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How the Internet Failed to Change Our Lives

by / Saturday, 29 December 2012 / Published in Industry
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Wrapping up this year and having spent some incredible time with an amazingly diverse set of innovations (and innovators), I starting wondering if and how the internet has really failed to deliver on its promise. One of the sobering realities of a capitalistic economy is that the almighty dollar, indeed, causes tremendous innovations, services, and technologies to arrest; to stop evolving for the sake of making money. Just the other week, I explored this idea with regard to our internet service and that led me to question how the same is true of the internet in general.

The Promise of the Internet

When I was working at Yahoo, years and years ago, and we were pulling together the different Y! properties (e.g. Sports, News, Finance, etc.), while the world continued to innovate media (Netflix), Commerce (Amazon), etc., the promise of what we were doing by aggregating everything held the possibility of ubiquity and omniscience.

Today, I’m saddened as a user and motivated as an entrepreneur by the fact that we still don’t have that. Nothing works together; I have to have hundreds of accounts and passwords; reviews on Yelp don’t affect my experience with Foursquare; I watch Hulu on my Wii but it doesn’t know what I’ve already seen or reviewed on Amazon or Netflix; I tell the internet when and where I’m traveling but it’s incapable of ensuring I get the best rates on my travel or remembering how and when I want to travel; I pay my taxes with TurboTax but it doesn’t work well with my bank, Ameritrade account, or accounting – and forget about the government (or anyone for that matter) being able to take my money without me having to do something the old fashioned way (in person, via fax, with a signature). The internet knows everything about me – not just what I like but what I need – and yet online advertising still sucks. I can’t pay for a song or service for music on one device and listen to the same song anywhere else whenever I want (okay, so that’s not entirely true when you consider what Spotify has accomplished). I can’t believe I still had to stand in front of a box that looks like it was built in the 90’s to vote for the President of the United States using a dial and an LCD display instead of doing it from my home, naked, with complete and transparent insight to exactly what either candidate actually does – and therefore will do!

Why? Not because it isn’t possible. ALL the data exists. All of the APIs exists to connect everything. The standards have been defined and generally accepted to make it all work.

So why? Because entrepreneurs still generally believe in value in control. (and Governments are ensuring that belief, in spite of “the internet” revolting over the ideas of Net Neutrality or UN oversight).

What is an API anyway?
An abbreviation of application program interface which is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier to develop a program by providing all the building blocks. A programmer then puts the blocks together.

To some extent, it’s true that control = value, but it’s also what holds us back. Think about Google’s mission and how they started – to index all of the world’s information and make it available. They didn’t decide that you had to have a Google account. You didn’t have to pay for it. Then, and now, you didn’t even need to use Google as they offered the search index and experience as an appliance so that anyone else could make it available on their site – free. And that thinking revolutionized the internet more than anything before or since. Sounds like a profound statement but I’d challenge you to justify that anything has had such a revolutionary impact (convince me I’m wrong in the comments). Did it hurt Google to give up that control? Hardly.

Only in thinking so big as to leverage what’s really possible with the internet will we completely revolutionize what it does for us.

It can and should be ubiquitous. And accessible. And simple. And omniscient. It should have changed our lives so much more than it has because you should be able to manage your life simply, be entertained how ever you want, get accurate news and information on demand, provide feedback that’s immediately heard and accounted for.

But you can’t. Not because it can’t, but because even though the promise of that world is incredible, we really don’t want it.

One Response to “How the Internet Failed to Change Our Lives”

  1. Jorge says :

    I have used the Internet since 1991, when it was created and maintained for government agencies and quasi-government agencies such as universities. I never once during those years felt that it was something that held the potential to be commercialized, although I was completely wrong. Broadband internet costs a lot for the average working person, and they will continue to expect it to provide free content, like in the old days, and not to be a vehicle for paid services. Part of the reason is that those services don’t work as well as they are advertised, which is part of what you are pointing out here. The Internet is just too slow to provide the services that go beyond text and images delivered in one direction (informational websites/blogs/journalism).

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