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January 30, 2007

Local – The First Life Opportunity

It’s very interesting that people have virtual lives with virtual money in the meta-space of Second Life.  It’s much more exciting that the Web is starting to have a profound effect on people’s real lives.  That’s only possible because broadband, always-on communication is now available to a critical percentage of people.

The online shopping services we’re all already accustomed to have happened; they’re just mail order on steroids.  The national politicians who are falling all over YouTube to announce their candidacies are the tip of the iceberg. The Internet conquered distance; now it’s about to go local.  Local is where we live our first lives!

The Web (not the Internet) started differently than almost any other communication technology since smoke signals.  Usually connections proceed geographically so that clusters of people close to each other are connected, then distant connections are established between clusters.  By the time the WorldWideWeb was overlaid on the Internet, the Internet itself was accessible throughout the developed world.

So the first communities which formed on the Web were NOT geographic.  Quite the contrary, because distance on the Internet is not an obstacle, non-geographic communities formed.  We nerds, something of a minority in most localities, could form esoteric communities with like beings all over the connected galaxy. 

That was cool but the Web wasn’t used much for local communities because, within any one geography, there wasn’t likely to be a critical mass of people always connected with reasonably high bandwidth.  Email (Internet but not the Web) has been the most frequently used local application because it DOESN’T require either a very fast connection or a persistent one.

Tipping points happen all at once and they’re only visible with hindsight.  We’re at a tipping point now: three-quarters of US Internet users or half of all US households have broadband connections. Not all of these connections are equal but most can download and watch videos, surf complex websites, and search the Web itself at a comfortable pace.  The importance of these statistics is that there is now a critical mass of people who can and will take advantage of and interact with rich LOCAL content.

The opportunity, if you’re an entrepreneurial sort, is that there isn’t much rich local content to interact with for the very good reason that, until now, the local communities were below critical mass of enabled households.  It used to be that the big bucks were in developing and enabling services with large audiences drawn from a worldwide or at least national prospect pool.  Now the opportunity is to bring the benefits of the interactive Web to every local community.  It’s huge!

Two posts relevant to this opportunity:

For Web 2.0 Success - Think Local, Act Local

Web 2.0 – The Global Opportunities in Local

And what happens to those who don’t have broadband? As local functions move to the web, this becomes a critical question. That’s why Vermont is determined to move from below average broadband availability to being the first e-state.

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