Entering a fluid state

Fluid. Liquid. Streaming. It are words often used to describe the new reality the more affluent part of humanity lives in. We are always on now, social, webbed, mobile, connected. As Om Malik says in Will We Define or Limit the Future:

Mobile phones of today might have innards of a PC, but they are not really computers. They are able to sense things, they react to touch and sound and location. Mobile phones are not computers, but they are an extension of us.

Stowe Boyd tells us what this means for media:

We are sliding into a liquid state from a former, more solid one. Our devices and software is where we are seeing this first, but it is already transforming the media world. Witness the headlong transition from solid media (media destination sites with their proprietary organization, with inward-focused links, concrete layout, and editorial curation) to liquid media (media content is just URL flotsam in the streaming apps we use, rendered by readering tools we choose and configure, and social curation).

Boyd sees beyond media and into the near future:

What is over the near horizon is a liquid world, in which social nets, ubiquitous connectivity, mobility, and web are all givens, forming the cornerstones of a vastly different world of user experience, participation, and utility. This is the new liquid world, just a few degrees away.

As I read about this and post stuff, services are being announced in rapid succession. On the readering side there are services such as FlipBoard, Zite and Pulse. I posted about the curation side of things a few days ago and new tools are being launched about every day, so have a look at my Scoop.It to see some of the latest developments – or join my curating team about curation on Pearltrees.

At The Next Web Robert Scoble gave a presentation about Humans + Reality + Virtual. He talked about experiments combining the physical with the virtual. Now, for me ‘virtual’ is more like environments such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, but Scoble uses it in a broader sense: ‘the digital’, ‘that what you see on you tablet or smartphone.’

He refers to apps such as Photosynth which allows you to make 3D pictures where you can look around and zoom. Mealsnap processes pictures you make of your food and tells you what you’re eating and how many calories that represents – again that mixture of human, real and virtual. Foodspotting allows you to share the places where you eat and what you eat, Cyclemeter tracks your walking, cycling, skiing, running, tells you how you’re doing, shares it on networks etc. Another application checks what you’re watching on tv and share that precious information with your friends. It makes pretty clear what Scoble means with human + real + virtual.

All of which sounds a bit frightening. What about my privacy? Isn’t all this Big Brother? Think about stuff such as Klout score, or PeerIndex, or internal measurement by Twitter telling how connected your are, what your online social capital is and how all this could be used as an asset on the job market or even in financial ratings.
Malik says in Will We Define of Limit the Future:

With this revolution, it has become easier to share our moments and other details of our life that have so far been less exposed. The sharing of location data becomes a cause of concern because it is the unknown. The situation is only going to get more complicated — we are after all entering a brave new world of sensor driven mobile experiences, as I wrote in an earlier newsletter. No, this is not science fiction stuff.

I’m getting more and more immersed in this mobile, connected, liquid state. I use an iPhone and things only got more intense now that I own a iPad. It’s a gradual process of discovering new apps, new social tools linking various aspects of your life and connecting you in many different ways with other people.

Even the ‘real virtual’ stuff is going mobile. First I discovered the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Pocket Legends and now Gameloft launched Order & Chaos Online, a kind of mobile version of World of Warcraft. It’s not hard to imagine some augmented reality enabled mixed realities environment, combining the real, the human, the virtual and what we usually call the virtual. When we get there in an increasingly convincing and integrated way, expect some profound changes in how we live, love, work and connect.

 

‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’

Cities, centers of innovation, do matter. Even though we have telecom, internet, tele-presence technologies, people seem to need concentrations of innovation and expertise: look at the international financial centers and the geographical clusters of technological innovation.

The tech blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble brought a round-up of what’s hot in Silicon Valley at the LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Some companies he discussed are located in Silicon Valley, others in San Francisco… but does it make any sense to make a separation Valley/San Francisco? Of course not, and Scoble said: ‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’.

Which is interesting for virtual worlds people. There is a need for those cities and regions where innovation is so important (read also the works of Richard Florida). However, one can take part in this state of mind, even from a distance. I think virtual places such as Second Life can be important here.

It helps to actually talk to innovators (using SL voice for instance) and to share a same virtual space with other tech-minded people. I do know for a fact that my own passion for internet technology got a tremendous boost by meeting internet-minded people from all over the world in virtual environments, and most of the time in Second Life.

Of course virtual environments are part of a wider social media ecosystem (Twitter, Plurk, blogs, video, machinima, wikis, forums, offline meetings etc), but as we speak about changing mentalities and worldviews, meeting other people is of crucial importance – in virtual or physical environments.

So what is hot these days in Silicon Valley? Mark Littlewood has this great post about Scoble’s list on The Business Leaders Network. For the new media Scoble mentioned Flipboard (personalized social mazagines), PostPost (online newspaper based on your Facebook links), The History of Jazz (reinvention of the book on the iPad) and Datasift (screening streams of information).

Other media stuff: Storify (for curating social media), Curated.by (another curating tool), PearlTrees (a way to curate, structure and exchange information) and Prezi (cool alternative for Powerpoint).

What is not mentioned? Well, virtual environments. They are not on the list of hot new developments. So yes, for some people at least virtual environments help to get into a Silicon Valley state of mind, but those environments themselves are no longer perceived as being an important part of the future of the internet. Oh yes, Blue Mars now lets you rate avatars on the iPhone, but you won’t hear comments on that during innovation conferences such as LIFT. More will be needed to make virtual environments ‘hot’ again.

Related (about the innovation conference LIFT):
Digital natives are not the same everywhere
The murmuration in the Arab World

Also Twitter wants to be fast, easy and fun – sounds familiar?

So Twitter should be fast and easy. And fun of course. If not, they won’t ever go mainstream. For someone covering Second Life, it all sounds very familiar.

One of the interesting points I learned watching Robert Scoble’s live video stream during the Twitter press conference this week was that the overwhelming majority of Twitter users just use the website, there where no self-respecting member of the tech-elite ever go. The social media and tech people think it is so self-evident to use clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic that they cannot even imagine that everybody else just goes to www.twitter.com.
That silent majority is rather, well, silent. They (okay, many of them) use Twitter as a kind of social RSS-reader without engaging in a conversation or even without retweeting stuff. Twitter itself seems to consider their service as a real time news network rather than as a social network. A news network like CNN let’s say, but more customizable. But many users are there to consume news, just as they consume news watching CNN.
Let’s compare this with Second Life. The most vocal residents are the builders and scripters, the traders, the organizers. They are a minority – even though without them there would be no such thing as Second Life. This is not surprising: on web forums, discussion boards and chat rooms the really active people are a minority, and the bulk of the activity comes from a tiny group of very active people.
The challenge is to keep that minority happy while realizing that the needs and expectations of the overwhelming majority are different. I guess the web version of Twitter will be a success among the majority, while the power users will stick to their sophisticated client where they can manage all their different social media accounts.
The same probably applies for Second Life and similar virtual worlds. One needs viewer versions or settings which cater for the socializers or for users of devices such as the iPad, other versions can focus on the heavy users and content creators.
“Fast, easy and fun” will be crucial criteria for new media wanting to gain traction. “Fun like the iPhone” Philip Rosedale said during the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) in Boston. “The iPhone is slower (…) but it’s delightful” he said. Just like reading Twitter or Facebook on Flipboard is maybe a bit slower, but more delightful. Don’t look down on that – making things delightful is the way to really change things.
Here is the video Scoble made at the Twitter conference: