What to do?

David Paslay, a Bay Area designer, sends the following query:

Hey there Mitch, a quick question. I’m a web designer, I design websites with HTML and Flash and am wondering if you had any rough predictions on where the web might be heading in terms of technology and it’s main purpose? Right now I’m designing websites and I want to start getting into Flash Video because I think it’s becoming very popular in the line of work I do, which is web design. Do you think the web will serve as our entertainment source and for our business or work source? It just seems like the web is getting less and less static, and more animated, similar to television. But I can’t imagine working on a project for work laying on the couch with a keyboard. And I can’t imagine watching TV or a movie sitting at my desk?

I’m confused, what should I be designing for the web as a web designer now and 5-10 years from now?

I’m a mutant, because I do watch TV or movies—or, rather, have them on often—when I am working. I can’t work lying down, which is a posture more suited to reading and conversation, if you ask me. But our physical orientation to our work isn’t really the point, is it?

The purpose of technology is to ease whatever tasks people have and it is clear that our most pressing task these days is staying connected to other people and the information we need to make decisions, so I think you’re basic insight, that the Web is becoming an ever more integral part of human activity, is correct. What you’re wondering about, I think, is whether it’s realistic to think that we might be able to do work that’s also fun and engaging, as you ask several different ways whether the stuff you enjoy away from work is the basis for a job. If I am right, stay with me, if not, stop reading and make a comment, then we’ll see if I can answer your real question.

Yes, I think it’s clear the Web already serves as both a work information and entertainment source. The shift of young adults away from television viewing to active engagement with information on the Web or in video games (which are almost a part of the Web now, and certainly will be fully networked in the future) is clear evidence that IP-based networks address our needs as workers and for entertainment. They also help us communicate more fully and that’s why I think your interest in Flash video is well placed.

But, I would not think only in terms of how you might build interfaces for organizations that need to communicate, though that can be a profoundly profitable business. Think also about how you might let the person sitting at home engage the world through the network. The essential change is that the majority of people are not simply audience anymore; whether they actively produce content on a blog or for a podcast or just type the occasional message to a friend or join a community interested in birds or dating, they are adding to the not the silent recipients of stuff broadcast to them, anymore.

With that as background and given your interest in Flash, I’d look to build on the Flash Communications Server and to integrate your work with database and metadata-aware systems that help create context in online experience. Think of making your work a platform for others to build on, adding their own content, creating a channel for creative expression and critical discussion—people respond to and become loyal participants in communities, they have only passing involvement with all but the most extraordinary static content.

Here’s a question to ask yourself when thinking about what to design: What do you return do every day or week? I’ll bet it’s maybe one or two TV shows and several dozen Web services…. Why do you go back to Google? Because everyone’s searches add to the efficacy of your own searches. With Flash, you can build audio and video, graphical novels that never end, communities that share media, tools for communication. Build something people can add to as well as take away from and you’ll have something enduring.

Ross Mayfield from the Content Industry Outlook

Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Content Industry Outlook:

2005 is about the 4 Cs. Cooperation, Commercialization, Containerization and Consolidations. Cooperation: publishers, advertisers and search partnering around highly contextual audiences, authors and markets (weblogs, wikis and social networks), institutional clients and content technologists, instiutions and public content outlets.

Easy to remember, and dead on. I’d add that the collection of information within these cooperative, contextual, containerized markets will require a consolidation point where the flow of value can be fully analyzed and expressed—which is what Persuadio is aiming to provide—allowing all the sources of data to develop their value within the context of full-market views.

Ross goes on, reporting that these are the winners and losers:

Winners

• monetizers of contextual value

• close to the user

• leverage affordable power of publishing

• source-agnostic content integrators

• licensors creating useful content objects

Losers

• product centric (vs. user centric

• under investors in content technologies

• anyone wishing that it would all be simple again

It’s not just giant market movements that turn a profit

Silicon Valley Watcher: Uncovering the madness of crowds…the flickrliscious effect on research labs:

Spotting potentially large aggregate social behaviors and being the first to monetise them is going to be the name of the game in the consumer digital space.

Yes, and that’s why Persuadio exists. The adjective “large,” however, is a relative one. Being large in one’s own small market is an excellent condition whereas the assumption is that only really large social behaviors that transcend niche markets are visible today.

Seeing deep

Following up on my comments about meeting Chris “The Long Tail®” Anderson and talking about the complexity in the slope of the curve describing the power law of all media, an excellent post from Anderson, Microstructure in the Long Tail, pointed to by Christian Crumlish.

…the Long Tail is in fact made up of many “minitails” (below), all adding up to the powerlaw (“Pareto”) shape we know so well.

This is important because it explains why a very effective network-effect (viral word-of-mouth) recommendation system, which is essential in driving demand down the tail, does not actually do the opposite: drive content up the tail to further amplify hit/niche inequality. The explanation, I argue, lies in the only semi-permeable membrane between niches and mass-markets. Popularity exists at multiple scales, and ruling a clique doesn’t necessarily make you the homecoming queen.

Anderson goes on to ask whether all the mini-tails look like the bigger curve they are part of, which is an important question. He finds an answer—one possible answer to the question—that suggests “no.” But the answer comes from a look at a single type of distribution, wealth, in this New Scientist article about econophysics. However, I’d like to point out that this suggests some continuity between the various mini-tails, but I believe it is the two-dimensionality of the curve that is most deceiving.

The different curves within the tail are not of a piece and we can understand them separately as being of many different configurations rather than being like or unlike the bigger curve of the power law. They aren’t aligned, they are an aggregate that is tossed and turned conceptually but still susceptible to being gathered into a single curve that describes a general distribution of market power. But each mini-tail is a case on its own and I stand by the suggestion that the best metaphor is a broad topology.

We’ve got such a long way to go in understanding all this. The long tail is a great start, but the reality is deeply convoluted and probablistic—we can’t make a blanket statement about all mini-tails nor suggest that one mini-tail will act the same way at all time—it’s an important view of the economy today. The reality beneath that grand theory is comparable to confusing quantum world that underlies our physical world (currently our Einsteinian world, but it is Newtonian in the terms most of us think), and that’s why I started working to build Persuadio’s analytics system.

It’s just going to get more interesting. Investors are supposedly clamoring for views into networked markets. Heck, call me.

Bolstering our maps

Jason Timmerman‘s hoping to add more nodes to his MyDensity map…. We’re hoping this becomes an art of social network; after all, we make pretty pictures of one’s growing social network. He writes:

Why I really blog this? As you may have guessed, the primary reason for this post is to attract Mitch’s attention. I would hazard a small bet that he notices. Maybe this post will help increase Echo Generations popularity. I guess I will just have to check in from time to time using MyDensity to see if it does.

Thanks, Jason, for noticing MyDensity!

Let us be Krill Shrimp and Sea Bass….

Pitt chimes in on my metaphor for the insight we get when we start looking up from the bottom of the data sea…. Tech-n-Tunes: I’m Just a Plankton: I never took your comments on the show as an insult, but more as a perspective on where I stand in the blogosphere. I’m a late adopter to blogging who is still trying to build a readership and refine my writing style. I think it’s good to start out as a plankton, and hope to become at least a sea bass one of these days.

Pitt sees the future through MyDensity…. I’m aiming to be a Blue-fin Tuna one day.