Gillmor Gang: The Kindle Effect

tabletFriendFeed’s return of its realtime Twitter feed is a great end to a turbulent year. Watching the river flow is a maddening exercise in gauging the value of the stream, but having the option again is invigorating as much as it underlines the futility of keeping up. That’s where the Kindle comes in. Kindle is a vacation from the stream; it’s checking into the Millstream motel and communing with old friends and old-is-new ideas.

2009 has been a challenging year, particularly on a human level. Personally, I’ve seen friendships turn to dust as the economic crisis grinds the once-carefree impulses of the realtime Web into marketing and posturing. As someone who writes columns and produces the Gillmor Gang, certainly we all are guilty of these crimes. What I saw as a declaration of the obvious (RSS is dead) continues to roil the conversation, but the damage to a longstanding friendship with Dave Winer seems substantial. Perhaps the friendship that founders on disagreement is not the loss it once might have been.

On the plus side, the massive success of social media and its drivers has rendered moot the criticism that these issues and personalities are not worthy of the enterprise or indeed any serious pursuit of one’s time. As a product of the Sixties, if anything the connection between industry and my passion for technology, the arts, and comedy has become so pervasive that I would be virtually unrecognizable to myself from that era. I have become my father, mother, cop, and judge even as I struggle to make the mortgage and ease my kids into the unknowable future. Tech feels to me like the sessions for some potentially great record, or the noodlings of some robotic drum machine.

I haven’t seen the Lizard movie yet, but from afar it seems more on the side of science fantasy than fiction. I’m sure I’m wrong, but for now I’ll preserve that standoffish pose I took with Twitter and Facebook and the Kindle — knowing full well I’d soon join the stumbling herd but glad to pass the time today pushing more familiar buttons. As the stream floats by, the usual persists: open v. closed, tablet rumors, is realtime real, and so on. OK, I’ll bite:

If Apple really launches a tablet in late January, the growing wisdom is that such a device will roll up Kindle, AppleTV, and iTunes into an on-demand realtime streaming service/platform. Given the machinations of book publishers seeking to break the back of Amazon’s lock on the book stream, coupled with Comcast’s bundling of Web-on-demand with its triple play services, it seems logical that Apple would try and jump in before its competitors become too powerful. As with the mobile space, a tablet would need price supports to take off and hold ground.

The social platforms hold valuable cards (identity, affinity clouds, content gateways) but face commoditization and the threat of fragmentation of the realtime market by threatened incumbents (Murdoch, Microsoft, Google.) Since it’s more difficult to predict success, how about anticipating failure. The list of question marks has grown in 2009, including Nokia, Palm, the record companies, just about everybody too boring to talk about. When Scoble says talking about something is dead means it’s not interesting anymore, he’s wrong about what is being said but right about what interesting means. Namely, interesting as in can this help us survive or medicate us while the clueful move in to take over.

Looked at through this lense, what does Google Wave portend? Is it a rewrite of Gmail/Gchat with extensions into Google Office? Or is it a connecting technology to Android devices and tablets that forms the basis of a hybrid realtime OS with all of the opportunities of impulse transactions? If so, how do the media frames of the recent past fit into that fabric? Movies seem the least efficient just in terms of time cost and lack of repeatability relative to music and realtime news. Books would seem imperiled for similar reasons, but don’t underestimate the grounding aspect of relatively stable pools of information, nor the tendency of periodicals to blend into new forms that are more booklike in effect while preserving the dynamics of social filtering.

This sense of calm underlying the maelstrom that is realtime media is at the heart of what Wave represents, whether it gets there first or iteratively. Once people become addicted to the stream, the economics trend toward systems that allow parachuting in and out without breaking concentration or the appearance of it for the benefit of spouses, bosses, and cops at traffic intersections. Last night a friend told us about getting a ticket for failing to be aware of what was happening in front of him during a turn he was making. How dare the cop think he could get inside our minds and know what we’re thinking or indeed not thinking? The judge told him to shut up and pay the fine.

Will ChromeOS have more of an impact than Nexus One this coming year? I doubt it, not because Chrome won’t gobble mind share in significant if not voluminous quarters, but because Nexus One is so important as a driver of impulse economics. No matter how quickly we see realtime impacting on the economy now, once the Kindle psychology moves into the mainstream Web experience the momentum in terms of dynamic pricing will make search seem like slow motion. The implications of FourSquare are much more about the dynamic provisioning of offers as we (micro-communities) move through time and space than who’s Mayor and who’s in the room.

On the Gillmor Gang we wandered into a discussion (well, the chat seemed more like a meetup at the Place de la Concorde) about personalized aggregation. While some suggested the ReTweet cloud would get there first, I tend to side with the application of gestures to editorial views as I’ve assumed TechMeme has done since Day One. The nature and speed of those gestures may have accelerated, but the power of overlapping clouds of micro-communities has yet to be seriously challenged. That doesn’t mean we’ve actually seen this strategy built out at any consequential level, but Nexus One and whatever Apple is launching will produce a data wave of such economic force as to make Black Friday seem like a steam engine.

Inevitably, the conversation rotates back to the white hat/black hat discussion of the Open Web, with its hardcoded simplification of a much more interesting (Robert) circumstance. Luckily, those back-and-forth “no, you are” debates run out of steam and atrophy, while innovation, humor, and the music of the times draw people together in a feeling of micro-community that not only feels better but is producing a tidal wave of economic equity for its users. The Kindle effect is hidden in its avoidance of the backlight, marrying the calm of reflection with the speed of insight. It will indeed be interesting to see how this builds out. 2010 is already well underway.