When MySpace was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp all of five years ago, some people said they were crazy. $580m was lunatic dollars. A year later, Murdoch’s minions flipped a deal for $900m worth of advertising with Google that centered on the MySpace platform, and proclaimed that the acquisition was now worth something in the order of $6bn. Microsoft valued Facebook at $15bn in 2007 with a derisory “strategic” stake, and Twitter’s funding round valued the company at $1bn just last year. The numbers seem to be hitting something of a plateau, however, and even declining in some places, with a good deal of market cannibalization (certainly between Facebook and MySpace). Now we hear that Bebo – with only 40 staff, after being acquired by the anti-Midas Internet company AOL for $850m at the height of the social networking boom – could close by the end of May if a buyer is not found.
Add to this concepts like defriending, and I think what begins to emerge is a picture of an outlet or a communications medium that is maturing. These sites continue to be popular, and useful, but they are fragmenting. While secondlife had its time in the Sun, and now seems to be beating a hasty retreat back to oblivion, starting with a bank run back in 2007, then a property crash in 2008, followed by a slow creaking yawn factor permeating the genre, the Internet now scratches its head wondering how can we take the weirdness and the fun and the tools and the relationships and connections, and make them useful?
At the same time, we’re all getting really, really mobile in our consumption of technology. Is the mobile internet a kind of Web 3.0? How can Web 2.0 – an interesting if perhaps poorly directed (by design) cacophony of user driven communications technologies – emerge into something truly transformational? In a sense, Web 2.0 began to translate computer programming languages into configurations or even decisions. We began to see how old fuddy duddies could begin to access technology, how luddites could invade the digital world, how anyone could and did engage with the Internet. I remember a friend telling me how his neighbor, a fuddy-duddy/luddite, proudly announced to him across the picket fence one day that “I’ve finally done it! I’ve bought the Internet!” What he meant, of course, is that he had bought a computer, with a modem.
Three things are happening. First, the wireless mobile device is the platform upon which all people will access “The Internet” in the future, actively engaging in the network and the applications that sit on top of it in order to derive lifestyle support of some kind. The second thing that is happening is that the internet is invading all machines, and enriching all machines. Cars, televisions, stereos, houses, are all connected in some way, and have the potential to do very different things, and – crucially – to be aware of one another. Related to this is the concept of service delivery – all industries are now delivering service digitally. Just as personal communications are effected digitally though voice calls, messaging, email, social networking or whatever, impersonal communications like taxes and logistics and health care and banking are increasingly delivered digitally. The third thing that’s happening is that service delivery and digital engagement are becoming personalized, and context aware.
Mobility, pervasiveness, and context. These are three things that are currently driving the evolution of how we engage with computers and other machines. So – back to the original point – if social networking is dying in the current paradigm, how does social networking evolve in a mobile, pervasive, and context aware setting?