Yesterday I gave a talk on web2.0 and social networking systems to a group of scientists at a Crown Research Institute. There were about forty people in the room, and another six or so videoconferencing in from other sites. I asked for a show of hands on questions like “who’s heard of web2.0″ (about half), “who thinks they could attempt an explanation of what web2.0 is” (one person), “who reads blogs” (two thirds), “who has a blog” (none), “who has used a wiki” (five or so), and who has an account on Facebook (none). During my talk they asked a lot of very sensible questions about privacy, digital identity, using Web 2.0 and SNS tools in the enterprise, and their utility in distributed research collaborations.
Today I got a request from a colleague to join a new SNS/feed aggregator called FriendFeed. I almost screamed. Another web2.0 technology to learn, another user account to create, another set of social relationships to map, another thing to keep up to date? That’s the last thing I need!!!!! Given that I really trust the opinion of the person who recommended it, and that I have a professional interest in this area I went ahead anyway and created an account.
It made me think that there should be a word for being overwhelmed by all of the rapidly emerging new ways to collaborate and keep in touch with people. ‘Feedtigue’ seems like an appropriate term to me. It also made me think that if I’m feeling this, and I’m a passionate early adopter of such things, what must it be like for the scientists, and other non-IT people?
We’re in a space where the technology is developing so fast, it’s enabling a myriad of changes to the way we interact with people, the size of our social networks, the frequency of our communications. We can’t predict what will work, and what won’t. To me, the web2.0 boom is an evolutionary process. Many things will be tried and will fail. Some things will work and will stick. A lot of the “try everything and keep what works” has to be done by the early adopters, so the majority don’t have to expend the effort, and can wait until the really useful things stablise.
Once I had a look at FriendFeed I was quite impressed. Its main purpose seems to be to aggregate feeds from blogs, Flickr, del.icio.us, twitter, and to distribute them to your social network. It’s not so much another thing to keep up to date, but a way of gathering the existing things together to reduce the effort and friction. It’s a bit like Sxipper (a tool to manage identity and logins across many web sites), and Netvibes (a personal portal) in that it’s infrastructure that helps people glue a whole range of web.20 services together and make them easier to use. I’m hoping we’ll see more of this sort of thing in the future.