A connecting principle Linked to the invisible Almost imperceptible Something inexpressible Science insusceptible Logic so inflexible Causally connectible Nothing is invincible Synchronicity, The Police, 1983
Techmeme, reminded me that it has been ten years since the launch of Google+, the doomed-from-the-start social networking effort by Google, and a supposed competitor to Facebook. I was skeptical of the service at the launch, to put it mildly, but I totally understood why Google had to take a swing at it. Looking back, Google managed to deliver on the “why” of its goals, but not the “how.”
Today, search is not just about pages, but also about people and the relevance of the information to them…Google needs to adapt, and getting social and location signals is important for the company. Search is now search relevant to you in the context of your world.
My argument (even before the release of Google+) was that the only way for Google to beat Facebook was through Android, its mobile platform. Social networks were (and still are) all about communication, and communication tools are necessary for cementing relationships. Google, I thought, could create a platform of interactions that might give it a significant leg up on Facebook.
To me, interactions are synchronous, are highly personal, are location-aware, and allow the sharing of experiences, whether it’s photographs, video streams or simply smiley faces. Interactions are supposed to mimic the feeling of actually being there. Interactions are about enmeshing the virtual with the physical.
Interactions were (and still are) a key part of what I have always thought to be what I called “alive web.” It was a shitty name, but it was getting at the idea that the network is all about “synchronicity.” We are moving ever closer to a “synchronous web.” Google’s original implementation of Hangouts had the makings of a platform that could enable constant interaction. Sadly, Google’s internal dysfunction relegated it to a dustbin of mediocrity.(The Verge has a good rundown of the mess that is Google’s communication strategy.) It has been over a decade since I first talked about the “alive web.” The pervasive connectivity and increasing number of network connections excited me then (and still does).
“Connectivity offers an opportunity to create a different kind of Internet experience that’s more immersive and interactive. And that persistent connection is what allows us to create and experience the Alive Web. I think Chatroulette was an early signal of the Alive Web, although the world instead focused on the vileness of its content. Seamless connectivity allows us to mimic many offline behaviors online, and interactions are part of that mega-trend.
On this new Alive Web, what we miss doesn’t matter. What matters is the connection and the interactions. We get online to socialize instead of posting status updates, just as we would when we would go to our favorite club or a neighborhood bar.
This new web is less about page views and it is more about engagement and the economics of attention, two topics I have written about in the past. As I start to look into the future, it is clear that services and apps need to optimize around attention.”
Long misunderstood for years, Snap is a good example of a company that is all about “interactions,” and that’s why it is remarkably different from its competitors. It is still not synchronous, but its core behavior revolves around communication between a small group. Standing in stark contrast, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are about “broadcasting” to the bigger world.
Ten years later, it seems we are finally on the cusp of that communal, immediate, and synchronous web. In a podcast conversation (published today) with Stephen Robles of AppleInsider, I talked about why I am excited about SharePlay (and other such technologies.) The reason I keep going back to the real-time and synchronous internet is mostly because all great conversations happen in real-time.
Clubhouse and all those who are cloning it are furthering the cause of this synchronous Internet. We used to like to watch TV together or listen to music. It was a communal experience. The Internet made it a solitary activity, and then social networks turned it into “media” that needed to be broadcast and monetized.
Thus, the current notion of the Internet is based on scale. But in a synchronous web, we don’t need megascale. Intimacy of the experience is a feature, and not a bug. This is about creating synchronized experiences. So, when you have something like SharePlay, you can have a more personal, intimate experience. It becomes about friendships and family.
Other services have offered such communal experiences, but the sheer scale of Apple’s ecosystem has a potential of turning Shareplay into a game-changer. This could eventually be a catalyst for needed change in social media, which is stuck in a traditional mode of broadcasting and monetizing through advertising. The long-term gift of the crypto (and blockchain) revolution is not going to be the amount of cash many will bank, but instead, it will allow for new internet (and network) behaviors to emerge. Monetization beyond advertising will lead to experimentation in enabling niche but dense community experiences.
Looking back a decade ago, I was quite naive and optimistic about the emergence of the alive web. Perhaps, I am a bit over-optimistic still. But I don’t think so — the pandemic has exposed us to the magic of being together, both online and offline. We have started wanting more intimacy in our collaborative lives online. We have a generation that is visually native. Their communication default is something akin to FaceTime. And that’s good training for expecting a synchronous Internet.
I am dreaming of synchronicity because it is how we are meant to interact. Phone guys might not realize it, but synchronicity is the killer app of 5G (and beyond.)
June 29, 2021, San Francisco