The Next Big Thing

By | Wednesday, September 01, 2010 2 comments
People are always on the look-out for the next big thing, right? The next IP that will capture the hearts and minds of millions. The next "killer app". The next whiz-bang gizmo that you can't live without. The next IPO that will take the world by storm. It's understandable, from a business perspective, because if you can get on-board with the next big thing before anyone else, you can rake in some big bucks while everyone else is left scrambling to catch up. Plus, you get seen as an early leader and you can carry the largest chunk of market share even after others try to jump on your bandwagon.

That's no guarantee you'll stay on top forever, of course, but it gives you an early leg up. Because your next option is to slowly prove over a loooong period of time that you can do the same thing as what everybody else is doing, but better. In many respects, that's a tougher row to hoe.

Online, the buzz these days is all about social media. Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, etc. Connecting with other people. From a business perspective, there's a greater emphasis on getting people to "Like" your site or your brand or whathaveyou. Either through the obvious "Like" button through Facebook, or checking in to FourSquare from a physical location, or whatever.

Now, the pie-in-the-sky extension of this is that you have access to that type of thing in real-time. In science fiction (Down & Out In the Magic Kingdom, Minority Report, Iron Man, etc.) this often manifests as some type of heads-up display (HUD) that appears as a kind of overlay in real life. You're walking down the street and see a Coca-Cola logo and your personal HUD provides a link to more information or maybe an ad or something. Maybe this is automatic or maybe it's run by voice recognition or eye movements or something.

Great idea, but it's still a ways off from being commercially practical.

The reason it's a great idea is that, UNLIKE Facebook or whatever, the links, likes, dislikes, etc. follow around with you. You don't have to go back to your Facebook home to see who else "Liked" the same comics you did. You don't have to log in to Yelp to see how this comic shop is reviewed. It's all right there, instantly accessible in front of your eyes. The problem is, of course, that we don't have the technology advanced enough to work quite like that. We can make HUDs in your sunglasses or something (though not cheaply!) but they're not to the point where they can scan logos and faces on the fly, cross-reference that against existing data, and display that back in real time.

So, what CAN we do?

Well, that big, cross-referencing database does actually exist. It's called the Internet. Have you started seeing the trend yet where people's business card just have the Google search bar with their name in it? No actual contact information. It essentially just says, "Google my name and you'll get all you need to know about and get in contact with me." All that information you need is already out there in some form.

So what do we do with that? Well, people are already accessing the Internet via their computers and smartphones. They're currently using Google and Bing and whatever to track down specific information. Regardless of the hardware and the specific implementation, though, it boils down to people accessing everything via a web browser. Whether it's IE, Firefox, Chrome or any of the other flavors out there, people are frequently using a web browser as their default application.

So my thought is: why make Facebook (or FourSquare or whatever) a user's "home" location on the web? Why not just make it their actual browser? Picture this...

You sit down at your computer and fire up your web browser. You go to the home page of your favorite webcomic. All of the page's content comes up fine. But off to one side, as part of your actual browser, is the ability to provide an opinion on the page. Maybe it's just an up/down vote, maybe it's an extended review. But then you could also see -- again, right there while you're on the page -- what other people thought of it. Maybe as two sets: everybody who ever voted, and all of your friends that voted. And there's also a button that allows you to send the page to one/any/all of your friends with just a click. Not an email, but just something like a set of temporary bookmarks.

Of course, the same would work back towards you. You'd have a list of pages your friends wanted you to check out. Inherent in your browser. Regardless of whether or not the web page owner put a "Send to a Friend" button on their site. After you clicked on one of these pages, the bookmark vanishes. (Though still accessible through a history, sortable by who sent what and when.)

Now, put a chat client in there. And an address book and email. What about tying it to your cell number so you could send/receive text messages through there? Naturally, add the ability to provide updates/general comments about whatever.

And let's make this a real HUD while we're at it. You rollover a link to the Twitter icon on someone's page, and you get a pop-up display showing the most recent Tweets. Same with an RSS feed. Maybe have an email icon show up as part of the HUD that automatically pulls out all the email addresses on the page, so you just need to click that one icon and never have to hunt for their contact information.

What about using the cellphone version to pull GPS coordinates of where you are, and provide access to Google Maps or that company's web site or something? Or set it up like FourSquare and have it alert you when one of your friends is nearby.

What I'm describing is not that far removed from existing social media applications. In that regard, it's pretty redundant. But the key difference here is that it's driven by the browser itself not a particular implementation within a browser. That would mean that you'd have all the social media capabilities at your fingertips THE WHOLE TIME YOU'RE ONLINE. It wouldn't be relegated to just when you happened to log into Facebook.

So here's what you're thinking: "But it's a browser. What happens when you want to look at all your stuff from work, or the library, or somewhere?" Simple. All the data is stored online. Just like Facebook and Twitter and everything else. The browser application itself might need to reside on a series of desktops and phones, but the data that runs it all is online. Accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection.

I briefly considered the idea as a browser plug-in so people could continue using IE or whatever they were already comfortable with. But I think a stand-alone browser would work better. You'd be able to get a broader base of support, I think, because you could code different versions to each OS/platform and you wouldn't have to worry about platform/browser/version complications. You'd also be able to program it more effectively/efficiently.

Somebody pass this idea along to some talented programmers, and tell them to hit me up if they need a UI specialist. If they've already got one/some on staff, just have them give a small percentage of the insane amount of profits they'll rake in from this endeavor.

(Yeah, not very comic-themed today, but I liked the idea too much to not get this online quickly.)
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Matt K said...

In terms of the overall impression reading it, if not all of the details, I'm kind of reminded of Google Wave... on which I think they finally pulled the plug just the other week. A little bit too "do everything" without an entirely clear explanation why.

Not that I mean to pour cold water on an idea you're excited about. In fairness, this is ME we're talking about. Just because I think it doesn't make sense, is hardly indicative that an idea will never catch on. :-)

Don't worry about the cold water; I'm pretty certain my idea won't go anywhere. :)

Wave was designed more around document creation. What I'm envisioning is more about document socialization. It's not so much about creating new documents, but referencing and perhaps annotating the ones already out there, for yourself and your friends.

I know you're not on Facebook, but it's more like Facebook if it were it's own stand-alone application with a built-in browser.