What makes us happy? It’s not money, or fame, or good looks. Hint: we are social animals.
Krystyn Heide, Creating Happiness
In 1938, Arlie Bock, the director of health services at Harvard University, pondered the same question. Bock decided medical research was too preoccupied with the sick; he wanted to study the qualities of wellness. In his words, the “combination of sentiments and physiological factors which in toto is commonly interpreted as successful living.” Happiness.
Over the course of eight decades, he and other researchers observed 268 men from their early days of college through old age, and some through the end of their lives. They were examined with everything from Rorschach tests, to psychological studies, to electroencephalographs, to “the hanging length of the scrotum.”
Some went to war, some were workaholics, some alcoholics. Four became Senators, one was elected President. Nearly a third displayed symptoms of mental illness, despite being handpicked for their “normal” qualities. Yet, some of the more detached subjects made surprising psychosocial adjustments over the course of their lifetimes. One man even attempted suicide after graduation, only to turn his life around years later after experiencing simple kindness during a hospital stay.
In the end, Harvard had compiled the most thorough longitudinal study of well-being in history. With all this research, what did they discover makes us happy?
“The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
Every single person’s happiness, or lack thereof, was entirely dependent on their connections with other people. Money, luck, health and other seemingly obvious factors didn’t guarantee happiness. But relationships were found to be a necessity.
We can live with almost any privation, but we require relationships with others to whom we matter, where our happiness is a primary consideration for them, and their well-being is central to our sense of self.
This is the subtext animating the social web. It’s not the internet wiring, or the user experience, or even the things we talk about online. We are trying to find ourselves in others, to become enmeshed, and through that, happiness.
Stowe Boyd via twitter
Someone who hasn’t fallen for George Orwell’s trope ‘whoever is winning now will always seem to be invincible.’
Here’s Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next 5 Years - Eric Jackson via Forbes
In the tech Internet world, we’ve really had 3 generations:
We will never have Web 3.0, because the Web’s dead.
- Web 1.0 (companies founded from 1994 – 2001, including Netscape, Yahoo! (YHOO), AOL (AOL), Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY)),
- Web 2.0 or Social (companies founded from 2002 – 2009, including Facebook (FB), LinkedIn (LNKD), and Groupon (GRPN)),
- and now Mobile (from 2010 – present, including Instagram).
With each succeeding generation in tech the Internet, it seems the prior generation can’t quite wrap its head around the subtle changes that the next generation brings. Web 1.0 companies did a great job of aggregating data and presenting it in an easy to digest portal fashion. Google did a good job organizing the chaos of the Web better than AltaVista, Excite, Lycos and all the other search engines that preceded it. Amazon did a great job of centralizing the chaos of e-commerce shopping and putting all you needed in one place.
When Web 2.0 companies began to emerge, they seemed to gravitate to the importance of social connections. MySpace built a network of people with a passion for music initially. Facebook got college students. LinkedIn got the white collar professionals. Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon showed how users could generate content themselves and make the overall community more valuable.
Yet, Web 1.0 companies never really seemed to be able to grasp the importance of building a social community and tapping into the backgrounds of those users. Even when it seems painfully obvious to everyone, there just doesn’t seem to be the capacity of these older companies to shift to a new paradigm. Why has Amazon done so little in social? And Google? Even as they pour billions at the problem, their primary business model which made them successful in the first place seems to override their expansion into some new way of thinking.
Social companies born since 2010 have a very different view of the world. These companies – and Instagram is the most topical example at the moment – view the mobile smartphone as the primary (and oftentimes exclusive) platform for their application. They don’t even think of launching via a web site. They assume, over time, people will use their mobile applications almost entirely instead of websites.
We will never have Web 3.0, because the Web’s dead.
Web 1.0 and 2.0 companies still seem unsure how to adapt to this new paradigm. Facebook is the triumphant winner of social companies. It will go public in a few weeks and probably hit $140 billion in market capitalization. Yet, it loses money in mobile and has rather simple iPhone and iPad versions of its desktop experience. It is just trying to figure out how to make money on the web – as it only had $3.7 billion in revenues in 2011 and its revenues actually decelerated in Q1 of this year relative to Q4 of last year. It has no idea how it will make money in mobile.
The failed history of Web 1.0 companies adapting to the world of social suggests that Facebook will be as woeful at adapting to social mobile as Google has been with its “ghost town” Google+ initiative last year.
