Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Predicting Trends and Getting it [Mostly] Wrong

I am pretty bad at predicting what will last and what won't.

While I'm not as bad as the person who quit his job at a start up because he was completely convinced that what they were involved with was completely ludicrous. They were working on something where someone would actually "log in" to a computer network and talk to other people - who would do that? What they were working on was related to the internet which as we know was a complete failure.

I at least had the fortune to see how powerful the internet and email was because I was thrust into the middle of it in grad school. I saw how useful it already was because we were using it. I didn't have to use my imagination.

But I've sure gotten other things wrong. I wish I had the email where a friend emailed me about this research project they were working on in Europe. It was called the World Wide Web and everyone would have a website where other people could come and check out what they had on their server. I was sending out an email newsletter at the time and would I be interesting in converting the newsletter to a special language they used called HyperText Markup Language (HTML)? Now I was in grad school. I routinely heard about lots of different research projects. I politely declined, though I at least knew to keep at ear out for such things, so I could tune back in when I saw "www.blah.com" show up on business cards and some really geeky magazine ads.

Ok so the Web I got semi-wrong. I got another one completely wrong. During the beginning of the DotCom boom there were a lot of online communities that were petering out. Things like AOL, and eWorld, and several others. Everything was becoming a fad and would have very brief but bright times in the spot light and 1000s of suddenly wealthy companies were trying to turn just about any idea into money. Everything was trying to move online including some people who tried to live their entire lives online (remember that?). So it was another time to be dubious of things even during that wildly optimistic time where nothing can go wrong (Can It?).

Someone (actually more than one) had come up with this idea of having auctions online. Where people could bid real money in an attempt to buy something they'd never seen before. Now if you've been to a real auction, you know there is a time before the auction where you can inspect what you're going to be bidding on. I bought my now vintage guitar at auction and I had a chance to play it before bidding on it. The idea of having auctions without an inspection period was completely nuts. Who on earth would do that? Really now. Come on. Oops. Yeah well I've bought many things on eBay since then - good thing I didn't go very public with that opinion.

If I was asked to guess how long people would put up with the chore of texting I'd get that wrong too.

So now we have Facebook, My Space, Twitter and a ton of other social networking sites. I don't see My Space lasting forever as Facebook does such a better job of it. Facebook is an obvious juggernaut and while I delayed getting involved in it for a long time, the phenomina of having people from 10, 20, 30 years ago plus some folks I didn't even know existed (an unknown cousin in my case) is most definitely a jaw dropping one.

But what's going to happen to the short attention span specialist Twitter? Facebook has a Twitter like function where you can say what you're doing right now, but Twitter is more set up for having your own page of updates without overwhelming your friends' news feeds. I don't know though. They really need to find a niche and they're certainly trying to. It's great for someone who is really busy and really interesting, and who has a fan base who wants to know what they're doing. Rachel Maddow has one which is great but wouldn't it be great if Obama had one (maybe he does I haven't checked.)

So I don't know what is going to happen to Twitter, but there is one prediction that I'm willing to put in print. Facebook will kill Classmates.com. I've complained quite a bit about the Social Extortion tactics of Classmates (will put a link in for that entry) where they will encourage you to contact someone you went to school with and then won't show them the message until that person pays them money. Apalling extortion. Even dating sites have higher class. In dating sites, the person who wants to send a message pays money, not the recipient. Because of Facebook, I have come into contact with many, many more people than I have with Classmates. Classmates.com will die it's only a matter of time.


Elf said...

We got a demo at a client (ParcPlace, I think) of a computer system where you could "open a window" in which to type your commands or do other things instead of just doing it serially on the CRT. It looked cool but I didn't see the point. Says the woman who now lives with about 20 windows open simultaneously all day long.

And then there was that weird "@" thing that people were pushing back around, uh, mid-'80s or so? Something geeky to do with email, where instead of having an email address that identified the server and company and its IP address, I guess...more like this @igor:v7fs1!mvp@apple.com... except I don't remember the apple.com part coming until at least early 90s... and I didn't see how something simple like "elf@xs.com" could possible work to find one among zillions of possible humans on the planet and it was probably a passing fad.

But we DID know that laser printers were cool when the first came out, even though they cost 10s of 1000s of $$ and were huge and occasionally set the paper on fire...

Thanks for the memories!

Elf said...

Oh, and I was just thinking about AOL the other day. I refused to participate in it back then because it was exclusive--you had to be a member to be able to email other members or see the merchants or play the games or anything else you wanted to do, and I didn't believe in that kind of closed system; I believed in an open internet.

And now who's on Facebook?

At least I don't have to pay--wouldn't be there if I did.

Ellen said...

you can still find pclary@polyslo.csc.slo.edu on the internet, but remember UUCP addresses? obscure!servername!personsname
They were just going out when I got started and it was very clear that they were going to disappear. I also had a friend at pge and those email addresses were as long as the state was wide (no more).

Ellen said...

I tried AOL for a month (twice) and decided (twice) I didn't like it. Facebook is much much better.

Elf said...

Right--UUCP addresses! I was trying to find an example. Thanks.