Swimming in the Appstream

Moving from iPad 1 to iPad 2 has been an exercise in confusion followed by fear followed by despair and now acceptance. I have no idea what I’ll be left with, given that I’ve attempted to move from one Mac Book Pro to another, back up iTunes to DVD, upgrade to 4.3 of iOS on 2 iPhones and the old iPad 1, and finally move everything that’s left to the new iPad 2. At this point I really don’t care what happens, just that it does.

Apple haters can jump in anytime with comments (oh, wait, they can’t anymore on the new Facebook Connect what-is-your-real-name gateway) about how iTunes should go away. Maybe, but who can say if this insanity would be improved by making it wireless. So while I’m waiting to be dismayed by the elimination of music, Mad Men 4th season files, family photos, contacts, my grandfathered unlimited AT&T account, and other arcana I don’t realize I’m going to miss, I’ll talk about something else.

We’ve been watching Twitter and Facebook, but mostly Twitter, upend the business of news as practiced by major networks around the world. While developers moan about Twitter’s consolidation of power in its core applications, the cable networks have restructured themselves around providing live video and talking head context with a Twitter feedback loop as editorial monitoring. Even when Twitter and other realtime traffic is driven underground by government or corporate censorship, the Twitter backchannel persists via the media and their new masters, the blogs.

This is not a new media revolution but a classic political one, carried on the backs of realtime social networks that move faster than any attempts at shutting them down. Twitter’s ability to nail up instant affinity groups with direct messages and @mentions has created instant power centers that transcend borders and the previous political institutions. The speed with which Wisconsin Republicans pushed through their union-busting legislation is evidence of this restructuring, as will be the Democratic counterattack funded by the first blushes of a electorate-rallying 2012 recall movement.

Mistaking this for yet another Web revolution misses the changes brought about by Apple’s App Era. Apps blend realtime information with transactions, fueling startups and app platforms in much the same way that Obama used the caucuses to gather people and resources who in turn marshaled a disruptive wave of financing. As Twitter-esque collaboration tools such as Chatter move to the business community, the same restructuring around the influence of individual contributors is transforming companies in the same dramatic fashion.

It’s been fascinating to watch the networks tweak their release schedules and marketing to reflect this new reality. Reruns are a thing of the distant past, victim first of the summer reality shows that don’t support replays, and then the rapid undercutting of marketing strategies by the Twitter underground. Before a show has the legs to survive the 8 show network commitment, trending topics pick winners like Charlie Sheen over so-called family fare. Sheen’s rapid adoption of Twitter and live streaming video may seem desperate and out of control from a messaging perspective, but the move to Apps and the iPad may prove prescient.

We’re seeing an odd similarity between incumbent governments and network programmers, where the upstarts are laughed off as delusional right up until the fans swarm the streets. And the reverse, when Twitter executives are derided as ruthlessly crushing their developer communities. Neither analysis is compelling; Egypt fell because the military backed the rebels, while Twitter third parties like Seesmic’s Loic Le Meur moved to the enterprise before the door slammed shut on the client side.

Where rapid disruption is occurring is at the intersection of the social and mobile waves. The noise emanating from South By SouthWest is notable for its fragmentation. Group chat is this year’s model, but the real action is in the media disruption. iPad 2 and its expanded AirPlay capabilities will be popular among those of us who already are shifting away from Sheen reruns to NetFlix and socially-chosen series. But look out as AirPlay hits the enterprise, with a next wave of presentation and authoring software built on HDMI cabling today and the MobileMe back end tomorrow.

Microsoft Office is looking more and more like the Mubarak regime when you can move from push notification to workgroup commentary over FaceTime and Twitter. It’s clear from recent moves that Facebook and YouTube will go after NetFlix on the consumer side, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where that leaves CNN and its ilk. Most of the tech conferences are now streaming live; entertainers will do a Sheen too as their contracts expire. It won’t be easy, with the major studios still locking up the big screens, but time is not on their side.

Sex and rock ‘n roll still sell mainstream, but savvy entertainers like Lady Gaga and Steve Jobs are blending generations into a new more elastic population that straddles age and humor in a disruptive mix. Network programmers still covet the young crowd, but they’re harvesting the boomers’ deep pockets with experiences that reach back into the soundtracks and comedy of their generation. The Appstream, with its fertile landscape of @mentions, multitasking, and analytics, is increasingly fueling the realtime revolution. Now back to our movie, Waiting for the @mention or Something like it.