The organizational ecologists talked about the “liability of obsolescence” which is a growing mismatch between an organization’s inherent product strategy and its operating environment over time. This probably is a good explanation for what we’re seeing in the tech world today.
Are companies like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo! obsolete? They’re still growing. They still have enormous audiences. They also have very talented managers.
But with each new paradigm shift (first to social, now to mobile, and next to whatever else), the older generations get increasingly out of touch and likely closer to their significant decline. What’s more, the tech world in which we live in seems to be speeding up.
People forget how indomitable AOL seemed, and the promise of Netscape and MySpace, before they fell into the dustbin. As I have said before, Facebook is the new AOL, although Johnson is making a different case for that. I have been presaging the rise of social operating systems — which would invalidate Facebook’s near-monopoly on people’s social inclinations — while he points to the rise of mobile, and says
Considering how long Facebook dragged its feet to get into mobile in the first place, the data suggests they will be exactly as slow to change as Google was to social.
And that’s is not a good place to be.
I agree with Jackson: the rate of change is not slowing, so the monopolies of today are likely to be shorter-lived than those of even a decade ago. And the new world beaters are possibly companies that don’t even exist yet, but whenever they crop up we will first notice them when they start stealing users, market, and attention from the formerly indomitable killer apps of the preceding era.
- John Battelle, Search, Plus Your World, As Long As It’s Our World
Once again, Google steps in a pile of doodoo with its maladroit efforts in trying to absorb the social web. Unwilling to simply index things and offer them up as search results, Google wants to ‘socialize’ search. What this means is that search is just another battlefield for Google to fight the war for the future against Facebook, Twitter, etc.
On one hand, you have to admit that Google faces a new world, one that is increasingly social, and the search company has to get in there. But this is not the way to do it.
I continue to be amazed that Google doesn’t look at its email and calendar apps as a good place to build social, instead of dicking around with search.
Jeremiah Owyang wants to declare the end of the golden age of tech blogging, or, even more portentously, he says
The tech blogosphere, as we know it, is over.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but at face value — and leaving aside for the moment the specifics of his argument — I agree. The ‘blogosphere’ — that mid ’00s concept of a community of bloggers writing for each others and cross-linking through trackbacks and threaded comments — that communitarian vision has been superseded by other ideas of what is, or should be, happening, online.
However, I don’t want to adopt the metaphor that is used by people that fear the future, and long for a halcyon past. I won’t go along with the ‘golden age’ rhetoric, which is generally employed by those arguing a fall from a better past into a less virtuous present. (The concept comes from ancient Greek mythology, with its Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron ages, and then the present, debased age.)
I prefer Winston Churchill’s trope:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Churchill was, of course, referring to a turning point in the struggle with Germany during World War II, while we are discussing the transition from a more primitive and less social phase in the web revolution, into something more complex and, ultimately, more rewarding.
The points that Jeremiah makes to support his argument are very tactical, not looking at the strategic changes going on technologically or societally. His ‘trends’ aren’t really trends, but narrow extrapolations from recent events masquerading as business advice. They are these, in brief:
Trend 1: Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation
Trend 2: Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover
Trend 3: The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social
Trend 4: As space matures, business models solidify – giving room for new disruptors
These observations are interesting as far as they go, but aside from the ‘faster, small, and social’ I don’t think these are major, in any sense.
I’d like to offer a few trends that may be implied by Jeremiah’s lists or by the comments of various bloggers that he cites, but aren’t really characterized very well in his post.
It’s obvious that Jeremiah is caught up in the issues confronting three groups of web denizens posting their contributions posting on technology platforms based on a now well-established model of web publishing, which we call blogging. This is unexamined in his piece, but the model of a website made up of chronologically ordered posts with comments in a thread on each piece, and a variety of navigation or advertising widgets in the margin may be getting tired, and may not gibe with other modern advances in online media dynamics. At any rate, Owyang’s concerns seem to be directed toward three constituencies:
He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the problems of major media companies, which continue to be deadly serious, nor does he refer to the notable advances that media companies like The Atlantic have accomplished. Nor does he spend much time talking about the technology companies — like Tumblr, Twitter, and Flipboard — that are involved in the tectonic changes going on today; changes that make the ebb and flow of small-potato business models surrounding tech blogging look like the scrambling of ants underneath the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Yes, we are veering into a new era of web media; and it’s about goddamned time.
