Facebook of the Future?

Well, not just yet. Extrapolating here. Online PhD has information about advanced programs that could provide you with the info you need to compete in today’s Internet market. People who think they could be person to develop the software or site that would bump Facebook out of its top slot may be interested in increasing their skills.

I just read “Using Facebook: One Teenager’s Story” on ExtremeTech and arrived a few interesting thoughts:

  • The student generation is beyond connected .. they’re embedded.
  • Facebook and the social lives / networks of students are so intertwined, those who choose not to participate “fall off the grid” in social interaction.
  • It’s not just just social: Facebook represents the conduit for a wide variety of student activities .. from Senior Skip Day (I remember mine .. there was beer) to school-sanctioned events, oh, like graduation.
  • As to graduation, some schools are distributing information to their students solely via Facebook.
  • It’s not just school activities: students are learning about current events at a pace and participation level not before seen .. students who cannot vote are getting involved. Remember Rock the Vote? This generation wields boulders.

While some of this may sound frivolous to an adult reader, there are some very interesting use cases and situations to consider .. things that didn’t exist when today’s adults were in their teens:

  • We passed notes, met in the cafeteria and made phone calls from our homes.
  • We heard about things from flyers, bulletins and garish signs in the cafeteria (well, it was the 70s).
  • We avoided the table with campaign signs and student volunteers (well, it was the 70s).

So .. what does Facebook (or, insert social network name here) look like in the future? I’m guessing:

  • Always connected, perhaps with surgically-implanted connectivity chips (okay, I’m kidding). Suffice to say that I don’t think the future will suffer a disconnected (or at least, a de-synchronized) user for long.
  • Always relevant to the user. This plays into my “Information Snacking” paradigm, where tomorrow’s home and personalized pages will truly be their own, containing information that is relevant to the page’s owner.
  • Insanely simplified interactive-ness .. the ability to “poke”, alert and engage with other users as a matter of course.

Functional expectations (read: demands) of the embedded generation will drive application development to include services from a variety of sources. if Facebook provides all the content and functionality to meet these demands, then Facebook wins. If they don’t, someone else will.

Original Post: August 20, 2008

Composite Applications: Do You Use Them?

You probably do.

Simply put, composite applications assemble data from disparate sources and present the data in a single interface. An application that displays the system time is technically a composite application (although not a particularly interesting one).

You’ll find composite applications in consumer and business settings. They include:

  • Business process / supply chain management
  • Medical diagnostics
  • Financial systems
  • Location-based services

Their most valuable use case for a composite application is presenting multiple sources of data to a user in an appropriate context.

  • A BPM / SC dashboard shows real-time inventory levels against real-time production demands, culled from disparate systems. This dashboard can alert the user to the risk of production delays due to stock levels.
  • Medical diagnostic software shows bodily statistics (heart, lung, oxygen levels, etc.) in response to outside stimuli (exertion or adding oxygen).
  • Financial software shows the response of a stock price due to news, and then reflects price changes in portfolio valuation.
  • LBS-enabled solutions create massive business opportunities simply by knowing where you are .. and what you might be able to buy / do while you are there.

In all cases, the ultimate recipient of the data is the user; we are the ultimate aggregators and consumers of the data that matters to us. A well-designed composite application will address our needs and use cases in context when gathering data to present to us.

I liken a composite application to a smart phone; in fact, I would argue that a smart phone is a composite application. If the smart phone has a robust enough operating system to permit user customizations (loading the content and the applications we deem most relevant), AND includes pillars like location and search, our aggregation and consumption of the data is second nature to us.

For example, a GPS-enabled phone can provide:

  • The weather in your current location, and as a result, what to wear.
  • The store to buy something you need that ‘s close by (possibly even the clothes you need because you didn’t check the weather first).
  • Directions to the store.
  • Your bank account balance to ensure you can buy what you need.
  • The method of payment for a treat along the way (I use the Starbucks Card Widget for my Android Aria to pay for my coffee these daze).
  • .. and so on.

If you build a composite application (correctly), it will get used. Further, if you watch how they are used, you’ll learn how to improve your design to deliver what your customers need.

Leap Frogs: Mobile Infrastructure

This one is obvious.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the facts have been out there for some time, for those who wanted to look.

