About two weeks ago, Alexander Van Elsas had an interesting post where he asked several questions about the current state of web applications. There were a few questions that really bothered me as I initially thought they had been answered several times:
- If everything becomes open and connected, what will happen to the big destinations?
- Why is the web rapidly evolving into uncountable databases with connections, instead of one database where everything connects?
- If all services and destinations become open, then what is the point in being a destination site in the first place?
- Why are we creating webs within webs, instead of one network that connects it all?
After thinking for a little bit, I realized that these questions are far from answered, and the answers are going to get harder to find. For the web 2.0 and social media crowd, the current destinations are not really destinations. Destination may also be an old term for what is currently happening. Destinations were the keys to the castle in the old web, but the new web is more about communication and conversations that are happening now.
Most web sites are still thinking in terms of the destination. Some of this can be seen in the various forms of private messaging that many sites offer. Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed all have private messaging options. There really is no reason for having private messages directly within the application. Given that all of these sites require an email address, why not just make the private message an email gateway? Bernard Lunn shares this frustration in a great rant:
Why do I have to go to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to send messages? Why do people insist on using these non-standard messaging systems? If people said, “Don’t call me on the telephone — I prefer the delephone,” you would think they were crazy. For a while, this was a minor inconvenience, but now it is starting to get out of control.
Alexander’s questions were very related to this point. Why does each system have its own private messaging? “Why is the web rapidly evolving into uncountable databases with connections, instead of one database where everything connects?” I think the answer is in the question itself. The internet is also called the web. Both terms can be loosely defined as “nodes connecting to various points through several possible different pathways”. Yes, this is just my definition but you can look up the definition of networks and find similar terminology. In computer science terms, the internet is basically a graph, likely cyclic and sometimes directed. This is why it seems like there is always another database popping up that wants us to enter data.
What does this have to do with the destinations? Well, in the social media world, the destination is becoming a more fluid idea. Facebook wants to be the destination, but is opening things up a little bit at a time. As Chris Messina puts it, the “people” namespace is likely the destination:
Owning the “people” namespace will determine whether people see the web through Google’s technicolor glasses or Facebook’s more nuanced and monochrome blue hues.
The problem is that we are probably seeing a radical shift in the way the web works, and I am not talking about the semantic web or linked data yet. The real-time or conversational web is coming very slowly, so we do not see this radical change right away. It is occurring because of the timing of various things. Finally, phones have become useful internet devices. We are seeing other devices like the Kindle and even rumors of tablet PCs. You may no longer need a desktop or laptop computer to engage in the real-time web because the real-time sites are sending information over IM and SMS.
The destination is the user. Applications need to see that soon in order to really take advantage of what this means. People will not need to visit each site because the information is being pushed to them, whereever they are. Of course, the question becomes how are applications going to monitize this type of activity? Part of the equation could be monthly fees to use the real-time services of IM and SMS. Another side of it could be the old Microsoft model, where the developers are the ones that build for-pay applications and some money goes back to the platform. Steve Rubel thinks this should be the model for Twitter:
What Twitter has done, however, that very few companies have achieved, is build an amazing platform that developers love. That ecosystem, if they invest in it, changes the game. Suddenly, Twitter is no longer a web site. Rather, it is becoming the web’s first major social operating system.
If the mobile destination of the user really is the future, then development platforms like Twitter could be the monetization model for many social media applications. What about Alexander’s last question, “Why are we creating webs within webs, instead of one network that connects it all?” Honestly, that is the nature of the internet, creating small networks within the larger network. We are knitting together data from various sources to create something better. With the help of more mobile platforms, the data can be sent to you anywhere. That means the destination is where you are.