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Time To Get Past Facebook And Invent A New Future (theatlantic.com)
256 points by chrismealy 1562 days ago | hide | past | web | 92 comments | favorite

Its very difficult for me to ascertain if its just me or the following is a growing sentiment... I'm not wowed by hardly anything that comes out of consumer internet tech anymore.

Before anyone gets out a pitchfork I have actively contributed and worked on products in the past that are part of the behemoth of services/apps/sites etc that have become mundane to me so I deserve my own criticism as well.

But the majority of launches especially for the past couple years in the media seems like the same deck chairs (mobile/social/photos/ads/etc) rearranged in a different order. Overtime Ive just lost interest in tech blogs in that I rarely see something that I'd consider genuinely interesting tech from a product or engineering or consumer perspective. Maybe I'm just getting old?

On the other hand if I'm not out of touch it seems like it could be a great time to step out of 'traditional' consumer tech and push on some of the 'new' things like 3D printing, robotics, computer vision, etc as well as seek out applications towards other industries (education, health, food, etc.)

At its heart, the internet is about information dissemination, in whatever form that information takes. Discovery has always been the issue, from link portals to message boards to search engines, it's finding information you're interested in. The current "social network" trends are another aspect of that discovery process. The difference being that an individual (or company) can more directly impact how the discovery is made and who makes it. This makes it more viable for an individual to provide information and it to be discovered. I think all of the 'mundane' applications of it you see are exploring different facets of the same thing. What we have is a specialization of one aspect of the internet (dissemination of personal information to a small network) and I think the next step will be the same for different categories of information. Not a "social network for code", but a platform for discovery that appropriately fits the niche. We then get q hierarchical discovery model where you search for where to find the information, and then search for the information. But we need all the boring steps in between to find the right model for each niche.

I'm with you, to an extent. Interestingly it was the recent excitement around the Pebble watch that made me realize how indifferent I'd become to a lot of new consumer WEB products.

I guess I realized Pebble was exciting because it was a new platform with new opportunities and possibilities. I think that explains a lot of the excitement around the upcoming "SmartTV" frontier too. Even mobile is still young enough that new, exciting applications are still pushing boundaries and blowing minds - though it's maturing rapidly.

But as far as classic web products - the web is a much, much more mature canvas with much more solidified players. Of course it'll lose some of that excitement, naturally...

"the 'new' things like 3D printing, robotics, computer vision, etc as well as seek out applications towards other industries (education, health, food, etc.)"

Totally agree. We have reached screen saturation. All the text and pictures we want. (We've had audio saturation for a long time.) The future is going to be all about machines that interact with us in the real, physical world, whether for war, state oppression, work or entertainment. Calling them robots is soon going to seem quaint.

Maybe I'm missing the purpose of the article, but I am responding to how I interpreted it.

What will our future be like if we all focus our lives around little boxes in our hands rather than the vast open spaces around us?

Perhaps we should invent a future where the technology are the tools we use to enhance our life, not control our life. In Star Trek, people weren't addicted to PADDs or spend every living moment in the Holo Deck. In fact the episodes where technology controlled people, we recognized the technology as evil.

Invent something to enhance our lives, not control them.

If someone is 'addicted' to Facebook, is technology really controlling them, or is it more that they have lost control of themselves? Are they really addicted to technology or just addicted to hanging out with their friends (which technology -- e.g. smartphones + Facebook -- enables to happen anywhere, not just when you're able to schedule time to meet in person).


1. Perhaps Star Trek is an unrealistic prediction of how man will interact with technology in the future.

2. Perhaps your (and the author's) view of things is skewed by selection bias. I.e. you're around people that are more 'addicted' to technology than others.

3. You're forgetting that in Star Trek the human race has had a sort of epiphany centered around first contact with an alien species.

Also remember that in Star Trek the most ubiquitous technology was the pin-on-walkie-talkie, during use of which people would look up at the ceiling.

It was a show defined by the 80's/90's, with several plotlines that could have been resolved by someone having an iPhone in their pocket, or by the Enterprise having smart drones.

There were only a couple of episodes that dealt with holodeck addiction, and just one or two in which the holodeck was used to its full potential: as a reconfigurable-on-the-fly work space that can tie into ship-systems, and either show or replicate any hardware or display you describe verbally.

If the holodeck were a real thing, I would rarely come out of there. I'd just make real friends inside other holodecks, and we'd spend our lives learning and creating stuff. It would be an enormous social problem.

60's StarTrek tech doesn't count. Although Kirk's stylus/pad for signatures is not unlike the UPS guy's… and I'll bet Uhura's metallic ear slab was bluetooth.

Sorry, apparently a single star makes everything after it italic… until a later star. Can't edit/delete. My bad.

Who are you to be telling someone their life isn't being 'enhanced' by their usage of whatever tools/sites/technology they choose?

The addicts are in the Borg cubes.

I hope the author (Alexis Madrigal - usually writes on energy issues) is right. By now a "startup" is presumed to be more of the same first-world social-mobile navel-gazing. The world will be better off if/when such forays stop being the most profitable. (good sign in Bloomberg news today: US wireless contracts "may have shrunk for the first time ever in the first quarter.")

Its anyone's guess how much innovation the next decade will bring in energy and biotech. But as for IT, my money is on the opportunities that will come from bridging the digital divide (emerging markets).

