First Rays of the New Rising Sun

Traveling for the holidays? Me – I’m staying home and catching up on my reading. We recorded the Gillmor Gang on Saturday, and I’m liking the new day. After the fireworks at LeWeb, newbie Loren Feldman and golden oldie Jason Calacanis seemed bent on continuing the vibe. Why not; I let it float for a while and then eased off the juice into a nice comfortable purr.

We’ll look back on these terrifying times as the moment when we reconnected with the power of this Web. The noise about Web 2.0/3.0 aside, the sense that realtime virtual experiences are as real as any others is beginning to settle in. But what about them is real has yet to be fully fleshed out.

For starters, those of us who’ve been living this silly life for years are starting to accumulate significant relationships that began, continue, and are constantly refreshed over virtual networks. We still apologize for talking about Twitter, but last night my daughter walked into the living room with her MacBook opened wide to introduce her boyfriend to her grandparents. They’re meeting in the flesh today, but Naomi intuitively understands the value of introducing her friend via the new medium as a way of sharing how her friends communicate.

Of course, texting is the glue that cements this digital coffee shop. By that I mean that texting is the support system for more fluid systems as yet constrained by carriers and to some extent platform vendors bent on using these new communications patterns to frustrate competitors out for Web dominance. Silverlight represents a check on Flash penetration, more to encourage Google semi-rich experiences than to stop Adobe in its tracks.

Google’s video chat plugin is another subversive move by the “search” company. Forget its market share and focus instead on its underlying message of cross-platform ubiquity. Those of us who are deeply addicted to Gmail and its growing toolkit of Labs addins are inexorably migrating from Skype and iChat to the new service. Whoever controls the console wins, and each new adopter, whether on Mac or PC, pops up on my traffic control screen in realtime.

It’s easier to click the icon and select video chat than reach for the iPhone, easier than bringing up Skype, and beats iChat by being cross-platform. Skype has a much richer user base and business penetration, but GVideo is easier to visualize. It’s analogous to Twitter’s asymmetrical Follow cloud as compared to Facebook’s much broader reach. The dynamics of peer authority trump ubiquity. This is the dominant economic pattern of the recovery.

In 1997 the Hendrix estate released a version of Jimi’s last studio album. WHile some tracks were fully realized and others perhaps to be cut out in favor of newer songs that never were to exist, the so-called title track is a mysterious hybrid of the various incarnations of Hendrix’ persona. At once bluesy and layered, Miles crossed with White Album, incomplete and experimental but deeply purposeful, the song is cinematic is in its reach and rewards.

This is where we are with the multi-headed thing we struggle to understand as the intersection of cloud computing and social media. We can infer what this world will feel like in the dawning future because it’s already here in enough ways to taste it. The hunger for progress has been blunted somewhat by the power of Obama’s triumph, as though we dare not be so greedy as to think, ok, what next? But our children are blessedly ahead of us, recalling the moment in the 60’s when we realized that we could invent the world as we thought it, and stand a reasonable chance of having it exist, at least for the time being.

Obama’s election is the acid test, pardon the expression, for what happens when we achieve something difficult to ascertain let alone accomplish. Right up until the moment the networks called it, we were still from Missouri, half expecting some Bradley Effect to swoop down. Those of us who remember ’68 and Watergate are still being very careful not to take anything for granted.

The technologists who came after the music subsided carved the computer revolution out of their own 60’s, the space program. They were the next wave of astronauts after the Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, and Coltrane. Now, with Jobs and Gates yielding to a new generation, we question the social kids as our parents questioned the hair, volume, and free love of that time.

Soon we’ll find out how real this stuff is, how we share our lives across these new dimensions with familiar strategies, how our mettle is tested. By process of elimination, it’s likely we’ll see several of the social networks collapse into one, meshing realtime signaling with identity consolidation. Though, and perhaps because, it’s the most important thing to simplify, identity trust will depend on some actual service value before a critical mass is realized.

What will that service be? FriendFeed has a good shot at becoming the Facebook for the little guys, a routing engine for artibtraging messages between quasi-federated systems. Already we are beginning to add comments via realtime IM to conversations while appending Twitter usernames to help identify them for passthrough Twitter followers and tracking/filtering. As this hybrid nomenclature gets built out, FriendFeed can become more intelligent about handling the return flow. Twitter already respects the reply_id of each tweet; now it’s FriendFeed’s turn to expose that data in its comment threads.

Once routers are processing metadata about endpoints across activity streams, there will be an economic rationale for consolidating access to such metadata globally, and therefore infrastructure, services, and network effects benefits for the user to do so. Bob Dylan’s release of Like A Rolling Stone and The Beatles’ release of double A-sided singles prepared the way for hit albums and the democratization of radio. Consolidation of song writing, performance, and production comleted the takeover of the “old” record business.

On the Gillmor Gang, Jason Calacanis called for the destruction of the blogosphere in favor of email newsletters and micromessaging, while NBC used Jay Leno to wipe out the 10 o’clock hour of primetime series production in favor of nightly talk shows. It may be that NBC is capitulating to the computer, to shared microcommunity offerings spread in swarming patterns over realtime networks. The market splits into those interested in interacting in lieu of subscription payment and those willing to get what they’re served without complaint or at a bundled fee.

The economic crisis will accelerate those models that produce revenue immediately. The threshold of success will be somewhere between making real money and losing less money than competitors. Audiences willing to identify themselves because producers are targeting them with new services cultivated for them will quickly become high value identity clouds. The eventual release of the Beatles canon on digital networks may mark the moment when identity nets are restructured around access to the catalog rather than release of it.

It’s not hard to imagine this will happen quickly, or conversely, hard to see what will slow it down. As Obama prepares to take office, so too are a generation of creatives and marketmakers that starts in the 60’s and just now are coming into their own. As Hendrix says 2:12 into the track, “Is the microphone on?”