The NOW Web From An Even Higher Place

It was a post from Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP, Product Management, Google entitled From the height of this place that triggered this particular post. It contained a great deal of almost mind-boggling wonder and information:

All the world’s information will be accessible from the palm of every person
Today, over 1.4 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, use the Internet, with more than 200 million new people coming online every year. This is the fastest growing communications medium in history.

In many parts of the world people access the Internet via their mobile phones, and the numbers there are even more impressive. More than three billion people have mobile phones, with 1.2 billion new phones expected to be sold this year. More Internet-enabled phones will be sold and activated in 2009 than personal computers. China is a prime example of where these trends are coming together. It has more Internet users than any other country, at nearly 300 million, and more than 600 million mobile users — 600 million!

This means that every fellow citizen of the world will have in his or her pocket the ability to access the world’s information. As this happens, search will remain the killer application. For most people, it is the reason they access the Internet: to find answers and solve real problems.

As it happens, within minutes I was reading another mind-boggling post by Mathew Ingram on Social Atoms and the Twitter Ecosystem.  It was almost like one of those zooming-in shots where you get to see the ultra-microscopic detail of the universe.

What Twitter did was strip away all the clutter found on so many social networks and pare things down to their essence. A tweet is like the smallest possible unit of online interaction — the atom of social media (an idea I wish I could claim, but one that appears to have occurred to others as well).

By using those atoms as building blocks, other services have built larger structures. While many Twitter users might be happy to just post random “tweets” (a term that users came up with themselves, according to Twitter co-founder Evan Williams), eventually some of them are probably going to want to track some of their followers in groups using a “dashboard” type of app such as Tweetdeck, or export their messages using Tweetake, or track the most popular tweets through something like Tweetmeme or Retweet. They might want to filter messages using “hashtags” or keywords, using something like Tweetgrid. And then there’s the universe of URL-shortening services like Bit.ly (which has some interesting tracking features) and TinyURL, which got a huge boost from Twitter.

Atoms is fine as a metaphor for something you can build bigger structures with and so you end up with the information web pages that Google can eventually do their searching on.  Except I don’t think that really explains how this cyberspace is functioning.

We all seem to be relating to the World Wide Web as developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.  Following the One Web Principle, every web page or file on the Web has its own URI (Uniform Resource Identifier).  Knowing that URI, you can find everything that is on the World Wide Web.

Where Twitter confuses this simple picture is that you can send an instant text message via your cell phone to update your status.  There is even more traffic moving around among all the cell phones that is not really on the Internet, yet looks very similar to those tweets that are flying around. It struck me that a better word is really needed for all these little packets of information that are moving around, like the tweet.  In places like Twitter and Facebook, it originally used to be called your Status.  Atom has too many other connotations, so I suggest that Instant may be a better word to capture what is involved.  Instant has some interesting meanings:

  • instantaneous: occurring with no delay
  • blink of an eye: a very short time
  • moment: a particular point in time
  • clamant: demanding attention

.. and of course we now have Instant Messaging (IM), which is a form of real-time communication between two or more people based on typed text.

Twitter could then be viewed as a place where you can see the Instants of the people you are following.  Time is a fast-flowing river that is constantly changing as the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, suggested.  Twitter like the photo-finish camera at a horse race allows you to see all the Instants that are passing the post that is labeled NOW. There may be all kinds of Instants that you are aware of.  Some might even come via a program like Google Chat. Others might be like those that appear in say Microsoft Messenger indicating which of your friends are online.

Taking an even bigger picture view than Jonathan Rosenberg was seeing from Mountain View, CA, how can you best describe this even bigger space of communications of which the traditional World Wide Web is only a part.  I am not sure what the best word might be to describe the totality but the most interesting part is the slice that is now currently available. Instants in the past that did not get into persistent web pages are not easily retrievable.  An obvious name for this is the NOW Web.

Interestingly this is a concept that Vaibhav Domkundwar wrote about recently.

The NOW web is not just on twitter. In fact there is a much much larger NOW web happening on millions of forums, email lists, blog comments and message boards around the web. They are as active as twitter and have a wealth of information being added every minute, similar to twitter.

I know that from a recent example where I found out about the US Air plane landing in the Hudson river on twitter, while my wife found out about it on a baby forum that she reads regularly and she may have found out only a few hours after me, or perhaps sooner. These are real time conversations happening NOW which are not on twitter. So I believe the NOW web is much larger than just twitter and in fact it may take a really long time for the rest of the NOW web to discover and adopt/switch to twitter, if at all they do.

I am proposing that the NOW Web descriptor should even notionally include Instants (packets of information) that are moving around on telephone circuits as well as on the Internet.  This does of course mean that many instants do not have URIs.  So they are not yet in a format where search engines can handle them.  However they are the stuff that people want to know about.  Twitter has been one small example of what can happen to meet people’s needs.

Needless to say this NOW Web definition is controversial.  Is it a concept that you find useful?  Is there a flaw in the reasoning?  Add your comments and let others know how you think.

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One thought on “The NOW Web From An Even Higher Place

  1. Web 2.0 is bringing about a ton of information sharing…from micro to macro. It’s interesting to see where Google will be in 10-15 years, eh? Especially as the third world gets online more and more.

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