Post-Internet Google+ Beta Madness

I’ve been researching, thinking about, and presenting on the future of the Internet, and this week I’m preparing to propose a SXSW panel and getting ready for a presentation next week at Bootstrap Interactive in Austin. At the moment I’m thinking we’re in a “post-Internet” era. The collaborative, peer to peer network of networks has been co-opted and overlaid by a very few large corporations, and as was the case with earlier information technologies (film, radio, television) monopolies (or duopolies) are forming for network access, hardware, and information services, and the advertising model originated by David Sarnoff et al. for radio is pervasive on an Internet thick with ads – increasingly sites you visit throw an obnoxious full-screen ad in your face as you land. I’m hearing more and more conversations about building a new alternative Internet (and, for that matter, alternative economies and forms of governance).

As I was thinking hard about this, and digging deeper, Google + launched, and the geekiest cohort among my friends started showing up for the limited beta. Plus is YAAS (“yet another activity stream”), probably better-engineered and more social than Facebook’s. No real marketing vibe so far, just a lot of people hanging out (often literally, using G+’s “Hangout” feature, a high-quality form of videoconferencing that’s very cool but crashy).

Google + is the Next Big Rockit. People who are (or wannabe) paid to think about social media are filling many buckets with bits of speculative and often redundant information about the system, which doesn’t strike me as particularly new and innovative in the patterns it’s aggregated. But it is a welcome change from the other high-adoption social environments du jour, namely Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Twitter, it allows longer-form posts and inline media-sharing. Unlike Facebook, it has functional management of relationships (via Circles) and better handling of both transparency and privacy…

And did you mention Diaspora? Their launch has been so constrained as to be a mere whisper, next to the great swooshing sound of the Google+ launch.

I saw Robert Scoble post that he likes it because he can share videos and articles with everybody, and I assume that his emphasis was not on the ability to share (because we’ve been sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed et al), but on the idea of sharing “with everybody.” Google + is structured so that you can see and reach more people, and when you’re selective about what you see it’s your choice, not a selection by algorithm as you have in Facebook’s “Top Stories.” At Google + you can drop people into “circles” according to whatever categorization scheme fits your DNA, and that’s really the only operational filter at this point.

But, back to my point about the post-Internet world, what’s been cool about Google+ so far has been the absence of that overlay of commercial messaging that has fogged other sites. It’s been a relatively spam-free zone, reminding me what fired me up about online social spaces from the 80s onward. How long the beta period will last I don’t know, but it’s been a nice reminder of what we could potentially have, if we could turn down the volume the advertising and marketing blasts that seem so much pervasive online lately than even on television or radio.

Back to thinking hard about the future of the Internet.

21st century data convergence: surf or swim

A Times UK piece, 10 ways data is changing how we live, says that “the availability of new sets of data” is changing the way we live. Five years ago at IC2 Institute in Austin, we were talking about digital convergence, and those talks spun off an organization called the Digital Convergence Initiative, the idea being to build a local business cluster of convergent companies. We were ahead of our time, and it was hard for many to get their heads around how such a “horizontal” cluster would work. We were onto an effect of convergence that could be pretty interesting: the edges of verticals will blur, and companies that before convergence had nothing in common will find affinities and synergies that create new forms of business. The clearest and most obvious example we saw was digital media, i.e. radio, television, music, and film all coming together as data and presented through smart, computer-driven systems. Apple, by understanding this (or maybe it was an accident), has evolved from a somewhat successful niche computer business to a dominant position in the world of digital media. The Mac is as much a media device as a computer, and Ipod is a household word for convergent media. The challenge today is dealing with the abundance of media, and if you produce media, building a reasonable audience for your productions. As I watched the unusually entertaining Emmys last night (and noted the velocity of the related Twitter streams), I realized that the television networks may yet figure out how to recover and build audiences across platforms. I noted knowing social media refernces, and was no way surprised to find the Emmy show available online this morning, especially the opener with Jimmy Fallon and the cast of Glee (et al) performing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

I called this post “surf or swim” – thinking of two ways people will take abundant data. Some will surf the waves, others will dive in and go deep with it. Note that I didn’t mention “sink.” I’m an optimist, expecting evolution over implosion.