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The Evolution of Blogging

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istock_000006184805xsmall Dave Winer’s ability to peer into the future is uncanny. He was talking about a river of news long before the current activity streams became popular. He was evangelizing RSS long before there were blogs. I could go on and on about his prescient observations, but it’s his warnings that are especially prophetic.

For as long as I can remember, he’s been warning that users of new social web technologies need to be in control of their own destiny. He sounded the alarm about Feedburner and how it was hijacking an open standard, RSS, and inserting itself between content creators and consumers. And he’s long cited the need for open social communication platforms, often voicing his displeasure with newer services such as Twitter.

People have ignored Winer at their own peril, as two events over the last week have made clear. First was the shutdown drama around a little-known URL-shortening service called While it’s since been resurrected, the incident showed me how by championing these URL-shortening services, we’re essentially putting the entire link economy in the hands of companies that are skating on thin ice during the peak of summer.

Second was FriendFeed becoming a Mark Zuckerberg Production thanks to a $50 million buyout by Facebook. The likelihood of Zuckerberg & Co. shutting down the upstart social aggregation service has brought into the spotlight the misalignment between the needs of online communities and the companies that provide them.

The cynical me believes that it’s foolish for any of us to expect that Web 2.0 companies be in the business of providing services for charity. They are, after all, for-profit entities and when opportunity arises, everyone looks out for themselves. That’s just the way of the world. But somewhere between my cynicism and people’s Utopian desires lies a happy place. It’s called the blog.

Blogging: The Evolution

Late last year, following the Bombay terrorist attacks, I wrote about Twitter’s growing influence as a source of breaking news and how, in order to make sense of it all, we need more context. The best place to provide that context is now in blogs. To be sure, most people view Twitter as a microblogging service, but I’ve always seen it as micromessaging service — and the more I used it, the more I realized what a disjointed conversation it can produce.

As Twitter has become increasingly ingrained in our everyday lives, its value as as source of information tidbits has become clear. Think of it like that plate of chips and salsa you get before the entree arrives: tasty — spicy, even — but not entirely satisfying. Meanwhile, blogging has become the main course — the source of context. And the evolution into that role has injected new life into the blogosphere.

Earlier this week, while at dinner with Matt Mullenweg (Disclosure: Matt, a close friend of mine, started Automattic, whose WordPress platform powers our network. Both Automattic and the GigaOM Network are backed by True Ventures, where I am also a venture partner.), we talked about how many amazing blog posts we’ve read in just the past month alone, such as:

And these are just the ones that I hastily jotted down on the back of the dinner receipt. Now it would be easy for “blogging” to be satisfied with this information-sharing role. But that won’t be enough. Blogs need to evolve even further.

Why? Because the nature of content sharing (call it publishing) and content consumption is changing.

Blogging needs to be social. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one — in my mind — is the changing nature of content. “We will all be streaming life moments as more and more bandwidth is available both at home and on the go,” I wrote two years ago. It’s already happening. Today most of us walk around with newfangled smartphones that are nothing short of multitasking computers, essentially content creation points. And they’re networked, which means creating and sharing content is becoming absurdly simple to do. With the increased number of content creation points –- phones, camera, Flip video cameras, Twitter -– we are publishing more and more content.

Most of this content is disjointed, like random atoms. In the past, I (and others) have referred to this as the atomization of content. These atoms need to be brought together in order to make sense. But while many have argued that self-hosted Facebook- or FriendFeed-styled services could fill this role, I disagree. As I’ve said in the past, “We have two choices in order to consolidate these — either opt for all-purpose services such as Facebook (as tens of millions have done) or use our blogs as the aggregation point or hub for all these various services.”

The Next Step

Millions of Facebook users will have no reason to use any other service for the foreseeable future. And even when they decide to leave, they’ll realize they can’t, for they’ll have stored their photos and videos into the service, which has no visible way of exporting such data. It’s the ultimate lock-in: control consumers’ data and you control everything.

For others — whom I would loosely define as “power users” — today’s blogging software and services are the best option for becoming a repository of our digital creations, because they are more open, more extensible and at the end of the day, give us more control. Chris Messina, a technology evangelist, has been promoting this vision for nearly two and a half years, including starting a project dedicated to it called DiSo.

