In 1998, Apple came out with an all-in-one computer. At the time, all-in-one computers were stripped down CPUs crammed onto a monitor case. The term made people expect something ugly, cheap, and difficult to upgrade. What they got instead was the iMac. It was revolutionary, and it inspired copies all across the industry.
In 2001, Apple came out with a portable MP3 player. There were plenty of MP3 players on the market, but none of them were particularly impressive. Initial reviews told people to expect an Apple offering that was too big, lacked features, and was way too expensive. What they got instead was the iPod. It was revolutionary, and MP3 players were never the same.
In 2007, Apple came out with a smartphone with an integrated iPod. By this time, people realized they should expect something revolutionary, but revolutions are tricky to predict. Rumor sites and pundits worked themselves into a frenzy telling people to expect an iPod with phone capabilities crammed in, or a phone with an iPod tacked on. What they got instead was the iPhone. It was revolutionary, but not the way anyone expected.
In 2009, Apple might come out with a tablet computer. As before, everyone and their dog is trying to guess what it might be like. We’re being told to expect a big iPhone, or a web tablet, or some kind of ebook reader. What I expect instead, based on all that’s gone before, is the unexpected.
While doing regular WordPress maintenance today, I finally bit the bullet and changed the post permalinks to something a bit more human-friendly. For example, the old and new URLs for a recent post are:
A bit nicer, right? Here’s the tricky part: the old URL still works, redirecting automatically so no one need get lost on their way in. I’d love to take credit for such a slick bit of business, but it was really simple thanks to Dean Lee’s Permalinks Migration Plugin.
Brad just pointed out that Google Reader added new features familiar to Twitter and Facebook users: marking a post as something you “like” and setting a status message. They didn’t remove similar features, though, so the result is a blur of options:
So when I want to remember something, do I “star” it or “like” it? If I want to let people know about it, should I “like” it or “share” it? Is my “note” shown as a “comment” or somewhere else?
I recognize the thinking here; if users are looking for a feature by a familiar name (“like”), they might not find it by your own convention (“star”). This half-baked mix of features isn’t the answer, though. Each addition should have been weighed against the existing choices, and if the benefit justified the new feature it should have replaced the old.
How many people does it take to break the Internet? On June 25, we found out it’s just one — if that one is Michael Jackson. The biggest showbiz story of the year saw the troubled star take a good slice of the Internet with him, as the ripples caused by the news of his death swept around the globe . . .
. . . Twitter crashed as users saw multiple “fail whales” — the illustrations the site uses as error messages — user FoieGrasie posting, “Irony: The protesters in Iran using Twitter as com are unable to get online because of all the posts of ‘Michael Jackson RIP.’ Well done.”
How did Twitter become crucial infrastructure? Seriously, wasn’t it just a month or two ago that Ashton Kutcher and Oprah threatened to drain all possible credibility out of the service? Wasn’t there much wailing and gnashing of teeth? So how did we get from there to the state department asking Twitter to delay a maintenance outage in order to support protests in Iran? I’m not making this up:
The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it had contacted the social networking service Twitter to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians who are disputing their election.
Of course, Clay Shirky understands what’s going on. He gets it so thoroughly that he described exactly what we’re seeing now, in fascinating detail, a month ago. Appropriately, TED gives a video record of his prescient talk:
Shirky presents the idea we’re all getting a crash course on this week: it’s nigh impossible to censor media if everyone produces it for instant distribution. It’s the flipside of the social phenomenon The Onion has poked fun at so well. Now that we’re all capable of reporting, everyone is always sharing everything, whether we like it or not.