In some countries (and some areas in the United States .. have you ever read the details on the Universal Service Charge / Universal Connectivity Fee?), getting a telephone land line can be a challenge. It can take YEARS (and political connections) to get.

There is a technology that makes this a totally irrelevant discussion, and it’s right in the palm of your hand: your mobile phone. Wireless infrastructure can be built out at a tiny fraction of the cost of dragging cable. This technology creates market opportunities .. for the cost of a “few” antennas and repeaters (instead of miles and miles of wire), entire markets can be opened.

Costs can be defrayed too: a Washington Times editorial (from 02/2010) argues to “Kill the Universal Service Fund” as it tends to provide too much money to too few (and potentially inappropriate) recipients. From the editorial:

Rural phone companies see the greatest benefit. In 2008, the USF gave the Oregon Telephone Corporation $16,834 federal subsidy for each of the company’s subscribers in Beaver Creek, Wash. Such largess is especially absurd now that satellite phones can provide service anywhere in the country where one has a clear view of the sky at a fraction of the cost.

The evidence is clear: consider India, where pay-as-you-go mobile phone providers emerge on a moments’ notice .. but with the creative use of SIM cards, you can acquire PAYG coverage wherever you find yourself. If you found that sentence confusing, drop me a line and I’ll point you to resources that will help.

Let’s extend to broadband. There are unlimited providers who offer pay-as-you-go service in a number of countries. Take care with your credit card, though: there are a number of shady folks keen to balance their checkbooks with your cash.

There are heroes too: this chap keeps an eye out for potential villains: suggest you consult him before you consider an provider outside your country.

Information Snacking on Your Mobile?

I’ve been talking and posting about the concept of “Information Snacking” for some time now. I want to be at the center of my data consumption, instead of trapped in an application, site or a specific device. We want to call up our data whenever, wherever we want it.

I envision a site that lets you customize multiple views of your data:

  • The PC / Browser view
  • The Mobile view
  • The 10-foot view

.. and maybe more variants.

Seems simple, right? Pick your content; your stocks, your MySpace  or Facebook summary, your team scores, your weather, your mail. Assemble these widgets onto the pages for each view and voila! Information Snacking.

The rub: making money. Will one site allow other sites’ ads on their pages? Or will they pay a fee for the content and try to charge for it? Or something else?

Seems Yahoo! is opening this Pandora’s box a bit with their Yahoo! Mobile product; a starting point on your mobile device that includes the stuff you want (maps, email, etc.), plus the ability to add third-party content via Mobile Widgets. The site is boasting eBay, MySpace and MTV News widgets, along with a ton of other widgets in their widget gallery.

Update: As I point out in “The next thing: Mobiles, Minis, Flakes, et. al”, a mobile device is, an Information Snacking device .. a composite application, with you, the data consumer at the center.

Information Snacking, Content and the Digital Daze

Record labels survived Kazaa, Napster and the ‘for myself’ digitization of media content (i.e., ‘ripping’). No, they’re not happy about it: piracy is still at an all-time high, they’re suffering severe online competition and CD sales have not improved of late. The ‘old’ model is at severe risk.

RadioHead adds a new wrinkle to the equation: download the album from their site and pay what you want for the download. Not only have they bypassed the recording industry by offering the CD (and a $80, you can get a cool boxed set) they’re also turning the pricing model of entertainment on an ear.

Note that these guys likely don’t have the need for day jobs anymore, so they can certainly afford to do this.

To make matters more interesting, the ‘for me’ generation is not so much delineated by age, but rather by the enabling technologies that drive the mentality. We (myself included) want our entertainment (okay, and our data) when and where we want it:

  • We don’t want it limited to specific devices.
  • We don’t want in hamstrung by DRM.
  • We don’t want to be limited to particular types of our data.

I’m a big proponent of “Information Snacking“, the term I’ve assigned to the paradigm of universal access to my data:

  • I want my stock quotes.
  • I want my sports scores.
  • I want my media. I’ll accept it in a less-than-optimal format (small screen / headphones) if my current environment (plane / train / unicycle) dictate.

