Posted by: rolfsky | October 22, 2007

seriously, what are we doing with this web thing?

Saturday morning, the faucet in my tub started to leak and it definitely needed fixing. In the process of fixing it this evening, I turned off the water main to my house disabling not only the tub, but everything else as well. As I bumbled around trying to get my faucet disassembled for replacement, twice I turned on the (no) water. Once, expecting to wash my hands, and a second time while trying to fill the dogs’ water dish.
We all know this feeling, it’s so disappointing.

This got me thinking about how much I expected the water to be there. I simply assumed that the water would come pouring out, when I had personally turned it off ten minutes prior. We live in such luxury, water delivered to our homes so reliably that we forget it’s even there.

And this brings me to my main point: “are we putting this whole Web 2.0 thing in the right perspective? Should we perhaps step back from our breathless babble about what Facebook is doing now?”

To perhaps understand my realization, go ahead and turn off your own water and see how long it takes you to absentmindedly turn on a faucet only to get nothing. Water is the killer app for your home, as is electricity.

Last week I attended the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco to hear many talks on many wondrous things. One thing I saw was a small GPS-like computer that not only included mapping and directions, but could communicate via cellular network and download RSS feeds, do web searches, and find you the jazz playing in any given town you might be visiting. These guys were super-clever and it seemed actually useful.

I have to admit, I thought this was pretty cool. But tonight as I thought about what was important to me I realized that I had no water, and that was pretty damn important. Suddenly all my “friends” on FaceBook and the fact that recently someone had “kicked me in the face” and what level my vampire was at seemed pretty unimportant. With one flick of a valve I was now failing at a critical element to my survival, access to clean water.

Now, I’m only picking on FaceBook because they were the first to get there and with the most publicity. They have reached the point where the what-we-can-do has so far suppased the what-we-need-to-do that it’s past the ridiculous and bordering on the ludicrous. I mean, how is it enriching my life to sort my friends (and only my FaceBook friends) in a color-coded wheel?

The point that I’m getting at is that we should really sit down and take a look at the problem that we’re trying to solve and what is the best way to approach it. The internet is very good at sending messages to and from other humans not near me. We we approach new problems and products, the most success will follow when we first ask ourselves:

am I addressing a basic human need? or am I just doing this for fun? does my work help others engage, express, communicate, explore, learn, and improve their lives or the lives of others?

There is a time and place for all things, including vampires and iLike and virtual gifts. The question that you must ask yourself is: which team I want to be playing for when this bubble bursts?

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  1. Rolf,

    I like the paragraph at the end “am I addressing a basic human need?…”. Looking back at your OSCON presentation it seems that this is also the key point.

    At various times in the past I was really into (Usenet, IRC, MUDs, multiplayer-FPS’, mailing lists, etc.) Eventually I’ve stopped doing most of those things when some event or another more important came up and I stepped away from the net for a while.

    One thing I’ve found is that once I got out of the habit of being part of some online community, I didn’t really miss it.

    That seems different than my own experience with physical real-world communities, and seems to me to be a weakness with the long term prospects of online social networking sites. (Unless you decide that you can always focus on the next group of college freshmen with free net access and even more free time.)

  2. Always interesting to read your mind-wanderings Rolf, even if I don’t understand half of where you wander, however I can relate immediately to your water situation. Yesterday morning as I was turning off the water spigot outside my bedroom garden I broke it off. Yes, actually broke the plastic pipe that the metal faucet was attached to. Being home alone I was completely responsible for correcting the problem of the now flooding garden and stemming the flow of water issuing forth. I donned gloves, and with a screwdriver in hand proceeded to the main valve. The screwdriver worked to remove the concrete top, and the gloves protected my hands from whatever creature lived down in there, so I reached in and turned the valve. No more spewing water from the broken pipe – I checked. Removed my gloves and entered the bathroom to WASH MY HANDS! Go figure . . . . .

  3. In a recent blog post, Rolf Skyberg said:

    The entirety of the post, and it is well worth reading, can be found here. I have always been very intrigued by Rolf’s point of view (one of the several blogs I follow regularly). . . but here, he touched a nerve.

    So what is it that is the equivalent of a “basic human need” in commerce?

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