As the computer revolution progresses there is always a major technical frontier that massive efforts and funding works to conquer. This frontier can be described as the next layer of the onion. It’s wider and more expansive then the last. Each layer influences more people and causes more change.
The kernel of this onion could be thought of as the transistor. Then followed the microprocessor. Then the operating system. Followed by tool and application development. The network was next. Currently some people feel we are establishing settlements in the social layer. The next frontier is being debated and imagined.
Each layer improves while the frontier is pushed. Everything gets faster, better and smaller. However the frontier is a special place where the players haven’t been fully defined yet and where VC funding lands.
I’m a little concerned that social networks are viewed as a layer of the technological onion. A social network like Facebook or Twitter’s greatest value comes from the people on those networks. Not from the inherent value in their technology. Maybe a social network is more of a club or political entity then technology.
It’s different from a transistor, cpu, operating system or TCP/IP which have both users and inherent value beyond that. Collecting a network of people in the past has not been something that retains value very well. Look at AOL instant messaging, Napster, Friendster, Myspace, Compuserve, Second Life, Craigslist. Many social networks have existed since B.B.S’s yet none of them are really relavant anymore are they?
I think social networks are great and I’m glad that they exist. However the goal of collecting a bunch of people on a network might not be as important as the current efforts and funding imply.
Meanwhile I feel that despite being ignored by the flow of funds the next technological layer might be cloud technology and a P2P layer. I’m talking about the ability to virtualize hardware and create computer resources with a function call. P2P is about rules that not only organize technical resources but the people who control them. In the future social networks might be a component of this technology…rather then a critical layer.