What Facebook and FriendFeed have shown is that people want to consume and publish content in a more dynamic fashion — more in real time, so to speak.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will quote from a previous post. “As a society, we are entering an increasingly narcissistic phase, enabled by web technologies…The evolution of blogging platforms needs to match these societal and demographic changes.” What I meant was that blogging platforms need to evolve from the hierarchical content-management systems of today to more fluid, free-flowing, more socially relevant and real-time lifestreaming systems.

Two services — Posterous and Tumblr — are taking a shot at this. WordPress, with its P2 theme, has showed that it’s thinking along these lines as well; we tried it out with the GigaOM Daily plugin. But these are not enough. There needs to be more real-time collaboration built into these systems. They need to become socially relevant. They need to take into account that today, consumption and creation happen not just on traditional computing systems like a laptop, but also on highly mobile devices. Imagine the volume of information we’re going to create and consume when we have broadband speeds on our on-the-go devices.

The next generation of blogging systems needs to account for the fact that information — and most importantly, conversations — flow via email, Twitter, instant messages and other formats. In order to do that, the innards of blogging systems need to be rethought. Perhaps the older, relational database models will need to be replaced by more nimble data stores. We may see XMPP become the layer that facilitates collaboration and real-time communications. But these are complex topics for my more esteemed colleagues to tackle, the ones who are builders and creators. I am merely a thinker, who is firm in his belief that this real-time social collaboration is a powerful force, and blogging, if it wants to move further forward, needs to embrace it.

139 Responses to “The Evolution of Blogging”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. While I’d like integration, I’d hate to see a blog turn into a flood of diggs and retweets. I think granular control is what’s ideally needed.

    I jotted down my ideas as a idea for WordPress for anyone interested:

    Basically the concept is to let WordPress aggregate content and save in wp_posts but rather than just make a post out of everything give the blog owner the option to decide to put some other content into their blog (say just their flickr posts), or to perhaps create a page for their non-posts (/stream).

    I think that would allow for a good signal:noise ratio, which is what everyone ideally wants.

  2. corrinda

    Great summation on how the blog is really the hub of social media activities. For a business, as the blog becomes the “voice” of your website or more importantly your web presence it will be interesting to see how the fluidity of other SM media platforms is integrated and implemented. Certainly, the latest Twitter shut down and as you pointed out Friend Feed acquisition highlight the need for a “homebase” where you the publisher holds the cards. Thank you for pointing out the lack of export at these shared platforms. It’s a really important point that got me thinking about the consequences of creating a repository of content that is “locked” down.

  3. Om, excellent and thoughtful post – and I, like many other here, agree.

    Interesting that non one mentions Google Wave, which seems to be an attempt to connect mainstream e-mail, microblogging, content and real-time collaboration.

    Is this a possible “next generation” in the sense you are thinking about?

  4. I suffer from CADD – content attention deficit disorder – caused by the Twitter Paradox where I read more, yet I read less.

    Good long form often has sections worth discussing. How do we focus on just paragraph 7 or add to the list of influential posts of the month?

    If I were to create a social commentary platform, here’s my wish list:
    1. The post is chunked into discrete ideas and thoughts.
    2. Chunks can be ranked and commented on individually; imagine side bar conversations by paragraph.
    3. Conversations can be spawned at any point
    4. Salient points are highlightable and directly tweetable (we did tweet bites for this). Specific chunks are shareable in their own right.
    5. Commentary among the “followed” points to more interesting things I should know about.
    6. URL shorteners are rationalized to the point of ‘read this’ vs. ‘don’t need to.’
    7. A dynamic body of work or compendium emerges.

    In short how do we apply analog to digital thinking to writing that completely overhauled the music industry?

    • Magicat

      Now that you mention it, I’m a little surprised that *hasn’t* been implemented… A spoken version of that approach is the norm in writing groups/classes: author brings a copy of their piece for each participant, then comments are offered & discussed a chunk at a time with little leaps backwards as individuals have sudden insights. Also relatedly, margins are always left 1″ or greater so everyone can write their ideas right next to the (often underlined/boxed) section they’re referring to.

      If that was translated into digital form, I figure that sections would have underlines pointing to a sidebar list of “___ commented on this (xx replies)” bars that the user could click to bring up that specific nested discussion. Since most articles are only allowed to take up a small horizontal space, there would be plenty of room for it, I would think.

