely because of the widespread compatibility of their software. Who wants to create a document that your friends or clients can’t open or read right?

Fast forward to today’s largely web based world (with a growing measure of mobile computing sprinkled in for good measure). By necessity common formats have developed that allow all sorts of random applications to interact with each other without problem. Google has even pushed out an online productivity suite that includes word and spreadsheet programs.

At this stage do we really care who makes the product so long as we can navigate the interface easily and others can access and edit the documents we create? I’m not saying that Microsoft is going to fold tomorrow or even in 5 or 10 years – what I am saying is that I can absolutely envision a future where the demand for compatibility is so great that it won’t matter if you are running Windows, Mac OS, Linux or some grand new creation so long as you are able to do what you need to do.

The world we live in today is absolutely amazing to me – imagine living 50 years back and being able to fathom the replacement of Ford or AT&T – never in a million years and even those aren’t the best examples given the dynamics of today’s world.

Amazed That Google Can Be That Dominant and Still Not Guaranteed a Future

April 16, 2008

(Expanded release here:

Was looking over the information on a post about March search rankings at the Craigslist blog and was struck by two things:

1) Google and its related sites dominate the competition to an unquestionable degree

2) Despite that there is still no guarantee that they will remain a leader in a couple of years (or even still be around for that matter)

I’m not going to pretend to be a web expert nor will I delude myself into thinking that there aren’t a massive amount of individuals out there who posses a great deal more knowledge on the myriad of facts and figures that are needed to accurately predict the viability of a tech company. What I do know is that I am a consumer of these very technologies and I believe that my attitudes towards sites like Google, Msoft, Yahoo and others are largely in sync with the millions of other users out there.

What is so fascinating to me about the point in technological history at which we currently exist is that, unlike times past, the rapidity with which information is diffused and the ease with which one piece of web-based technology can be left behind for another has created an atmosphere of staggering unpredictability.

In the old economy (much of which is still in existence), you struggled to build a brand with the confidence that, once built, your base of consumers would continue to use your product (or service as the case may be) so long as you didn’t royally screw it up.

A friend of mine thought I was an idiot when, during an argument I stated that Google has not yet made it to a place where their long-term existence was guaranteed. Maybe he is right – all I know is that, as much as I love Google, if I found out about a new search engine that provided me with better results and an interface and level of tweakability that matched or bested what I currently use – my start page would change in an instant.