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As the web evolves, a diverse collection of players are all jockeying to be the primary access point to it, the unifying nexus of information and communication with the direct line to the end user. But no sooner does Company A step to the front of the line, claiming to be the new window to the world, than Company B and Company C pop up in front of it with similar claims, and Company D says, “I will aggregate and sort the information from Companies A, B and C.” And so on.
The fight among social networking players like Facebook and Twitter to wrest control of the web from search engines like Google has been simmering for some time, and it’s not clear yet whether our chief online interface will be social or search, algorithms or friendly recommendations. As Om recently pointed out, social networks could well become the preferred access point for the NextWeb, or it could be the blog — a more evolved, social version of it, that is.
At the same time, application-makers are stepping out in front of social networks to snag a spot at the pole position. Applications like Tweetdeck and clients like Brizzly act as intermediators for the social web. If enough of them become popular, another intermediary filter will likely be built to manage them all.
Meanwhile, despite the way social networking and Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way we live, as Om recently argued, email “remains the hub of our Internet experience.” If email is and continues to be the true spine of our online interaction, then you’d expect updated versions of email clients to be the primary Internet gateway. Google Wave is an example. Though it was designed to be a more contemporary version of email, it can act as a conduit for lots of different types of communications — social networking status updates, blogs, tweets, instant messages, even voicemail (and more), can all be regarded as “waves,” or strings of context-based communication, along with email. So will Google Wave and things like it (back in 2007, Om called them “smart inboxes”) be the ones touching users directly? Or, if email is the key ingredient, will unified communications players become the new Company D?
Hold on. Maybe, the hub of the NextWeb will be the browser. Google’s introduction of its own browser shows the importance it places on the space. Others, like Flock, are starting to integrate social media. And more are sure to follow. Netscape and Loudcloud founder-turned-VC Marc Andreesen’s stealth-mode startup called RockMelt is developing a browser that is optimized for social media and web applications. A co-founder says it will be integrated somehow with Facebook, where Andreesen serves on the board of directors. And David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School, opined, “If [RockMelt] can get Facebook’s millions of users to think that this is a better way to do what they do on Facebook, that would be an opportunity to take advantage of.”
I don’t think one type of player will trump all the rest. A key characteristic of the NextWeb is its support for a variety of intersecting business models – so you can watch your favorite TV show on TV, stream it on Hulu or Netflix or download it on iTunes. Social networks, search engines, browsers and more will battle one another for dominance by becoming one another to some extent, folding their rivals’ services in among their own. Who will keep the biggest share? And will there be enough room for all of them? Those are the “next” questions.