  5. I’ve long discounted the mundane prophecies that microblogs or social network updates are going to replace blogs.

    As of now, they are more LinkCasting more that anything else. It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation on those thing in its present state.

    My vote of all these things goes to the humble blog. The moot fact is- blogs not only provide context but have critique and references. Many of them not necessarily news oriented or time bound. Blogs ceased to be hierarchical content management platforms a long long time ago.

    To me blogs have morphed into Social Influence Aggregators. And not without the help of
    third party add ons. A person’s social influence is distributed across many platforms today (sort of what you say atomization of content, but here I am talking about aggregated Social Influence) and the blog acts as the best single aggregation platform.

    As a matter of fact, blogs are content platforms and Social Influence aggregation platforms weaved in one.

    It is just the latter part that requires free flowing, fluid real time lifestreaming. The content part that critiques, analyses and thought essays are timeless though.

    Shalabh Pandey

  6. Om, A bit surprised that you havent referenced & Open Micro Blogging in this post. These are initiatives that are trying to address the problem.

    The biggest hurdle for Laconica has been the skinning, but they are starting to address it in 0.8.x release.

    A lot more needs to happen on this front, but the time is ripe.

    Good post.

  7. Hi Om

    Thanks for writing that all up, I enjoyed it.

    You probably wont be surprised to hear that I think a part (not all) of the answer can come from a better underlying storage architecture. From my POV, a lot of problems arise from the fact that we don’t have a global sharable store that lets each of us contribute to the same underlying objects. I agree that any such store (whether managed by a company, by the community, etc) has to be open and allow for easy export.

    Such an architecture doesn’t give you a direct answer, but it provides a framework that lots of interesting (and, I claim, more natural) solutions can be built on top of. This is the “more nimble data stores” approach, as you put it. One way to look at it is to say that such a data store would make the *data* social by putting related data in the same place. And because people and apps could add to the underlying objects (blog posts, emails (a bit like Google wave), web pages, etc), such a nimble store would allow the unanticipated – allow the kind of evolution you also mention.

    And (you knew it was coming…) we’ve spent years trying to build something with these characteristics, FluidDB. I’ll again emphasize that it’s not *the* answer, but it does point out an interesting direction. We’re releasing an alpha this Monday (Aug 17). We also plan to open source it (and yes, we’ll all believe that when we see it.)


  8. Apples and Oranges? Years ago I did some analysis of communication in terms of author and reader, on a 3 by 3 matrix, where each side was One-Few-Many. The Blog in terms of long form text, One-To-Few never went away and still has it’s place. What’s really puzzling is that the big social networks didn’t provide a solution to meet this need. What’s mildly puzzling is how we all got addicted to Twitter’s short form One-To-Few solution and forgot that some thoughts need more than 140 characters to express.

    And then there’s the problem that Blogging never solved. The real sweet spot is in Few-To-Few conversations. The kind of thing that ought to develop in the comments section of a blog. But look at this, right here. Having written this rant, I will probably never come back to read any replies, and will probably never even know if there are any. Just like Twitter, it will be an example of Write-Only media. If we’re going to de-centralise this stuff we really need to solve this problem that we had back in 2002. How do I stay involved in the conversation when it’s happening in a hundred places at once? And note here: “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” doesn’t cut it when email’s broken, or when the reply might be on FC, FF, some other blog post, a random comment on some other blog post, twitter, socialmedian, or wherever.

    So think on this, Om, people really do want to converse in small groups. Those small groups come together out of mutual interest in some topic. And we’ve moved through the mailing list, usenet, chat rooms, Twitter follow, distributed blogs and blog comments, social media site clubs/groups, phpBB sites and many other atttempts but they’re all broken (and all still going).

  9. Excellent and very timely post. In summary, it’s about owning and housing the content on something you can control.

    I’m working with several people on building a niche advertising network and the one thing I commonly hear – why bother, just have the content creators use Facebook and split the revenue.

    Who knows if FB will be around long term. GeoCities was the “next big thing” for personal homepages and now gone. is gone as well.

    I would view social services such as FB and Twitter as efficient distribution platforms for the content.

