The Social Web in 2011 and Beyond

7 minute read
Chelsi Nakano avatar

There's no denying that the social Web is changing the world. Every arena from business to casual communication is being intimately rearranged by collaborative technology. Subsequently, it is more important now that ever before to consider how we can successfully guide our lives into an age of total information awareness and connectivity. 

The Third Wave

If you want to know how far you’ve come, just take a look at where you’ve been. According to John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the first great wave of innovation in computing hit in the 80s when the PC was introduced, followed by the boom of the Web in the next decade. Today, the convergence of three high profile areas of interest -- mobile, social and cloud computing -- are creating a third tsunami of change. 

From the Web of Pages to the Web of People

"We are now in a stage of the Internet where people are first class objects," elaborated Marc Davis, a Partner Architect at Microsoft. And it's true-- individual preferences and relationships matter much more than they used to. 

For example, display ads and search results are now determined by a user’s Web history and location, meaning every experience on the 'net is as unique as the person undergoing it. That two people can be looking at the same site, or querying the same term, and see entirely different results is transforming fundamentals and changing rules. 

The Web of the World

And it's not stopping there. Consider the changes that engagement, cloud computing and social networking are causing now that they've been granted portability. Everything that happens in real life, can now happen in digital form. 

Sound crazy? Consider the numbers: The world population is closing in on 7 billion, and, according to Davis, there are 5 ½ billion mobile devices in existence. These devices know who we are and who we know, what we like, where we've been, where we plan to go, and when we do what we do. They are personal, ubiquitous, and, by connecting everything we know, ushering us from the Web of people straight to the Web of the world. 

The Role of Entrepreneurs

This last year was one of the few times in history when entrepreneurs were behind the curve, constantly struggling with how to jailbreak data and put it under user control. Whether or not we'll gain enough information awareness in 2011 to ease some of this frustration remains to be seen, but ultimately that's what's going to have to happen. 

"The opportunity here is to understand and to produce the right flows of rights and  permissions and data so that this ecosystem can actually work correctly," said Davis, and though he noted that much of this is up to large corporations, entrepreneurs can do their part by creating social apps that make the data that is available easier to understand, bring together, and share.

From the Ground Up = Necessity

At this year's announcement of the sFund, big time CEOs like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Pincus of Zynga all agreed that starting applications from scratch is an absolute necessity. 

Zuckerberg, who is particularly excited about what sort of Facebook partnerships will emerge in the next five years, readily admits that his social network has no intention of adding on capabilities that aren't an inherent part of the Facebook DNA. In other words, it's not about creating a Swiss Army Knife all by yourself--it's about focusing on your unique DNA of your company and designing products for easy integration with those of other companies. 

"I think over the next few years we're really going to see the [companies] that get built from the ground up to be social have a very fundamental advantage over the ones that are just slapping it on on top, checking a box and think that they can move on from there," added Zuck.

Technologies to Consider

As for what CEOs are presently looking for, Pincus is particularly interested in the reinvention of customer service. "We're entering this world where we are offering a free service but the consumer expectation about the support around that service [has] been built by Amazon, where they're a paying customer," he explained. In other words, it's no longer okay to take 72 hours to respond to a consumer (enter the burgeoning arena of Social CRM). 

Learning Opportunities

Pincus also highlighted a need to enhance travel services, particularly with mobile applications. His example: An app that knows you're at the airport, knows your flight is cancelled, that you're traveling with somebody, and can immediately recommend a next option--and maybe a game to play in the meantime. 


On a happy note, resources for supporting these apps are increasing:

  • Free AWS Tier: As of November 1 of this year, Amazon has offered new AWS customers a free year of usage on the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). 
  • sFund: Announced in October 2010, the sFund is a US$ 250 million initiative that will provide financing, counsel, and relationship capital for a new generation of entrepreneurs to deliver on the promise of the social web.
  • Database.com: Salesforce.com's contribution to the future of the social Web provides a hardware and software-free database alternative for storing the next wave of enterprise apps. It's searchable, automatically scalable, and totally open.


We haven't forgotten that y'all need to make money and neither has anyone else; However, monetization models are also undergoing drastic change. Instead of getting people to pay for content before they can view it, the future is the inverse: people first have to see enough value in where they’re engaging before they'll deliver value back. 

One successful example is the virtual gift route that social gaming companies like Zynga, PlayFish and Crowdstar have taken. Around this time last year it was predicted that social gaming revenue would hit US$ 1.6 billion in 2010. Fast forward to April of this year when FarmVille alone was reportedly bringing in over US$ 1 million per day. 

"The secret to Farmville’s popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics," wrote A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, a SUNY graduate student. "Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies."

Other models to think about include advertising, credits, subscriptions and one-time payments. Each of these can prove successful so long as you're willing to give consumers a much longer look at the goods before bringing out the collection can. "It’s about going to a new depth of engagement and lining that up with a monetization model," added Pincus. "That’s what’s going to be possible." 

This is Just the Beginning

"The great opportunity and challenge of our time is what it means to have a digital society and a digital economy," said Davis. "What does it mean to be a person, to have data, to create property, to create groups, to work and play and love and live in a world where the Web and people are connected all the time? That is the world we’re creating..and we have real decisions to make about what that world’s going to be like."

Essentially, we're shedding more rapidly than we ever have before. Forget everything you know about the old ways of Web and relationships, keep it logged in and social, consult your peers often, re-invent and re-imagine. There's never been a better or more promising time for it. 

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