Here’s a few of the most powerful trends, in summary:
Obviously, Owyang and those leaving comments on his post weren’t necessarily treating these trends. The post was ostensibly about the changes in the world of tech blogging, after all. But I don’t see how you can meaningfully explore that niche without the larger context.
Brian Solis sees the larger context as necessary as well:
I recently wrote about my thoughts on the state and future of blogs, which is of course far grander than the world of tech blogging. And as you can see, blogging is alive and clicking.
Yes, micromedia, video, and social transactions/actions are breaking through our digital levees and causing our social streams to flood. And, yes, Flipboard, Zite, and the like (get it?), are forcing our consumption patterns into rapid-fire actions and reactions. You have a choice. You are either a content creator, curator or consumer. You can be all of course. But, think about this beyond the mental equivalent of 140 characters. What do you stand for and what do you want to become known for? The answer is different for each of us. But, content, context, and continuity are all I need to learn, make decisions and in turn inspire others.
I don’t buy the consumer angle — after all, every person is curating for at least one person, themselves — so I consider it a cardinality distinction: curating for one is not appreciably different than curating for two or ten. All curators — of whatever degree of discernment — started by curating for themselves. But Solis clearly gets the big picture, and I agree totally that what is bubbling up today will make the web a place where we continue to come to learn, make decisions, and connect with — and perhaps inspire? — others to do the same.
David Ellis, cited by Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie in Respondents’ thoughts, The Future Of Social Relations
Barry Wellman, cited by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, Respondents’ thoughts, The Future Of Social Relations
When asked to assess the impact of the internet on the ability of social, civic, professional, religious or spiritual groups to engage in a number of activities, Americans express generally positive views. Nearly seven in ten (68%) believe that the internet has a “major impact” on the ability of groups to communicate with their members, and roughly six in ten feel that the internet has a “major impact” on the ability of groups to draw attention to issues (62%), connect with other groups (60%), impact society at large (59%), and raise money (52%). For each of the nine group-based activities we measured in this survey, three-quarters of Americans or more feel that the internet has had at least some impact (if only a minor one) on the activity in question.
With poll numbers like that the internet should run for president.
The N+1 editors spend a great deal of time discussing the NY Times in a piece ostensibly about the rise of the web as a social movement, and not that much about the social movement side of things.
[originally entitled: Blogtalk 2010: Notes And Thoughts On The Social Future]
Galway is a lovely place, and I have always wanted to see where ‘the hills sweep down to the sea,’ so Blogtalk 2010 was fun. I saw old friends, and made some new ones. But this get-together reinforced a few thoughts, which wound up in my keynote, as well.
The era of blogging is over: its impact as a goad, a competitive force on print media has been felt, and deeply internalized. Meanwhile, most of the failures of 20th century journalism remain: notably, failing to create open social discourse, and becoming entrapped in the liturgy of journalism while failing to debunk lies and expose injustice. But print media have adopted the trappings of blogging, and have co-opted much of the heat — if any — of the blogosphere.
This has been relatively quick, partly because blogging is really ‘personal publishing’ — low-cost publishing, and lines up pretty well with the one-to-many dynamics of mass publishing. Comments and backlinks are pretty weak sauce when considered in the light of ‘social media’. Blogging, in the final analysis, ten years later, isn’t particularly social. Especially contrasted with social networks and other tools.
Facebook is the new AOL.
Blogtalk was filled with talk about social networks. A representative of Facebook spoke, and was almost orgasming as he related how great all the newest features were. Facebook and Twitter’s growth rates were repeated like kabalistic incantations throughout the event, and the unstoppability of Facebook in particular — its manifest destiny as the basis of all things social on the web — was generally taken as a given.
But social networks as realized today by Facebook and others are closed worlds, silos in which vastly different user experiences are managed. I heard presentations on a variety of approaches to federated and/or open identity management schemes, which could potentially support open and/or distributed social networking models, but these are only of theoretical interest to actual users.
I believe that Facebook represents the high water mark of social networking, as we understand it today, a time dominated by social networking applications, as if our social interaction is something best managed in a single enormous database, whose rows and tables are designed by a small group of developers in one company.
Facebook is the new AOL.
Facebook is managing the chaos of social interaction on the web, normalizing it and standardizing it for us, just as AOL made the web neat and tidy. That seemed a winning proposition in the late ’90s, which led to astonishing valuations for AOL. They acquired Time-Warner using that wealth, and in 2002 Time-Warner wrote off $600M as AOL started to fall. Now, AOL has been spun out, and has no central role in our experience of the web. 10 years is a long time. Time-Warner is now the second largest entertainment company in the world.
