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Have you heard of Turntable.fm? If you haven’t, then let me tell you that it is cool, and might represent where the web is going.
Turntable.fm is a New York City-based social music listening and discovery service that is spreading on the web like wildfire. The idea behind the service is pretty simple: You sign-up by using your Facebook credentials, create a music listening room and invite people to come join you in the room. You can create a playlist by selecting songs from the service or upload your tracks. Others can join, and become co-deejays.
If you don’t want to deejay, you can skip from one room to another based on musical interests. You can chat with others and share your playlists. You even get your own avatar that bobs to music. The whole experience is not just about music. It’s about finding others who enjoy music and forming relationships with them — albeit transient ones.
It’s fun. It’s addictive. And it’s the enemy of productivity. But more than anything, it makes the whole web experience come alive. It’s social, like being in a club — part of an ever-changing visage, a canvas painted in real time. Turntable.fm is not an isolated example, though it might be one that captures the essence of the future web — Alive Web.
The immersive web is one that’s alive
Today, we have nearly a billion wired broadband connections and over half-a-billion fast wireless connections (HSPA, HSPA+, LTE and WiMAX.) And those numbers are growing. If you can ignore the poor nature of wireless networks, we now have seamless connectivity. From an iPhone to an iPad to a Macbook Air (or PC and Android equivalents), people can always be connected. This connectivity offers an opportunity to create a different kind of Internet experience that’s more immersive and interactive. And that persistent connection is what allows us to create and experience the Alive Web. I think Chatroulette was an early signal of the Alive Web, although the world instead focused on the vileness of its content.
I’ve met a handful of startups like Turntable.fm that are building this new kind of Internet experience: one that goes beyond the hackneyed marketing terms such as real-time web, a buzz word of 2009 and 2010. One of the reasons why it failed is because it was attached to the idea of information — real-time information, instead of focusing on people and what we do in real time — interact.
I remember as a kid, my friends and I would congregate at a local tea shop (aka chai-walla) which would have cricket commentary live on the radio. We would feel the collective joy and agony of the game. It was the analysis of the game with my friends that made the game much more fun. Perhaps even today, for me, baseball games are best enjoyed in the company of friends (or absolute strangers in a bar.) Or shared through services such as Twitter.
Seamless connectivity allows us to mimic many offline behaviors online, and interactions are part of that mega-trend. In the real world, we don’t really co-read the newspapers, but we occasionally share an article. We get together for a coffee or food and chat about an article. On the web today, all we do is share. But, I think more than sharing — the discussion and the interaction — are what matter most. The lack of interaction is why I find Facebook dowdy and slow, much like me running up a San Francisco hill.
In the real world music and television have been communal experiences where the interactions are actually more important than the content itself. The web is no different.
These interactions are what made BBS, IRC and AOL Chat Rooms so popular. These interactions are why Twitter feels more alive than its bigger rival, Facebook. On this new Alive Web, what we miss doesn’t matter. What matters is the connection and the interactions. We get online to socialize instead of posting status updates, just as we would when we would go to our favorite club or a neighborhood bar.
This new web is less about page views and it is more about engagement and the economics of attention, two topics I have written about in the past. As I start to look into the future, it is clear that services and apps need to optimize around attention.
Tomorrow’s apps and services need to not only be social and mobile, but they need to be engaging and immediate. They should have the ability to signal to us that there is someone on the other side of the wire. Some of the instant messaging networks do a great job of signaling — always letting you know that someone on the other side is typing, so you wait for their response. This synchronicity is what makes Q&A service Quora feel more alive. Try it; it’s quite a thrill to see someone typing out answers.
So how do you make money?
So how does one monetize this new world? After all, if there are no page views, how will advertising dollars flow to this new world? Will referral revenues or social commerce be the new way to go? Or will we look at some new kind of monetization scheme?
For answers, look at Bill Gross, the man behind Idealab. He was one of the early champions of search-based link-centric advertising (that eventually made Google what it is). In a conversation, he explained to me how his new company UberMedia was going to monetize the conversation stream in Twitter.
Twitter is an incredible, most important micro-broadcasting platform. People are spending an incredible amount of time inside these clients. Think of these clients as browsers and if we can increase the amount spent inside the client, we can do incredible things. And on this platform, people tell you about themselves openly and what they want. It opens up a lot of opportunities. For example, when someone says they are craving pizza, well that is an opportunity for marketers. (from GigaOM interview)
Let’s take this idea a bit further: What if there were bots that were like humans and could surface offers in the stream of various conversations. If not this, then I am pretty sure someone could figure out some way to make money.
For me, I am back to playing and listening to music on Turntable.fm/gigaom