I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately, both near and long-term. I wanted to get my predictions down in writing.
There is a war that is about to explode this Christmas over the living room. A computer will replace the cable box, and there isn’t a clear winner in the space. The winner will be as ubiquitous as the smartphone, and we’re not even close to that yet. Just as the iPhone showed us what a mobile touch operating system looks like, we are still waiting on someone to show us what an operating system looks like that we control from a couch. It’s not the same as a computer, and it’s not like anything we’ve seen yet.
Batteries limit most of the technology we use today. The reason you have annoying cords for your ear buds is due to the fact that we don’t have light, thin, long last batteries to power wireless versions. Batteries dictate the weight shape, size, and useable applications of almost all of our technology.
The problem is physics. They can’t pack electrons any tighter into lithium ion batteries. We’ve hit the ceiling and now we need something new. One promising option is a nobel prize winning substance called graphene. It’s a superconductor with power storage properties. It might not extend battery life for us, but it may reduce re-charge times to a second. In 3-5 years, graphene will be at the core of our most amazing advancements.
There is a bit of movement in this field with Up Bands, and a rumored Apple Watch. This is a just a bit of noise before the biggest paradigm shift since the Internet.
Ray Kurzweil said it best when he pointed out that looking at the Internet through a monitor is the equivalent of looking at the world through a keyhole.
When we were young we thought of the Internet in terms of “going online”. Now the Internet is just on. Ask a child the difference between online and offline and they won’t know what you’re talking about. The same is going to take place with computers. There won’t be a separation between being awake and being connected.
Google Glass is the first prototype in this field. It’s not a product that’s ready for mass consumption, but it is a necessary first step to figure out how this new paradigm is going to work. Very few people are going to wear something that looks so absurd, but soon it will look like any other pair of glasses. Eventually it will be a contact lens and at some point in the future it will likely be an implant.
I can already hear the cries of people saying that they don’t want to always be online. Take a look at the employment rate amongst people who can’t use computers. You won’t have a choice, and to be honest, you won’t want one.
Thinking about a Twitter stream projected onto your retina probably isn’t that appealing, but that’s not what this is going to be. A great deal of how we experience computers is limited by the constraint of having to displaying information in 2D on a flat screen.
Eventually information will just be overlaid onto reality. Augmented Reality is the term if you want to look it up. When we look at something online we expect there to be information and context. Prices, ratings, specs, explanations, and comparisons are standard in the digital world. Now imagine all that information overlaid onto the real world. Look at a person and their name and background will pop up.
We’ve spent a lot of effort trying to make computers more brain like. It’s a lot easier to just marry our brain with a computer.
Right now our interface with computers happens tactically by typing and touching. This is incredibly inefficient way to interact with a computer.
The first challenge is to allow a machine to read the information stored in our mind. This is a lot closer to a reality than you might imagine. Watch this for a demonstration. Once a computer can interpret our thoughts, we are freed from the ball and chain of our keyboard. The visual world won’t just be augmented with extra data; our brain will literally be augmented with a computer.
If you want to remember something, you won’t have to repeat it to yourself. Think to your internal computer that you want to save it, and it will be done. Retrieval of information will be just as easy. You won’t forget anything, ever. You will able to do calculations at lightning speed. All of the daily mental power that goes to low-level mundane tasks will cease. The computer will take care of it, and you will be left to think. A million productivity apps have made this promise and failed, but that’s because it’s painful to tell the computer want you want.
Right now, when we want to create something with a computer, we need to write technical instructions for it to understand. It requires thousands of lines of code, or hours of clicks in software like Photoshop and CAD. We are translating what’s in our mind into a language the computer can read.
If the computer can read our thoughts, all of those technical instructions become unnecessary. We will think of something, and then the computer will make it so.
Today was the launch of Path, a photo-sharing app that has received a good deal of hype in the weeks leading up to the launch. The product principles that the Path team used are genius, and the tech press is completely missing it.
The tech blogs seem aghast that Path would dare to put out a product without standard social features. What they are missing is that Path is an app built for the mass market and not for tech early adopters. They omitted these features because normal people don't need them.
Normal people do not have hundreds of friends that they want to share things with. According to Dr Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, the average number of Facebook friends is 120 and the average number of people that one user actively interacts with on the service is between 7 and 10. I think this correlates very closely with the real world. At any given time you only have close relationships with 7-10 people. Dave McClure wrote an excellent post on the need for intimacy in social networks and Path is a great example of how it can be done.
I want to break down three important pieces of Path’s product strategy for appealing to the mass market by keeping things small and intimate.
On most social apps, the service will check a user’s Facebook and Gmail contacts to see if any of their existing friends already use the service.
The problem is that Gmail and Facebook are filled with contacts that you are not close with. As a social app becomes more popular, there is an increase in the number of inbound friend requests from people that fall outside of a users inner social circle. There is considerable social pressure to accept these friend requests, even if doing so ruins the intimacy of the network. Path gets around this issue by removing this type of search capability.
Path could let users have as many friends as they want, and let them decide how intimate or open they want their experience to be. However, the normal mass-market user is not yet equipped for this type of calculated approach to friending. They have not thought about their social graph like those in the tech industry have, segmenting it in multiple ways an
d assigning various groups to appropriate levels of online sharing. That's a concept that we have been working over for the last 2 years, and is a mental construct that is mostly foreign to them, at least in the online sense.