I don’t always have an Internet connection and accept there are environments where certain data simply cannot be available in real time. As I accept this, I won’t blame my device of choice for gaps, but will seek out the best device to feed my digital habits. Note: this is my problem and I accept it; I will optimize digital capacity to my lifestyle.

Guess what? I’m not alone. Many of us ‘make do’, and yet, achieve an absolutely-unheard of level of digital consumption:

  • Do I have video content on my phone? Yes, I do. On a storage card I can plug into an higher-quality environment. In a pinch, the phone screen and speaker suffices just handily, thank you.
  • Do I have music content on my phone? Yes, I do. In an effort to re-take my belt, I found a cool little headphone adapter for my mobile device that lets me leave my old music player at home when I go to the gym (I still take it on flights).
  • Naturally, I use my headphones with my music player on flights, and in the hotel room, the media cable comes in very handy with most televisions.
  • In the car, you say? Yes. I carry a goofy little, foot-long, RCA-male-to-RCA-male cable that lets me plug my music player into the AUX plug of my car.

My music is my music: I want it when and where I want it. My player can carry my entire album connection and I can truly enjoy it anywhere, anytime.

I am looking ahead now, noting that my mobile lifestyle has me wanting all of the above and the ability to produce content, as well as consume it. I do this on my laptop very easily, and my phone is almost there. I can email posts to a blog (unhappily, not this one; though not the fault of my phone). I can shoot pictures and videos on my cell phone and share them in the cloud as well.

Is it 100%? Not yet. I see incremental progress though. Until we get there, I’ll keep banging out these thoughts and keep trying new things.

Is iGoogle the uber customizable / personalizable portal?

Well, when I was working at Microsoft, I hoped not. I wanted us to get there first.  😉

It’s not any more functional than MyMSN, but is a logical next step; but what’s next-next?  At what point is will this extend to other devices and include data from outside a walled garden?

I referred to this paradigm in “What do you call the uber personalized site for information snacking?“, “The next thing: Minis, Flakes, et. al“, “The User at the Center” and most recently “Information Snacking in the real world“.

In these posts, I’m guessing this concept would emerge as the next big thing on the web: a ‘blank slate’ where users could connect to the data that matters to them, no matter the source.

I christened the concept “Information Snacking“, describing a user-centric view of a user’s own data, aggregated from multiple sources; likely outside the sources’ native interfaces.  Data that is available on multiple devices through layers of abstraction.

Heh.  See why I call it “Information Snacking”?  The description is practically a thesis.

In a few words, your data, when and where you want it:

  • You might use Yahoo! mail as your primary email account.
  • You might have oft-traveled cities and want to monitor weather.
  • You might use Flickr for your online photo storage (I use Live Spaces).
  • You might have a few favorite RSS feeds.

The page that can pull all these sources together will win the much-coveted Home Page position on all my browsers.  It might also net a blog post or twenty-two.

Information Snacking in the real world

I’ve been talking and posting about my concept of “Information Snacking” for some time now; this is where the user is finally at the center of their data consumption, instead of trapped in an application or a specific device. We want to call up our data whenever, wherever we want it. I called this out explicitly in “The next thing: Minis, Flakes, et. al” some time ago.

The battle is continuing: whatever you call them; widgets, gadgets, blocks, panels, slabs, stickies or foos, a user’s data will be exposed in a manner that it can be hosted on their start page, and viewed on their PC, phone or other device.

The user is elbowing their way to the center, and the site(s) that facilitate this action with a framework will ‘win’ the next great set of eyeballs on the Web.

Some posts in the news:

From sound bites to bits and bytes, we’re all grabbing what we want, when we want it from the Web. We are choosing the timing and our venue to suit our needs and wants.

The next thing: Mobiles, Minis, Flakes, et. al

I’ve been seeing this coming and talking about it internally for the past few months, driving my co-workers nuts. I have even posted about the concept a number of times.

Well, it’s here: the concept of a ‘universal landing page’ that users can own and add the content that suits them.

While I don’t have a name for the landing page myself (I’m sure there is one out there somewhere; ‘uber personalized site’ is so clumsy), I’ve been calling the consumption of these data “Information Snacking“.

Information Snacking is how users consume their data; whenever, wherever they please. It’s stock quotes on the run, email on a bus and alerts / notifications anytime. The convergence of broadband, content and devices makes this possible, and users will demand this, with a vengeance.

