The Internet’s Next Killer App: Work

Liverpool street station in the UK at rush hour with all faces blurred out and logos/trademarks removed

Just as mobilization of the society and rise of cloud computing are two key and defining forces of our time, I believe work is the next big killer app of the Internet. It will be a force that will be transformative, which is why we’ve decided to host a new conference, Net:Work, which explores the Future of Work. At the event, which is scheduled for  Dec. 9, 2010 and will be held in San Francisco, we are going to be exploring some of the facets of this shift. (Schedule)

Go Virtual Young Man

Six years ago, I wrote an article for Business 2.0: Escape from Silicon Valley. In that essay, I talked to some startups that were based outside the San Francisco Bay Area. While many of them didn’t make it to the finish line, the concept of working from anywhere and collaborating with virtual teams made perfect sense to me.

In September 2006 when we started our WebWorkerDaily blog, it was based on the notion that work itself was going to be recast and reshaped. So much so, that for the first 15 months of GigaOM, we existed as a virtual company, working from cafes or borrowed office spaces. Our first remote team member was Chancey Mathews, who was our web master. Soon there after, Anne Zelenka joined us from Denver, from where she edited WebWorkerDaily, along with a distributed team of writers, many of whom I haven’t even met.

It wasn’t until 2008 that we got ourselves an office in Pier 38. We added people based on talent, not on the proximity by location. In the knowledge economy, not doing so would be foolish and would limit our prospects. The deciding factor was prospective team members’ connectedness. As Maynard Webb, former COO of eBay and CEO of LiveOps aptly put it: work is the new the killer app of the Internet.

Connectedness

For the longest time, the concept of work had been be confined and defined by two parameters: space and time. We all used to go to a central location to work. We would work at our nine-to-five jobs, then come home, watch television, read a little, go to sleep, and start all over again.

Just as time would define our work and our life, space or location would define industries. Automobiles blossomed in Detroit. Filmmaking and television flourished in California. Fashion thrived in Paris. Publishing and advertising found a home in New York City and in these locations, business giants of the 20th century attracted hundreds of thousands of workers.

With the rise of broadband, a new factor has come into play: connectedness. Connectedness allows companies big and small to exist as a stateless entity. Today, a startup can offer a new device dreamed up and designed in California, manufactured in China and sold in Europe with support services being in India or the Philippines.

It is not just startups; companies as large as Cisco Systems and Nokia are working across different time zones, accomplishing different tasks and functioning like a beast that never sleeps. Thanks to connectedness, the old-fashioned notions of space and time are soon going to be rendered moot. How can a day end at 5:00 p.m. when half your team is spread across multiple time zones?

The Human Cloud

We call this shift in idea of work “the human cloud,” and just as cloud computing disrupted the idea of computing and corporate IT infrastructure, the human cloud is shorthand for the intersection of web and work.

The new human cloud opens up new opportunities – something Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce is going to discuss at the conference, alongside Rebecca Jacoby, CIO of Cisco Systems, Bradley Horowitz of Google, noted authors John Hagel and John Sealy Brown. (Full list of speakers is here.)

The conference is going to be run by the extremely talented Mathew Ingram, senior writer for our GigaOM blog, and Simon Mackie, editor of WebWorkerDaily. Net:Work will be held on Dec. 9 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco (and you can register here.) Join me.

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