  10. The promise of Social Media is the true democratization of information …

    Blogs need to become an interactive mashup of content – not only able to pull in the various content (pictures, video, presentations, podcasts) but that content needs to have the ability to interactive with each other. If you truly want more social – it would be like presenting ideas in a meeting room with a whiteboard, projector, speaker phone, etc. where you can react to questions and feedback to clarify, change and even outright reverse some of your original thoughts.

    BTW if you go back and read Tim Berners-Lee thoughts on where the web was heading, and even his latest TED presentation, you can glean some interesting insights.

  11. ‘The idea that they’re going to go back to the past to hit a big home run…is delusional,’ says Dave Winer”

    Uncanny. Someone like Winer makes predictions every week. He never allows you to forget when he’s right, we never hear the wrong ones again, unless they’re published.

  12. Om,

    “Millions of Facebook users will have no reason to use any other service for the foreseeable future. And even when they decide to leave, they’ll realize they can’t, for they’ll have stored their photos and videos into the service, which has no visible way of exporting such data.”

    It wasn’t that long ago that AOL thought the same thing… Consumers web services are not only forced to provide a free or mostly free service to their constituents and keep them happy in a public forum, but they have the ironic additional burden of constantly having to innovate just to keep up with what’s about to be cool. :-)

    • David,

      Agreed, but I think this one has far more momentum than AOL ever had. I think the # of people on Facebook is staggering and is causing all kinds of network effects.

      Facebook’s challenge will be to walk the thin line between open web and its closed web. I think that is going to define the fate of their company.

  13. Fantastic article, thank you. Steven Rubel, by going all Posterous recently (even renaming his blog a lifestream, has shown to many how blogging should be more integrated without hassle. Still, content cannot be self-hosted, opening the possibility of a drama.

    I’ve been on the wordpress platform for so long, and having how-so-many widgets residing on the sides doesn’t make it more social, it just makes it a link machine and messy in its design.

    Initiatives from Disqus or JS-Kit ECHO go some way towards integrating the discussion, but it yet doesn’t make the platform more social, as it focuses on the sharing of the discussion but not on the daily content.

    Google Reader seems to have finally woken up a little by adding social features, but it still cannot, in my book, be the center of my daily informational journey, just a platform to aggregate sources.

    Using lifestreaming properties, like Friendfeed, Facebook or cannot cut it either.

    There really need to be a new platform that allows for a pure integration of the social web. Integrating content through social interactions and multi-layered data inputs, redistributing it.

    Again, the closest to reach this with ease is Posterous today. It’s far from perfect and won’t please heavy bloggers that want customizations, but if the content is what matters, it shouldn’t be such a problem.

    I haven’t moved my blogging there, but I’m seriously considering it.

  14. Good post. Why not go one step forward and try to create a set of posts on what you think the web experience will look like in 3-5 years. There are a lot of interesting forces in play: facebook + facebook connect, blog + personal publishing, twitter + its eco system, google + igoogle + reader, browsers (firefox, chrome, facebook). At the same time, the amount of information is increasing and to your point about narcism, users want an experience which is centered around them, their topics of interests, the sources they trust, their social networks. In this post you are talking about how the blogs need to evolve. Part of that evolution needs to be about better integrating into the personal experiences users want.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what the web experience will look like in 3-5 years!


    • Anonymous


      I am absolutely flattered that you want to hear more of my thoughts on this. And I will try and live up to your expectations.

      Summer is supposed to be slow months. Maybe I will use it to work on that thesis.

  15. “The next generation of blogging systems needs to account for the fact that information — and most importantly, conversations — flow via email, Twitter, instant messages and other formats. In order to do that, the innards of blogging systems need to be rethought. Perhaps the older, relational database models will need to be replaced by more nimble data stores. We may see XMPP become the layer that facilitates collaboration and real-time communications.”

    That description sounds quite like Google Wave to me. Right down to the reference to XMPP! :-)

    • Anonymous

      Libran Lover,

      Elements of what Google Wave is doing are going t show up in pretty much everything. I mean, why not – that is the right way forward and I have talked about it for almost four years. Nevertheless, Google Wave has its own sets of issues and challenges.

      I guess, I remain cautiously skeptical of the product, wildly optimistic about the technology.

