The Next Big Thing™

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked in conversation is "What's next?" This is certainly a fair question as my job description contains the words "new media." The engineer in me always wants to say no one knows and offer a list of disclaimers. Even those industry moguls and mad scientists working for startups generally can't get a clear picture of what the market will reallydo with their shiny new toy. For this post however, I will throw caution to the wind and reveal to you the trends I see emerging.

We're all experiencing the transformative effects of the much-hyped social media technologies. The decentralization and democratization of human communication warrants the discussion volume we see–after all, any voice in the crowd can now address millions of people. The effects on human communication, and even human consciousness, from things like Facebook and Twitter will reshape much of western civilization. Even without the development of new technology, or even iterations of our current platforms the effects of extended mind theory are surfacing. There's no doubt in my mind that Google has become a vast, shared extended mind for many people. As more and more people adopt Facebook, Twitter and other tools, our extended mind may begin to become even more collaborative--and the emergence of a primitive collective consciousness will follow. In fact, I believe it already has--but that is the topic of another post for another day. The fact is, new technologies are emerging.

One of the most exciting emergent tools is geo metadata. Thanks to the increasing amount of devices that incorporate both digital logic and GPS receivers, applications are emerging that take advantage of location to offer compelling services. Urbanspoon and Yelp on the iPhone are great examples. They show you restaurants and/or other local vendors along with reviews of those locations by people who have been there. Extending this model further leads to social networks build around location like Loopt and Google Latitude. These networks let you see where your friends are in relation to you and what they are doing. None of these services offer the user base or depth of functionality of Facebook, nor the quirky charm of Twitters communal stream of consciousness but they are great sings of what's to come.

As GPS hardware becomes ubiquitous, it will make sense for Facebook (or whoever the leader in social networking may be) to add geo metadata to their platform. Imagine if you could sort the Facebook Newsfeed by proximity to you instead of time, or if you could view your friends photos by location instead of by who's in them. The technology to do this exists today. All we need are more people accessing social networks from mobile devices with GPS to make this critical mass technology.

The addition of geo metadata sets the stage for the really amazing stuff--augmented reality. Augmented reality is a modern cousin to virtual reality of old. Simply stated, augmented reality is the ability to accurately place computer generated images in 3D space over live video. Most of the accessible iterations of augmented reality so far have been impressive marketing initiatives. My favorite is a site that will turn you into a Transformer if you have a web cam. It's completely useless but fun.

Much more useful, exciting and transformative is augmented reality applied to mobile devices. The easiest way to show the potential here is to share a video of an app already released.

In this demo, the iPhone becomes a veiw port to a hidden world.  It takes data and turns it into a virtual, physical world invisible to the naked eye.  Now imagine if the data set accessed by this application was not subway stops, but instead the location of your friends.  Or, your friends status updates.  Or, the sushi restaurants nearest to you, along with reviews made by your friends (or strangers if you choose).  What if images taken by your friends appeared in the locations they were taken?

The technology exists.  All of it.  Once these data sets connect and become accessible, books like Daemon and Snow Crash are less science fiction and more social commentary.

I can't wait.

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