Among the other things they’ll demand:

  • Absolute control over the data they choose to snack upon.
  • Absolute control over the venue when they snack.
  • Freedom to grab content from a variety of sources.

While I’m not declaring the world of web portals dead, the landing page concept provides users the flexibility to select the data they want from a variety of competitive sources.

Here’s the concept. Imagine a single page that supports:

Let’s look at the list.

  • News and the latest bits from Slashdot are pretty obvious. But, if the user has Yahoo Finance, why the link to Schwab? Perhaps this user (okay, it’s me) has an account at Schwab and can get real-time quotes by passing credentials to the feed, instead of the standard 20-minute delay.
  • Same with email: why would the user need two email accounts on this page? First of all, convenience: avoiding the need to log in to separate web pages when, at a glance, they can see if they’ve mail. They’re one-click away from their inbox.

So, what’s wrong with the current portals? Nothing. I enjoy http://my.msn.com/ and http://my.yahoo.com/. However, I cannot do cross-pollination between the mail services at present, or add MSNBC to Yahoo, and so on (and so on, and so on).

“What a great idea!”, you might say. “Why isn’t anyone doing this?”, you might ask. Well, there are a few sites out there that provided these types of landing pages, including services from the majors (and lots and lots of minors) are appearing every day. However, the smaller sites couldn’t make the numbers work, and one by many, disappeared. I can verify that PageFlakes is still up and running if you want to see the concept for yourself.

You’ll see that each of these offers a variety of ways to link to content that is acquired off the landing page. Users WILL create accounts on one (or more) of these sites, and customize to their hearts’ content. These sites will eventually be ‘smart’ enough to provide the rich personalization experience even on a mobile phone or the 10′ experience enjoyed by Windows Media Center.

Speaking of mobile .. it’s quite possible that mobile devices are torpedoing these pages on the web. The mobile device is, by it’s very nature, an Information Snacking device .. a composite application, with you as the center.

Pick your landing page or your device, connect your data and snack away!

The User at the Center

It’s all about the user. I addressed this earlier in “What do you call the uber personalized site for information snacking?” and I’m starting to see more and more in the ‘sphere about what is getting to be a monumental shift.

I’m still thinking about this and am looking for partners interested in working on it with me.

The user wants to snack on their data; whenever, wherever they are. This could be email on the PC or SmartPhone, video on the phone while on a plane or on the big screen while at home, a Personal Control Panel that aggregates all the user’s desired content with access from anywhere (think MyMSN or My Yahoo).

This PCP could include digital content that’s best presented in a 10-foot view, accessible with Windows Media Center and your wide-screen TV. Or it could include links to your music, downloadable to your PC or phone from your place on the web.

It’s bigger than a portal; it’s our user’s life. The user at the center is the main tenet of Information Snacking.

What do you think?

What do you call the uber personalized site for information snacking?

What’s in a name?

I’m torn on this.

For quite a while, I’ve been touting the next generation of the web as a completely personalized experience where users could ‘snack’ on their own information, when they wanted, where they wanted. I still believe this is true, and I’ve called it “Information Snacking”.

On the MIX06 blog, I posted “Services as a Platform”, where I describe ‘information snacking’ as what users do when they access their data on a customized site. I also describe the ‘new’ generation of the ‘whole product’ paradigm in “Extend Your Reach”; where a whole product includes several form factors, providing the medium for users to access their aggregated data.

Om Malik had a guest column by Robert Young in 2006 in a “Can MySpace be Beaten?” post, where he described the ‘console for consumer control’ (‘C3’) as the MySpace ‘beater’. In short, this is a customizable dashboard application that contains only the items the user is interested in, for them to ‘snack’ upon when the mood strikes them. Without the critical mass and network appeal of MySpace, is this really a ‘beater’?

The ‘sphere was quick to adopt ‘Web 2.0’, but has long eschewed ‘Information Snacking’. I keep talking about it, though, and I use MyMSN in that way. Their mobile experience isn’t as bad as some, but not as good as others. Still not a ‘complete product’, by my definition.

So, if not C3 or some MyVariant, what do YOU call the uber personalized site for information snacking? Where is this site?

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