  16. therealmccrea

    Great post, indeed, Om. It struck a real chord with me for several reasons, including this one: I spent several hours researching these questions today. “When did retweeting emerge?” and “When did people start using the @ symbol for directing their tweets?” I could do my own social media archeology in Plaxo, since I am connected with tons of early adopters there, and because Plaxo aggregates and surfaces the entire history, back to 2007. We need open standards for interoperability, user control, and data portability.

  17. Om,
    I don’t think it’s just blogging that is getting a new lease on life (I started to realize it was getting interesting again over the last couple of months of watching one or another interesting blog post go up, followed by a very interested and interesting insta-community around the post as people there would debate the issues for several days.) It’s very gratifying after 7 yrs of blogging myself, and seeing myself get very discouraged the past couple of years, to find it becoming very important and relevant to me again. It’s permanent, searchableness and slow thoughtfulness just make it so much more relevant long term (that being like 3 days on the internet).

    Also.. I don’t just think that facebook will for the time being keep users as will twitter for now, but that these services will become less interesting later as we all become publishers and commenters of all sorts of content and interactions in our own data bank as these are developed and made “everyday” for regular people. I have a post i’ve been working on for two years (the diagram mostly but the post started a year ago.) I think it’s time to finish it and get it out there. I’m far more motivated now that blogging has returned for me and taken my imagination and conversation again.


  18. >>… “Blogs Need to Be More Social”

    agreed, altho i think you could just simplify that to: “The Web Needs to be More Social”.

    to which i would respond: absolutely, and services like Facebook Connect (which i’m using here on your blog Om… however it appears there’s a problem — got an error on posting) are a straightforward way to do this. similarly Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and even Google & Yahoo & Hotmail acct logins are too. and i’m assuming from your post, you’re foreshadowing that WordPress will finally be rolling out some of its own social mojo soon (i hope).

    that said, the variation & implementation on Social is what makes it interesting. it can be done well, or it can be done poorly. with luck, we will see more of the former, and less of the latter.

    Let’s Get Social :)

  19. Making blogging more nimble as a platform is all well and good but I think the takeaway here is that blogging will continue to become less like a lecture hall and more like a cocktail party. The structure of the traditional blog post, including this one, isn’t designed to be free-flowing, it’s designed to worship the blogger. The responses are at the bottom, not the top and all of them can be ignored. Twitter is the opposite. This isn’t to say that one style is better than the other, both are important, but I think you can guess, when given a choice between a lecture and a cocktail party, where you will spend most of your time.

    Twitter also has many problems, I go into it here:

    • Whoops. I read the middle of your piece *after* I posted this comment. “Blogs need to be more Social” We are on the same page. (a good way to start would be to install Disqus so I could have edited the above comment)

  20. Interesting post Om. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the issue of blogging and how it’s lagging in relevance to the increasing importance and integration of “lifestreaming”. To me, I’m still not buying it. I don’t think blogging and lifestreaming are supplementary but rather complementary. I think there’s space and importance in both.

    Perhaps the answer doesn’t lie in services that cover all angles within itself, but rather in services that enable you to simultaneously cover all angles from an external “control panel”. is a very simple version of the kind of concept that I am thinking about. is taking it one step further, with a focus for business. Ever past that, I think that traditional blogging is still very relevant, but are no longer the only efficient method to provide content.

    Lifestreaming is important, and perhaps blogs need to be slightly altered to better accommodate for these new trends, but to completely replace services like wordpress with services like tumblr and posterous, would do a disservice to our communities and communications.


  21. Om, I completely agree and have been pondering this same issue for some time. Blog software paved the way for personal publishing, and social networks have accelerated our virtual and IRL connections and conversation. Twitter’s popularity stems from its immediacy and inherent ease of use: go to one place and see what’s happening. So easy that it’s taken over our RSS reading habits. The problem with the ecosystem is that it’s a competition between startup companies/services. As you point out, our conversations and our content are locked-in depending on the service we use. Even aggregating this output on our own blogs isn’t enough. What I want (and have done some sketches for) is a self-installable system where I create my content (text, photos, videos, links, etc) and selectively push that content to the greater ecosystem as digital copies. I maintain and create the “write” privileges to my content, allowing social networks to “read” the digital copy. It’s certainly an evolution of blogging, but I like to think of it as a personal user platform. Create once, own the content, distribute widely, receive real-time incoming conversations and connections in my dashboard.

