Much digital ink has been spent trying to explain the likes of Twitter and Twine. Often, they are characterized as the poster children of the Web 2.0 techno trend. Pundits wonder if they represent a new, democratized broadcast platform. Others imagine that they serve as the next gen CRM tool. And skeptics believe these are just tech toys to be quickly dispensed with once the novelty is over.
As I read the plethora of opinions, I was left more and more unsatisfied largely because the answers ignored the “irrational exuberance” often surrounding media’s descriptions of these technologies. Either the media is very easily seduced when it comes to new technology (and that is not a hard argument to make) or they sensed these technologies represented an important trend taking shape beyond the current Web 2.0 craze.
I come down on the side of the latter opinion and believe these technologies do represent “something different”. Yet I could no more articulate the “something different” than anyone else until a recent conversation I had with some colleagues about Twine. I was explaining why I like Twine and how even the name appeals to me because it suggests interconnectivity where like-minded people form a “mini, trusted search circle” among themselves. When you participate in a Twine, you can get more trusted information about the subject of the Twine because it is strengthened, enhanced and expanded by real people. The “twine”, in effect, creates a “trusted search community” becoming more relevant and thus more trusted over time. The name says it all.
And Twitter matters for the same reason. You can follow people whose opinion you trust within a loosely bound and loosely trusted community. Or, you can share with your “followers” (a.k.a. your trusted community) what you think is useful, important, even trusted. Taken even further, I attribute Twitter’s popularity to the media friendly way reporters can get bite-sized updates from their “trusted sources” which is probably one reason why the Twitter scent carried so far and wide. But don’t let the hype around Twitter obscure the value of this technology – it is a means to receive or broadcast personal, relevant and yes, trusted information.
Now I think I can better put my finger on the “something different” I detect in these newer technologies and it revolves around how we use trust in this new web world. In today’s Web 2.0 world, we don’t expect much trust nor does it drive much how people use these social networking technologies. And if “trust” comes up at all, it is thought of as a risk mitigation requirement as in; “I need to be sure I can trust this person trying to friend me because I don’t want to get scammed.” But for this new web to materialize, trust will have to be transformed from the risk mitigation attribute to the key driver for how we optimize our personal, web experience. In essence, the next gen web hinges on the next gen kind of trust that is a proactive, positive part of the web experience.
When thought of in this light, then it becomes clear that the likes of Twitter, Twine and the many other forms of communities (from forums to bloggers to chat rooms) lies at the heart of how the next gen web will accomplish its charter. People today are creating all forms of communities as a way to proactively create different kinds of trust through relevancy made more potent via communal sharing. In the cases of Twitter and Twine, they provide a key, community-based “trusted information filter” to help sort through the deluge of relevant data, (after all, there are only so many “OMG, check this URL/ video out” emails we can sort through). Forums provide a different kind of trust by letting users share experiences and the sharp rise of bloggers’ influence in the social media celeb heap is proof of their power to create trusted communities.
As more and more people become more dependent on the Internet, the community creation groundswell is one indication of how people are imaginatively and proactively filling the “trust gaps” (a phrase I gratefully attribute to Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo) using their trusted communities. I broadly think of Twitter and Twine as variant versions of communities and this is why I assert it makes sense to think of all these emerging communities as smack in the middle of the next gen web rather than the Web 2.0 landscape. They represent people’s desire to create a personal, relevant web and that will, increasingly, be a function of how people are able to create trust in their ever widening web world.
That’s why Twitter, Twine and all forms of communities matter. They are the building blocks of the next gen web – the Trusted Web.