The Internet’s Third Age

I settled into a chair in the conference room of Tallent Communications here in Nashville yesterday for a presentation on a new product, but the moment Joe Moore opened his mouth, I knew it would be much more. Joe’s the marketing guy (among other things) with Tallent, and his opening statement was this.

“We’re entering the third age of the Internet, the age of the application.”
What followed was a wonderful two hours of give and take about all things New Media — especially as they relate to broadcasting. I felt so at home. I wish that my TV brethren could’ve all been there, but the truth is much of what was discussed was “out there” and likely gibberish to those entrenched in current news/information/entertainment paradigms.

In this new age, people won’t be “going” to Websites, and so it’s not enough just to have one. In the near future, a Website will simply be an application that allows one to store content that will be distributed in other applications. This change is already happening; it’s the energy driving RSS. And while RSS is wonderful for certain functionality, it’s ultimately only a part of the answer to the problem of the “information tsunami” that Bill French says is already here.

In order to adequately prepare for the future, we must all begin thinking beyond Websites.

It’s vital that we all see the Internet for what it is — a vast and limitless reality in which we can do almost everything except breathe. It is a place, but it’s not a place. It is a medium, but it’s not a medium. On a very shallow level, it’s an interconnected web, but it’s really far beyond that. It has no beginning or end, no top or bottom, no width or depth, and no boundaries or borders. Without this realization, one is likely to make mistakes that limit the Internet’s ability to serve, and that could be costly downstream.

For the end user, experiencing the Internet will take place on the desktop more so than it does today. Users will come to think of it as a part of their property instead of somebody else’s. Multimedia production and distribution companies (that’s you, local TV) will form alliances with many different desktop application companies to get their material to users. But the local companies that make it big will be those in the application business as well.

Now to be a phone company, you don’t have to weave tightly the voice service into the infrastructure. You can ride it on top of the infrastructure. So if you’re a Vonage, you own no infrastructure. You own no trucks. You roll to no one’s house. They turn voice into a application and shoot it across one of these platforms. And, suddenly, you’re in your business.

And that’s why if you’re the music industry, you’re scared. And if you’re the television studio, movie industry, you’re scared. And if you’re an incumbent infrastructure carrier, you’d better be scared. Because this application separation is the most important paradigm shift in the history of communications, and will change things forever.

FCC Chairman, Michael Powell
Mr. Powell’s quote is important in light of this discussion, for local television simply must get onboard the application-separation train. This is a hard concept to swallow for those whose business models are based on application-connection (a TV station’s programming is tied to its transmission tower).

According to a Harris Interactive report earlier this year, the average working American spends 49 hours on-the-job. That’s up from 41 hours in 1973. This has come at the expense of leisure time, which has fallen from 26 hours a week in 1973 to 19 hours a week today. People simply don’t have the time they used to have, and technology is being used to meet the very real need to do more with less. In fact, history may well judge the innovation of the Web to be a direct result of expanded work weeks. The point is time — or a lack of it — is what’s driving a lot of these applications. RSS, for example, allows me to automatically search 25 Websites that I simply don’t have time to do myself.

This is why the Third Age of the Internet is shifting innovation to applications. It is, indeed, a fascinating time to be alive.

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