    • Emily

      What a pleasant surprise to see you back here. Yes, it is almost like back to the future again. I remember talking about this with you three years ago when we were doing GigOM first edition. I think little distractions are what happened.

      I think we have talked about this but now it is time to make this happen. perhaps you will share your sketches and help trigger the movement. I think what this needs is the involvement of smart doers like yourself. I can only hope that this will happen.

      Also can you elaborate on the write/read aspect. I think it is worth exploring.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe the consumer is ready for an open format to store personal data and new services to provide storage, management and access to it. The consumer would first choose a place to store their data and then a network/site/etc to connect a portion of that to, thus retaining their “stuff” while being portable.

      In this context, the control shifts to an individual essentially managing an api to their stuff.

      • A Personal API…. a great idea imho. Perhaps Google Wave would be a good place to try it out where I “set” what others can or cannot see/sync. Same goes for two way interaction with socialblogs, tweets, friendfeeds, etc etc…

      • Anonymous

        I have been reading The New York Times, The Nation, Time and Newsweek, since they were first made available OnLine. In fact back-in-the-day, the would only make [today’s] issue available OnLine. If one needed even yesterdays cyberIssue, they would have to pay for it. We were also required to pay for the “Opinions” page — obviously because the ThePaper understood our ‘addiction’ to them. I am not in the least bit opposed to well-researched/well-written, responsible-for-every-word type newsprint (in paper form); but I do more so enjoy pulling up the page, article, or even AD I desire at the moment–OnLine; then clicking-off when I am finished with: The’Paper’. I will only purchase physical ‘Paper(s)’ when something [collection]-ready, (like the day President Obama is sworn-in for example,) is published.

        ps: You’ll notice I’m sure that most Charge/Debit Cards, (including AmEx) are recently asking/demanding that we click-to-receive our Monthly Statements–OnLine. This OnLine (flip) has become the wave of the future, not so unlike a number of other contemporary SocioPhysical “happenings”!

      • Great article by Om, and a very interesting conversation.

        While there is a lot of emphasis on real-time content creation and sharing, also on binding the various atoms of content, there has not been sufficient attention paid to content ownership and portability. Indeed facebook represents the ultimate lock-in. Not that lock-ins are necessarily bad, but portability is almost always necessarily good. A “personal API” (as you call it) is indeed what is needed, a mechanism (service) that separates content ownership from presentation.

        Are “content vaults” – web services that offer (web-scaled) structured content hosting services – to popular presentation engines (think of the brand equity of facebook ) – a new business opportunity that can drive the world of blogging to the next level?

  22. Great ariticle. I’ve also been concerned about the same data being sent all over the web without it being normalized. What we need is what you call a data store, and what I call a relational database, where we can store once and read many times. There are too many islands of information where our data now lives. In my simplist example, if I create a video and send it out to 10 sites to distribute it widely, what happens when I need to change it?

  23. the blogs are a dynamic social graph/relationships with constantly new context vs. the static ‘click to friend’ alternatives which assume a past context….

    if clueful sorts figure out a way to evolve and capture these kinetics, and become a context-ful repository of it, they will become as pervasive/permanent as any other format of social interaction online, real-time.

    • rohit

      totally agreed. I think this is what you and i have talked in the past about and now i think the time is right.

      i am pretty sure one of the smart ones will figure out an answer to this and we will all benefit.

  24. Great post, Om, and thanks for the high praise. I think in short, blogs are going to do what they always do: Decentralize giant networks that have become unresponsive to the needs of their users and audiences. Today’s mainstream social networks look a lot like yesterday’s mainstream media — they might well face the same pressure from blogs that their predecessors did.

    • Robert,

      I think we have a habit of assuming that one form of media/communication will win over the other. But reality is that the media adapts and learns to co-exist. I think Twitter is a great platform that makes Blog creation and discovery better.

      I am hoping to see your next post about this soon :-)

      • This is the key Om. I think because we have had Windows since what seems to be the dawn of time, now, we all think that one prevailing method will “win out”, and such is not the case. We will see degrees of popularity, but so many other technologies adapt, that the technology is like all business, abundant and diverse.