Digital Fly Paper (Part I)
I remember the birth of social networking. It was the promise of connecting people from all parts of the world together on an unprecedented scale. This promise was to provide a forum for every voice and, as a result, millions of voices socialized, debated, exchanged ideas, shared hopes and business plans. Custom communications applications and rudimentary half duplex voice networks sprouted the world over. Those who used citizen radio (CB) migrated to an online model. Small broadcasters were established. Some rural communities relied on these services and derived revenue from a constant stream of chatter and information. All this was built on a reliable asynchronous modem network, which was easily expandable, but limited in performance.
With the advent of the World Wide Web, more powerful applications and new companies capitalized on the social fever by taking advantage of the power of the Web. The social network powerhouses, such as AOL, Netscape and Yahoo, quickly became kings of this domain. Services continued to expand and were offered as enhancements to social networking. With the introduction of modules and enhancement applications to jazz up your digital space and the tools to invite people and, in essence, extend your circle of influence to increase your group following, new upstarts like Friendster, Facebook, Bebo and Myspace are replacing the old social network. This modern social network focuses on applications that are ranked on their user devotion. As more users are attracted to a creative flare, the more business can sell commercial ads that derive revenue. This also creates a surge to duplicate, imitate and follow with admiration. This is a model I call "digital fly paper.”
Demand is a two-edged sword, and those same consumers are ravenous for more technology, more applications and more connectivity. To feed that demand, the social network must evolve or perish. The new social networks of today are still being planned and built on old platforms. Eventually, the social engine outgrows the platform that it is designed for and the user base moves like a nomadic herd to a new best digital place. The herd seldom returns, so there is a one shot chance for a social network to get it right and get it right on the first try. Little consideration has been taken by any social network developer that the very core of the service cannot withstand the demand. Even less have taken notice that the devices used to interact on these networks are shifting at an alarming rate, from set-top devices to mobile handhelds, with most failing to realize the impact this will have on all digital networks.
The social network is comprised of basic blocks - the transport and the edge device being the most important. The transport is the growth inhibiter of the two. The transport for the social network is based on the World Wide Web key transport method TCP/IP, which uses a 32-bit address. This finite address pool (much like a modem pool) is the fundamental method to connect and communicate over the web network. The 32-bit number provides the world with slightly more than four billion addresses. Initially, that seems like a lot, when you consider that only a small portion of the world is on the Internet with a PC.
However, when we view the newer edge devices, a problem starts to develop. There are approximately two billion mobile devices (and growing). When these are suddenly enabled to participate within a social network and each device requires an IP address, the four billion addresses suddenly becomes a problem that cannot be ignored. More money is spent on the security of an ill-suited transport than the replacement of the transport. By addressing the core problems in all of today's social networks, each of them could be saved (and then, only the churn of adoration and creativity would spur the users to bounce back and forth).
The problem is compounded with solutions that are a Band-Aid to the numbers shortage, such as sharing addresses to extend the use. This sharing introduces a further layer of anonymity to the equation and compromises security since no real identification of the edge can be accomplished. This anonymity limits the types of service that can be offered. As the social network grows, poor planning ends in harm to the consumer and loss of valuable credibility for the service provider. The consumer then seeks another location that is perceived to be safer.
Imagine for a moment that your interactions with your government, bank, medical service and IRS were all based on pure anonymity, and that any person could substitute themselves for you. All of your records, financial transactions and government taxes could be modified to your detriment. Imagine for a moment that you could be misidentified as a terror threat to your country or a sexual predator to your neighbor - the implications of which would be far too horrific to describe. The ability to falsify documents or impersonate someone on the World Wide Web is the greatest concern of the social users and their service providers. Anonymity is the fallout effect of a growing World Wide Web and should be corrected before further growth can be achieved. Addressing the removal of anonymity over the transport, social networks can focus on the basic controllable aspects of their business such as services, prices and customer support. This simple fact is mostly ignored and is the one major failure of all social networks.
Next month, I will address the best way to fix our social networks, expand the services offered and remove the anonymity that stifles their growth. I will also discuss ways to identify edge devices and provide a means for service providers and users to identify and be identified on the World Wide Web. All of this could lay the foundation for the birth of a whole new network solution and remove the required anonymity that is ubiquitous on the current World Wide Web.