OK, so that is a bit of a naughty title. I’ll admit that it was designed to get your attention. I can’t promise to tell you what the most important trends on the web are, but I can have a stab in the dark and see if people agree. I’m trying to look at what the implications/opportunities of new technologies are for careers work, but in order to do that I need to come up with some kind of list of what is going on. What might offer the kind of work that I write about some kinds of opportunities. I’ve been reading around and I haven’t found anyone who has set this out very clearly. Tim O’Reilly’s What is web 2.0 is a pretty good, but it is too tech heavy for a mere mortal like me. I want to try and get my head round what the implications of current developments in technology are for the users rather than for those in the web business.
I also wanted to keep away from identifying trending technologies. It is easy to say that Twitter is the flavour of the month this month etc but we all know these things ebb and flow. I feel like I need to identify trends at a more conceptual level. So here goes – this is my attempt to identify the seven most important things that are currently out there. I’m doing this to be told that I’m wrong – so shoot away. I want you to tell me what the seven (or even better six or five) trends should be. I’d also be interested to be pointed to things that attempt to do similar things.
So my trends, in no particular order are:
1. Ways of talking: In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam argues that the key issue in assessing the impact of the internet is whether people use it more like the television (alienating, individualised, consuming) or whether people use it more like the telephone (connecting, social, producing). It seems pretty clear now that the internet has become a super-charged telephone rather than a new television. A large number of the opportunities associated with new technologies are about finding new ways for us to talk to each other, both one-to-one (chatrooms, videoconferencing etc) and in groups and communities (every social networking site out there). If we are evaluating the opportunities offered by new technologies we need to recognise that people love to talk and we can now talk more than ever before. Furthermore we should recognise that the cost of developing and maintaining social capital has dropped as the systems that enable us to talk have got easier and cheaper to use. The new ways of talking are likely to revolutionise everything.
2. Together everyone achieves more: Current technologies allow us to harness collective intelligence in ways that radically alter the way we understand the role of expertise and the production of information. Systems, like Wikipedia, provide new ways of aggregating knowledge and support the development of a public sphere within which ideas can be shared, debated and synthesised together. The generation of huge amounts of user content and equally important of user metadata mean that services which are based on expertise and the possession of information are going to need to rethink their unique selling points pretty quickly.
3. Located in the cloud: The trend for everything to be located in the cloud is enormously challenging for organisations that have spent millions of pounds developing their own resources, systems and applications. How do we own, control, regulate and safeguard? People want to be able to access their stuff from wherever they are, they don’t want to worry about firewalls, ownership and branding. They want to be able to move stuff from one bit or their life or identity to the next. They don’t want to use your system they want to use the one they’ve found that works for what they want it to work for.
4. Getting beta and beta: Forget about launch dates. If you’ve got something that might be useful put it out there and see if people use it. Find out what they complain about and fix it. Even better, get them to fix it for you. This cycle of continuous improvement is a massive social change that business and the public sector will struggle with. Again it pulls against ideas of branding and of expertise, it breaks down the barriers between expert and amateur, professional and client and so on.
5. Beyond the computer: Next up is the reminder that technology is not confined to your desktop. The ways that people are accessing online services are becoming more diverse and more integrated. You can pull content off the web to your phone or TV. You can integrate your Sat Nav or fridge into your computer. How we utilise these opportunities in the delivery of services is going to determine what our services look like in the future.
6. Let’s play: Everyone keeps talking about gaming. I’m not a gamer, but I can spot a zeitgeist when it slaps me in the face. I can also recognise that I’ve been using face to face games as part of my everyday teaching and management practice for years. I haven’t figured how to move this online, but others have. People interact, entertain and learn through gaming and so it is not going to be possible for mainstream services to ignore this for much longer. It is also not going to be possible to pretend that only kids play games for much longer either.
7. Bringing it all together: Finally, I’d like to suggest that aggregation is a trending theme in technology. Things that allow you to bring stuff that interests you together to help you assimilate it and to build relationships between different things. The development of mashups and portals enables the user to personalise their interactions with individuals, organisations and information. Again this challenges ideas of branding and means that the often cited argument that organisations should become a “one-stop shop” or that we should practice “joined up thinking” become more meaningful at the individual level and less meaningful at the organisational level.
So there you go…
Suggestions please! Are these meaningful trends? Is this mix of technological, social and cultural trends a workable way to discuss what is happening? If not suggest some alternatives or argue with me about the trends I’ve found.