A couple of Days ago, Steve Groves posted a good article about the Internet coming of age and some of Marc Andreessen's thoughts.
I've spent a few days thinking about this, and my personal opinion is that the Internet has not yet come of age, and there are some pieces missing that need to be in place in order for that to happen. I think that an internet that has 'come of age' will have three elements:
1. Topic Centric Communities
Yes, I know we have these. In fact we had them long before the World Wide Web existed. They were called Usenet Groups. In fact, back in the early days o accessing the internet (does anyone else remember Shell Accounts?) I switched ISPs so I could gain access to alt.security.pgp. My definition of a community is a number of individuals who have come together around a specific topic, and that number of individuals must be small enough for trust relationships to be maintains between most members of the community.
A person can probably maintain a few dozen trust relationships, but certainly not a few thousand. That is why I think there will be dozens/hundreds/thousands of nearly identical communities all cenetered around the same topic.
It is interesting that Marc Andreessen's new venture Ning allows anyone to set up an online community. I believe there is a hazard to that: The whole world could easily devolve into each of us having our own 'community' of which the owner is the only member. I saw a lot of that happen in Ham radio in the seventies and eighties: It became so easy to put up a 2-meter repeater that we ended up with repeaters on the air handling almost zero traffic simply due to the fact that anyone with an ego and a checkbook could say he had his own repeater. Will we devolve to the point where anyone with an ego can say he/she runs an online community? I don't know. I do know that the only thing that saved VHF Ham radio was the limited availability of RF spectrum. There is no such equivalent limitation on the Internet today.
2. Topic 'Latest News' feeds
Even though I may be a member of an online community focused on widgets, it would be nice to know what is going on in the world that is related to widgets. Right now this is a difficult, time-consuming problem. It takes a lot of effort and energy to stay abreast of all the happenings on any topic. I think some sort of new social media search and filtering entity is needed. Technorati does a good job, but it's far rfom perfect. Maybe the anser is something like Yahoo! Pipes or some sort of Squidoo 'meta lens'.
3. Generalized Search
Yea, we have Google. But IMHO search in general, and Google specifically, is broken. It is WAY too difficult to find relevant content and Google changes their algorithm too much to make the results of a search repeatable. (How many times have you searched Google, found something of interest, and then run that same search a few days later only to have the item of interest be nowhere to be found?) Again, I think Technorati does a decent job here, but what I want is something that will aggregate and collate all the results, eliminate the crap, and just give me the relevant information. (I'm finding that I use Wikipedia a lot more than Google these days when I'm trying to get up to speed on a new subject. Perhaps there is a message there.)
A long time ago, (when dinosaurs roamed the earth, in fact) I envisioned a briefcase-sized device with a keyboard and screen that contained or was connected to a giant database holding every bit of knowledge in the known world. The Library at Alexandria with a handle, so to speak. You could type in a plain-lannguage question and it would return the answer in plain language.
I think we are there from a data perspective but we are a long way from being there for the plain-language part.