Normal users will not carefully preen their friend list. Instead, they will accept everyone they feel socially obligated to accept, and the service will ceases to feel intimate. The 50-person limit makes each additional friend mean something. This constraint gives it value, and makes the user think for a moment before adding someone new. It gently leads the user to the understanding that not every person you know should be your 'friend' on every service.
Of all the social media fallacies this is the biggest one. Normal people do not NEED the ability share things from one app to Twitter and Facebook. It does not address a real pain point. The feature is added because it’s a good marketing channel for the company, and not because it provides a better user experience.
Great software puts user experience first, and the proliferation of Share This buttons isn’t part of a good user experience. They are confusing, error prone, and they clutter up the UI with something that is usually unrelated to the purpose of the app.
When I bring this up I’m always told , “you can't possibly scale a user base without viral components like this”. That's sort of true.
When an app achieves quick adoption numbers, those users are all tech early adopters. They are people who track this industry for fun and jump on a new hot service to test it out. There is little evidence that capturing that group will translate into mainstream adoption. I would be willing to say that because an app is designed to appeal to tech adopters, it won’t achieve mainstream adoption.
Why? Why can’t we just add the features the tech crowd expects and let the mass market ignore them? That's not the way the mass market works and that’s not how you build great software. When a normal user sees something they don't understand they stay away from it. They don't just use parts of a service, they use the entire thing because it makes sense, or they back off because something is confusing and it scares them off. They don’t first understand a service and then figure out how to hack it to make it work for them. They use it for the base case or not at all.
Path has recognized this and built a product that will make the mass market feel at home, even if it means taking a little longer to build an audience. I give a lot of credit to Dave Morin and his team.
Tonight there will be a rush on Facebook.com as they launch the ability to choose a profile URL such as facebook.com/yourname. I have been doing some serious consideration into what the best one might be.
Facebook is in the best position to be the keeper of online identity. It will very likely become the way that I will prove that I am Jason Schwartz as I travel around the Internet. I think of my Facebook username and password like my social security code, and my profile like a state id. Add in the information they have about my entire social graph, and in the future my Facebook URL may become the center of my online identity. While a Facebook vanity URL seems absurdly trivial now, if my prediction turns out to be true, what I pick tonight takes on an awful lot of importance.
Here are my options:
Jason: It’s short, easy to remember, common, and will be the toughest to get before someone else does.
JasonSchwartz: My full name. It’s long, difficult to spell, fairly common, but professional.
JasonDSchwartz: My name with my middle initial. I go by that in a number of places because Jason Schwartz is so common. When you Google Jason D. Schwartz you only get me. I started doing this before I built up SEO around Jason Schwartz, but now its not quite as necessary. I also own jasondschwartz.com.
JasonS: First name last initial. Generic and common, but also short and easy. It's also my LinkedIn URL.
Jschwa: This is my screen name, which I carefully curated over the last few years. It’s short easy to remember, easy to spell, and what I am known as throughout the Internet. Unfortunately it's a bit common as well, and sometimes it's already taken when I sign up for a new service.
I asked the members of the NY Tech Community what they're going to do:
Here are the responses.
@Woodlandalyssa: Alyssagalella (full name)
@Dens: DCrowley (first initial, last name) Because: “[Facebook] requires [more than 5 characters] so I can't be “Dens”. I'll prob go for dcrowley. The 4 letter thing sucks”
@Evbart: Evbart (screen name) Because: “Evbart seems easier [than Evan Bartlett]”
@Kmaverick: Kmaverick (first initial, last name ALSO screen name) Because: “I use that name all across the web. Plus, when you clic
k on Facebook you get so many more details about me and my full name.”
@Ceonyc: Ceonyc (Screen name) Because: “Screen name everywhere. People use screenames b/c they are unique, self chosen. I'm the only ceonyc but not the only Charlie O'Donnell. I made me ceonyc.”
@Orian: Orian (first name ALSO screen name)
@Tmarman: Tmarman (first initial, last name ALSO screen name)
@Davidsrose: DavidSRose (first name, middle initial, last name)
@Innonate: Innonate OR Nate OR NateWestheimer (confused like me)
@MSG: Mgalpert or MichaelGalpert (first initial, last name OR first and last name) Because: “To find me on Facebook just Google “Facebook Michael Galpert” I don’t really care for personal vanity urls, biz url is different story…I only care to have facebook.com/aviary”
@AJV “For our clients [http://vaynermedia.com], I like for them to have their real name for both twitter and FB – if the name is hard (like mine) – then initials. The biggest thing is consistency – unless you can upgrade [to a 4 letter name. Celebrities only]! If you can get facebook.com/jason – go get it!”
@Garyvee: Already has facebook.com/gary. His advice: “1st go for name Jason then JasonSchwartz then JasonS”
It seems that everyone’s choice is dictated by what screen name they chose to begin with, and how close they got it to their actual name. If their name is short and phonetic then their screen name is very close, and therefore they don’t have a problem keeping it consistent with their Facebook URL.
If their name is a little more complicated like Schwartz or Westheimer, the need for a creative screen name grows. The thing about a screen name is that it’s a bit like a character or a persona. It can take on a life of its own in a way that a persons name can’t always do. This seems to be the situation I’m falling into with Jschwa, and deciding if I am Jschwa on the Internet, or I’m just Jason.
Ultimately I think I’m going to follow AJ and Gary’s advice and choose Jason, and if that’s taken then JasonSchwartz, and then JasonS. Jschwa seems to fit me, but maybe not in the future, and the future is what I'm concerned with here. I may be talking about Facebook vanity URLs for now, but who I am on Internet, and what this URL may come to represent, is a topic worth consideration.