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January 31, 2007

The Newbies are Coming

Back in the days when the Internet was really restricted to us nerds and geeks, people in newsgroups (predecessors of chat groups) were fretting that easier access to all things online provided then by AOL would result in our world being swamped by the newbies.  We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Coming home from Davos, superblogger Jeff Jarvis is skeptical of the hype around Second Life and avatars: “I remain skeptical about Second Life. I don’t need an avatar. What I put on the internet is my avatar. Our creations express us,” he posted.

He’s right: most people are what they are BEFORE they go online.  Some of us nerds needed the online world to reach our full geeky potential;  we needed the Internet to find each other because we are so widely dispersed in the real world.


The newbies don’t go online to get a life – they already have one.  They certainly don’t go online to get a Second Life.  The newbies go online to enhance the life they already have and improve communication in the groups they already belong to.  Surprisingly, the newbies aren’t all gonna become bloggers – why some of them have even stubbornly refused to know what blogs are let alone OPML and RSS and other esoterica.

Jeff wrote further:  “I think the real opportunity is not to start a social network but to better enable the social network that the internet already is, to pull together our distributed identities and help us manage them and make the connections we want to make…”

An even bigger opportunity, in my view, is to enhance the offline social networks we already belong to.  Web technology has only been used to scratch the surface of that opportunity since it’s only been very recently that a critical mass of members of any offline group could count on persistent “broadband” access.

Chances are we nerds were better at building applications for our own use than we will be at building the sites and services which enable the newbies to do the things they want to do online.  We’re not talking here about group forming networks, as powerful as those are; we’re talking about network services which support existing groups.  Big difference and huge opportunity.

Responding to an earlier post of mine claiming that a del.icio.us of local is needed, fellow MyWay blogger Chris Yeh disagreed:  I'm already using del.icio.us--I don't want to start using a new service. What we need is a meta layer on top of del.icio.us that allows me to see the kinds of links of other people in the same locale.”

Chris is right about what he wants, of course; but the newbies need services built specifically for them.  What we think of  as Web 2.0 technology needs to get buried far deeper than it is in the applications we nerds use.  We’ll adapt to new easy-to-use technology a lot faster than the newbies’ll adapt to our geek interfaces.  They are a bigger market than we are – by orders of magnitude.

The interfaces to most “Web 2.0” services are still at the “A> Prompt” level compared to what is about to come.  The real world is going to move beyond email and passive web browsing and shopping to real online participation.  The newbies ARE coming.

Related posts:

Local – The First Life Opportunity

Web 2.0 – The Global Opportunities in Local

For Web 2.0 Success - Think Local, Act Local

Bubble 2.0 – Extra Value Networks is about group forming networks.

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