The moral of this story is that you can make a business out of simplifying what is chaotic and confusing, but only at the outset. As people become habituated to what at first was scary and headache-inducing, they will move away from controlled experience to more personally managed negotiation of the world.
‘But, all my friends are on Facebook!’ That was true in 1999 about AOL, too. All my friends had AIM accounts, so it was the best place for instant messaging. Until Yahoo and MSN offered audio and then video, and blogging broke loose. And then everything changed with broadband.
And what is going to be the equivalent of broadband for sociality online? What is going to come along to destabilize the Facebook stranglehold on our ‘social graphs’? Simple: sociality has turned out to be the most interesting thing to emerge from the past decade of the web. It’s not all the servers, the cloud computing, the data, or even the explosion of materials online: its the social dimension, and the tools we have built to explore that.
At the same time, we are witnessing an almost unprecedented era of invention around new devices, form factors, and operational premises for computing and communications. Smartphones, tablets, app stores, and the emergence of activities like geolocation, massively parallel gaming, social TV, and so on. These are leading to a deep rethinking of the operating environments we rely on, in our PCs, mobile and gaming devices, and formerly internet-deaf devices like TVs and appliances.
The next generation of operating environments will be social at their core. Our current operating environments are based on standard understanding of things that programmers care about, like files, directories, and access controls. The average person could care less.
We will see social operating systems where following people’s activities, or creating likes, or publishing profiles will all be built-in. These will not be features of apps, or managed as metadata in walled silos. The primitives that structure our social connections will be built into the fabric of the next generation of operating environments, just like file systems, URLs, and HTTP are well-integrated into today’s.
As a result, actors like Google, Apple, the Linux community, and Microsoft — as well as upstarts that don’t even exist yet — will be the implementers of the next generation of social web, with social interaction built into its DNA.
Imagine that I will turn on my next generation iPad, a few years hence, and I’ll be presented with various applications that show views over the streams of information finding their way to me based on my social relationships. But those relationships are not based on application managed information, but related to my device connecting to the web, like getting an IP address today. I would get a social IP, and ping out to all the other entities online, so that information from those that I follow would find me, just as email is routed to me today independently of what email application I choose to use.
There will still be a place for applications to present and augment the basics of social interaction, but they will not be what Facebook is today: a huge social scene whose rules and regulations are managed by the owners of the application, for their own interests.
Clearly, The New York Times, ABC and Apple don’t want to hand the future of our social connection over to Facebook, or any other cabal of software companies. The answer is not in copying Facebook, which seems to be the goal of Google’s Me project. Inevitably, the way ahead is to take the social dimension — at least the core features that have emerged in the social web to date — down into the operating platforms. Actions like following, liking, posting, and reposting have become the core of our social existence. And these core activities should be core to the platforms, not peripheral.
Based on common protocols, vendors of different platforms could still compete based on how they manage these new social primitives along with the other things that devices must do. But just like today’s files — which can move from Mac, to Windows, to Linux, to GameBoy — we would have the ability to network effectively; although in this case, to network socially.
It remains to be seen how quickly or smoothly this transition will be. And in the meantime the dominance of Facebook will make billions for investors. However, the fastest growing segment on Facebook is the 55+ crowd, which suggests that the young and the hipsters will start to defect to alternatives, just like they fled MySpace when the phonies and fogies came in.
Social music and social TV are the two areas that suggest the greatest pressure for a solution at a fundamental — not application, or application framework level.
Facebook’s management may be aware of this, as well. Imagine the scenario where Facebook’s valuation is so high, and the prospects seem so grand, that Facebook acquires an apparently fading Microsoft, and works to fuse Facebook into some version of Windows. Like the AOL Time-Warner merger, I bet it this would lead to smoke but no bang.
Meanwhile, the world will lurch chaotically forward. If cable and entertainment companies develop standards around social TV, and allow experimentation by entrepreneurs to develop social apps that augment TV, we will see some real interesting stuff arise, and the defection of viewers from non-social TV will slow, and reverse. Facebook will see its numbers falling as people start watching basketball, reality shows, or movies with friends online. Likewise, Apple could lead to similar experimentation around social music by exposing social APIs in a future socialized version of iTunes.
This will take years, if not decades, to roll forward. But I maintain this will happen, and that, as a result, Facebook is not the future, but just a very temporary present.