A few years ago, everyone seemed to be interested in talking about “Web 2.0”. I’m usually suspicious of such buzzwords, and I tried to avoid it whenever possible. This was especially true when people started to use it to talk about “whatever new thing I want to promote”, or when they tried to extrapolate to Web 3.0 and beyond. I finally threw up my hands in disgust when someone asked, in all earnestness, “isn’t that really Web 3.5?”
So, without using version numbers, I want to talk about two distinct generations of the internet. The first generation was mainly about using the network to move content from point A to point B. We created, if you’ll excuse the term, a superhighway for information. FTP accomplished this, followed by the web. (I’m old enough to know what gopher is, but not old enough to care.) Content, they said, was King, and this King, like so many others, was typified by broadcast messages from few to many, with very little listening.
The second generation, which has no distinct start date (what important generations do?), was a shift away from pure content delivery to an internet that connected people and supported relationships. We could say, in a sense, that “Contact is King”. Yes, it’s not perfect, but I’m trying to maintain the rhythm of the original cliché, and in any case, you know what I mean. I tell people in presentations that this is nothing new. People have prioritized interpersonal relationships for a long time. It’s just that the technology has finally evolved to support it. In fact, many different electronic technologies are evolving in the same direction. The most successful games are highly social, location-based services have finally achieved some relevance in the form of social applications, iPods are now video conferencing devices, and now Apple has added more social capabilities into iTunes in the form of the Ping service.
At this point, I have no idea whether Ping will take off, although I do have personal opinions about its viability as a stand-alone social network. Instead, I only want to highlight the fact that social connectivity is now an undeniable part of everything we do. It’s part of how we experience a product, it’s part of how we inform ourselves as customers, patients, and friends, and it’s part of what we expect from vendors. In a few cases, the incorporation of social functionality is gimmicky, but in most cases, it’s a logical extension of a service that is used by actual human beings. To my legions of long time readers, I likely sound like a broken record, and I promise that the next posting will be on a different topic, but in the meantime, the point is that “social” is not optional. Very soon it will be the baseline, just as basic HTML websites were simply expected of businesses in the late 90s. If “social” is infused into everything that matters, how are you taking advantage of that?