There are some distinctions that need to be made when thinking about the creation of new modes of interaction on the Network. A number of metaphors are currently employed when talking about services like Twitter (Identi.ca imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). The judgement we seem to be trying to make is whether this new thing will go viral, or will gain broad market acceptance. When we answer questions about the new thing in this way, we’re pretending to be venture capitalists. What we’re asking is: will my investment pay off? And since we have no real skin in the game, we’re really asking, will Fred Wilson’s investment pay off for his investors? There’s an assumption at the base of the question about what’s really important. In a sense, it’s a moral position about what’s most valuable and a definition of the fundamental drivers of innovation. Thus the endless questions about “business model.”
After the money question, we’ll ask what most people will do. Will this new thing be adopted and become common practice? There are a number of binary oppositions we use as sledgehammers to beat the daylights out of any emerging form of life. These tools are a substitute for thought and discovery, they stand between us and what is unfolding before our eyes.
- Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants
- Young People vs. Old People
- Early Adopters vs. Most People
- The Enterprise vs. The Consumer
- Geeks vs. Jocks
- You vs. Your Grandmother
Tools for thought need to be put into question even as we employ them. When we thoughtlessly pick them up and use them as a hammer, we’re just repeating memes. The meme is speaking us and just asserting its evolutionary destiny as a selfish gene. When a meme is repeated to a group in conversation and all heads nod knowingly, no thought has taken place. Rather, this is an example as language as a virus.
So when does thinking begin as we continue our conversation on these new modes of the Network? It starts with a question and the deepening of the question. The Answer puts an end to the dialogue. Think of an answer like a software release; there’s alpha, beta, release candidates, golden masters — but in the end everything launches with bugs and has a version number assigned to it. The only way to move the ball down the field is to return to the question.
We’re starting to see the emergence of the Live Web from the established Static Web. The mistakes we make at this point give us important information about the future landscape. Twitter built a static web application using a content management system metaphor. But by opening pipes to the live web through SMS, XMPP and Track, Twitter enabled a compelling live web experience. Twitter’s ensuing stability problems have taught us that static web architecture can’t support live web usage at scale. The team there now has to start over with a live messaging architecture that can support the experience that was discovered. In this effort, Twitter’s simplicity is its friend. Oddly, the imitators don’t seem to have comprehended this lesson.
The interesting conversation around Twitter isn’t about whether it will make someone money or whether your grandmother will use it. Rather it’s the question about whether it’s a real foundational piece in bootstrapping the coming Live Web. Twitter’s Follow and Track relationship models have uncovered a much larger social space for real time interaction. Where the real-time web as IM is largely point-to-point, allowing two previously connected individuals to trade messages, Twitter enables a space where meeting someone new is a possibility. Our bootstrapping activity is only partially about technology, fundamentally it has to be about how we use the service right now and our ongoing conversation about its possibilities.