It's a telling coincidence. The same day, March 31, that we recorded a Gillmor Gang episode that began on the lame topic of Apple vs. Apple but meandered meaningfully to the concept of a user-friendly tool to mash-up, filter, and orchestrate highly individualized Web 2.0 (and other) services, on that same day, the Google Operating System blog publishes the humorous Yahoo Buys Web 2.0.
Gillmor, the prickly but prescient, picked up quickly on the meat of the subject and canvassed the assembled on-air Gang on which companies would "win" in delivering such a tool, Let the true competition between the IP pipes people move from the hoarding of locked-down content to the services interface and intelligent filtering capabilities... and which were "clueless." Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner, and "none of the above" scored highly. Mouthing off last, I ventured in a new direction, that the list of the most promising and most clueless is the same list -- at&t, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner (for the cable), Disney (ditto), News Corp. (ditto plus satellite).
I say the companies that deliver the full IP spectrum of service to homes and smaller businesses (the bit pipe people) should be in a strong position to both solve the problems of user-driven choices of content, communications, and services -- as well as how to monetize those services back down from a once-a-month payment to the IP network that is then distributed to the content and services ecology of content and services, perhaps based on micro-payments. Sell ads, too, if you must.
The needed role to fill (to close out the Web 2.0 sub-era) now is that of empowering the user to be their own gatekeeper of everything relevant to them. By crafting their own gate/filter, they offer the highest possible means to qualification for content. All the Web 2.0 and web sites and social networks and portals and blog aggregators and etc. should stop trying to guess what the most desirable viewers (18- to 30-year-old men with money) want. Give them the means to just get it. Please get out of the way, you're just exacerbating the overload. Let the user-created content reach the users based on their needs, not yours. Case closed.
The powers that be today keep trying to glean information from the lowly Web user so that they can identify the user (through some cocktail of Attention meta data) as an influencer worthy enough to toss crappy Web ads at, or perhaps some day soon conjure up a credible sales lead and offer a VOIP button to order pizza quicker. Still kinda chicken-shit, if you ask me. Can't we come up with something better to do with all this great content, fabulous IP services, and data from the Web than simply refactor it into the old advertising and Yellow Pages models?
Today, still sadly, as users, the freedom to have it your way is modest. Convenience, as I've said, is the missing killer application. What's now needed is a tool-as-a-service to combine total user freedom to manage all IP-delivered content/services/communications with convenience. And that will then provide the better business model, which is: I pay some IP bit pipe network/mobile provider $100 per month and I get it all, in the way I want it, managed by me. All the other providers of content line up behind this model, both direct-paid and ad-driven content. User-created content gets a cut in a similar way as any other, be it Desperate Housewives, March Madness basketball, or TechCrunch. Size of audience still counts, sure, but mass audience as desired outcome need not squash out the local garden club blogger. All content is equal when the users get the proper management interface, ranking means, and direct monetization model.
The time for the concept of the totally individualized, user-driven rich content and dynamic communications portal of one is now. I think I'll take three: one for me, one for my family, and one for my business. So maybe I now pay $150 per month, but I get my cell service and all my stuff through my mobile device too, so I'm okay with that. Add more convenience, and I may stay, and I may pay more. Screw me over and when my term is up, I go EVDO to the next best bit pipe people. I take my meta data with me?
It's worth digging into the tool concept at this point, but do listen to the Gillmor Gang show for the fuller brain switch light on. The idea is that overload needs Attention help; that Google is good but employs a fairly blunt instrument (search criteria et al) to prioritize a user's needs; that advertising alone is a poor business model for rich services; that all IP content is equal (seemingly free); that open standards and cheaply delivered services are but mere picks and shovels; that what is the next big thing is the ability for a typical end-user to gain the power and freedom of a wizard application developer.
And that user-cum-application developer should have the convenient power to manage, automate, and simplify the arch of capabilities needed to fully individualize and package -- down to the audience of one -- all the reams of content, blogs, wikis, IP TV shows, music, (darn near all the freely available digitized everything) into a nice, neat visually pleasing custom service mix. It's time-shifted and mobile across all my devices, home-work-travel, baby. Give it to me.
So Yahoo doesn't need to buy Web 2.0, and the media companies don't need to buy eyeballs by spending $2 billion on YouTube. The companies that lease the pipes out monthly need to build, buy, and partner to create the best user tools for finding, automating, and filtering all the stuff available through those pipes. They need to make all the content seem freely available while still providing a direct business model to the content creators, and sell ads against it all too. It's kind of like what AOL tried to do 10 years ago, but the users are now much better at finding (thanks, Google!), syndicating (Thanks, Dave!), and rank-gesturing (thanks, Steve!) the services themselves. Give them the tools!
And let the true competition between the IP pipes people move from the hoarding of locked-down content (which is quickly moving to seemingly free, where it should be) to the services interface and intelligent filtering capabilities, the higher value-added services of user empowerment and convenient management of all the services regardless of origin.
Perhaps the way to do this first and best is for the pipes people to stop buying the latest eyeballs-laden sites and to instead buy integration technology supremacy. The needed mash-up is among corporate competencies, not web services. Let's flip the media model along the lines of Time Warner buying BEA Systems as its R&D unit, or Disney buying Apple for the same reason, or at&t buying Sun Microsystems. The technology needs to be a differentiation, both on lowest total cost of operations, as well as in the means to deliver individualized content to 200 million customers. The needed combo is pipes, filter applications, and operational throughput and reliability at the lowest cost.
Some advice to the big networks: Don't buy Yahoo, because one good user-driven content management tool ruins Yahoo's business model. And don't let Google or Microsoft get to the user allegiance prize first. They are, after all, your bit pipes to all those homes and cell towers -- not Google's and not Microsoft's.