The name always brings back a ton of memories. Of Kimbal Musk and the team at Me.dium. And the several attempts I made to invest in the team and their vision of a truly social web experience.
But I digress.
Back in 2004, I was thinking deeply about the concept of personal expression and the platforms then and in the future that would enable it.
I had been tracking Blogger and its course-mate, TypePad, since 2002 but only casually. The 2003 acquisition of Pyra Labs (parent of Blogger) by Google naturally had made me sit up to consider the long-term implications of crowd-created content. This was prior to Matt Mullenweg starting up the monster platform known as Wordpress.
But it struck me that we were likely at the beginnings of a movement that would be global in reach and ramification. The socialization and democratization of content creation, syndication and consumption.
I had no idea how to get involved but I knew there would be hell to pay if I didn’t.
And there began the random notes-to-self that became the framework for an investment mini-thesis on self-expression platforms.
So between 2004 and 2005, my view distilled as follows:
(1) The desktop web would be the initial driver of this. The combination of powerful search (enabling research and visibility) would be a powerful enabler.
(2) But what would this behavior look like on small devices? I was at Intel Capital at this time and I can share that mobile devices were certainly considered to be an important future growth market. In 2005, I was part of a team that worked with Apple to frame a memory supply contract. This was the second leg of the groundbreaking partnership that Intel forged with Apple. [Remind me to blog some day about the experience of working with Apple, Tim Cook and interactions with Steve Jobs. What an amazing and disciplined group. An out-of-this-world combination of intellect, vision and execution]. Apple was clearly thinking about mobile devices at scale at this point.
(3) We (consumers) needed an outlet to express our thoughts (and alleged individuality) in small chunks. Mobile (and desktop) technologies would offer us the devices. But the services built on top of those devices would give us the tools.
After literally chasing down Mena (of Mena & Ben fame) at a conference and convincing her that I had a similar vision, I was proud to be able to source SixApart for Intel Capital as a potential investment. Intel closed the Series C investment in March 2006 as part of a syndicate of investors led by Focus Ventures.
Many iterations later, fast-forward to today.
We have seen several generations of personal expression platforms (PEPs): Text (blogger/wordpress/typepad, twitter/jaiku, storify, medium, pandawhale, teethie, google+); Images (pinterest, instagram, flickr, 500px); sound (soundcloud, lastfm, grooveshark, spotify); and, Conjoined (tumblr, new twitter, new myspace, snipit).
The subscribe-to-follow and follow-to-subscribe models changed the dynamics of such PEPs. They became socio-fractal networks, wherein, in objectified chunks of interest, each displayed self-similarity at different scales.
But we are at a crossroads now.
We are getting hit by multiple demands for our attention and engagement. And it’s getting worse. Distractions are everywhere. http://on.wsj.com/WbMYfG
"In the few minutes it takes to read this article, chances are you'll pause to check your phone, answer a text, switch to your desktop to read an email from the boss's assistant, or glance at the Facebook FB -5.06% or Twitter messages popping up in the corner of your screen. Off-screen, in your open-plan office, crosstalk about a colleague's preschooler might lure you away, or a co-worker may stop by your desk for a quick question…Distraction at the office is hardly new, but as screens multiply and managers push frazzled workers to do more with less, companies say the problem is worsening and is affecting business. Office workers are interrupted—or self-interrupt—roughly every three minutes, academic studies have found, with numerous distractions coming in both digital and human forms. Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who studies digital distraction.”
Paired with this 'epidemic' is Peter Thiel's interesting comment (in his PandoMonthly interview) re: people no longer wanting to think. I don’t disagree. I also feel folks seem to want to read less and less. That is, both in frequency and amount.
These two signals are scary in combination. What does minimum viable scholarship look like tomorrow?
I think therein lies the opportunity. And I have wrestled with this thesis for the last five years. It never fully crystallized until recently.
Many years ago, someone told me that there were mobile games (originally developed in Japan) that were timed to be played between train stops. From start to finish. From stop to stop. Attention, engagement, activity, conclusion, reward. I never forgot this.
Clearly, one can learn and be entertained in modules. Imagine if the modules can be re-composed and re-distributed?
The promise of the open web should offer socialization and democratization of content creation, syndication and consumption.
So I think the looming platform opportunity is one where content can be created, atomized, assembled, distributed, culled, re-combined and re-distributed. Sized and valued as appropriate.
Get in, where you fit in. For the network of one. Or more.
I call this the open web foundry...where creators generate bite-size content that can get consumed, distributed, re-constituted and redistributed. Original and recombinant content with its source DNA embedded (and destinations on file).
But this time, the bite-sized content, and not just people, must become social. Semantic technologies can add the intelligent layer that makes content social and dynamically connective. By extension, assembling content and relying on machine-learned prioritization and a people-like-me construct built by a hybrid of people and algorithms.
Nutritional value is based on an x-y axis of acceptance and interest/desire.
Distribution is now unbundled and bite-sized, with its impact in the general (many-to-one) as well as the particular (one-to-one with a viral coefficient of +1). And so will content, which must be reformatted to fit the new attention and consumption paradigms.
The web we regain (and its interconnected Banyan-like branches) is rooted in the web we lost (h/t @anildash).
My friend @Semil describes this as the web of extraction.
This doesn’t exist. But it should. And we want new easy-to-use tools that are widely distributed and built for such an open content creation platform.
There’s a related opportunity to create a marketplace of bite-sized content. And this platform will create a real economy. One that’s economic, karmic and emotional.
I am grateful for the entrepreneurs who have toiled in silence and in the dark building the future for a new consumptive era, enabling the creator in each of us.
2 billion people coming online in the next few years. On mobile. And one thing’s certain, ‘the next web will grow faster.’
Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Dots before lines.
It’s not obvious. Until it is.
[the twitter conversation below, with my buddy Andy Weissman of Union Square Ventures, spurred the completion of this blog post].