The Wired article "Want to become an Internet billionaire? Move to Africa" didn't get much interest from HN[1] though it was also covered in Forbes. The informal economy (as written about in Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy by Robert Neuwirth) is an oft-overlooked angle which should be particularly interesting, as it intersects more and more with an expanding global internet.

1: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3210000

Most revolutionary things take some time before people realize that they are revolutionary.

- Google launched in 1998, people realized how revolutionary it was by around 2000.

- Facebook launched in 2004, it took till about 2007 for people to realize how game-changing its going to be.

- IPhone launched in 2007, and within a year (after 3G + AppStore was launched) it was clear that this is game-changing.

My point is: It could very well be that the next game-changer is already out there and we just don't know it yet. What could it be? Well I don't know... Google self-driving car? Khan Academy? Square? Your guess is as good as mine.

The new hardware platforms are each going to give birth to their own frontiers of opportunity. Bezos' TED Talk on "The Next Web Innovation" alluded to how each innovation would allow for new innovations.

I'm looking at new hardware like watches (Pebble), SmartTVs, and maybe Google Glasses if can be accepted culturally (more so than bluetooth headsets have been) as all potentially amazing new canvasses for creation.

Highly recommend this TED talk. It's amazingly optimistic and paints a beautiful future for technology innovation: http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_bezos_on_the_next_web_innovati...

Web apps are cheap to build, easy to learn how to build, fall into a predictable model for investors, and are equipped with lots of social institutions (like YC) encouraging people to build web startups.

So, all things being equal, we should expect more people to be creating web apps (compared to other kinds of technology) than their profitability or social value would warrant.

Framing makes a big difference. If there were an established culture and set of resources for engineering or biomedical startups, they might seem less daunting.

I think Louis CK said it best, "Everything is amazing and nobody's happy."


Sorry but Social mobile local (or as people cooler than me are calling it, SoMoLo) is still pretty new. You're just going to have to "suffer" through a little more.

I get the author's point that it seems like the same things are getting made and funded over and over. But with only about 1/2 the U.S. pop. owning smartphones, you can't blame people too much for trying to stake their claim. Anything more innovative might be too early anyways.

I fail to understand this article because I think there are so many different topics the author touches on.. Innovation. Culture. Tech business and startups..

I think the author is conflating some of these concepts or just misunderstanding some. For instance, innovation. What does Facebook have to do with innovation? I'm sure there are a few innovative things they have done, but in my view the outline for the broad concept of what their social service accomplishes had been drawn clearly before their rise to dominance. They just did it better than most, and reached a critical mass in terms of user base.

If the author is simply bored of taking pictures on a phone and beaming them halfway around the world because it's now commonplace... I'm sorry, I don't know what to tell you. There will be another shiny new toy invented that will be another great extension or augmentation of the human experience for you to enjoy in a few years, doubtlessly. So cheer up.

One thing I know is true: All of these things that are being built on the internet and the internet itself.. They are just different vehicles for human expression; they are all extensions of the human thought, the human environment; all facets of ourselves as a species.

I think the author of this article flounders about in coming up with what is "next" because they don't really understand the reasons why the successful products appeared in the first place:

Nobody at Facebook invented the idea that humans like to be in contact with each other.

Nobody at Pinterest came up with the idea that humans collect things that they find interesting. Humans have been doing that for as long as we've been around.

Nobody at Instagram invented the idea that humans are creatures who crave artistic expression. When we didn't have canvas or quill or a camera, we painted on cave walls.

All of these companies just fascilitated a need that was already there, whether people were concious of it or not. I would argue that these products were inevitable, it was just a matter of who would get there first.

If you want to try to answer the obtuse question of "What is next", a question that comes from a confused origin.... You only have to study human nature. That would be my answer. If the author is soliciting advise about the next hot startup to invest in, that's a totally different ballgame.

tl;dr "Outside of iPhone, Kindle and mobile applications you nerds have invented absolutely nothing over past 10 years".

Don't forget all the mass surveillance and control that "we nerds" made possible.

The picture of the last 20 years is not rosy. Computer technology has advanced a lot, sure, but when I read things from the 70's it seems that there was a more enlightened society back then. I heartily agree with rohern's sentiment.

It's a societal problem. Even though a lot of people would love to work on really new and bold and innovative things, it's impossible to do if society doesn't enable it. For example if your project is immediately shot down due to legal reasons, or not financed out of fear or conservatism.

This guy is simply failing to see the forest for the trees.

Yes, the past 30 years have been an amazing whirlwind of development of consumer computing technology. Yes, things won't be jumping by leaps and bounds the way they were when the basic hardware and bandwidth were getting up to speed. The latest social app is not going to blow you away the same way, say, the invention of the Internet did when you first discovered it. But I'm sure it pales in comparison to the wow-factor of the telegraph when it was first invented.

We live in a time when computing technology has filtered out to the mass populace. It is an interesting time to be sure. But we are just scratching the surface of what is possible with computers. There is tons of work to be done to refine the art of computation, which I believe ends with creating AI that can do things we are incapable of doing as humans. That is still a very long way off.

And assuming all goes smoothly without any major natural disasters or self-destruction, after that, there will be a new chapter in human existence where I believe we will have to come to grips with having automated everything and no longer having to employee people en masse. Where will we find meaning once the struggle to survive is pushed so far from our daily concerns?

The point is things are constantly evolving, and there is no chance that things are about to get boring. "Web", "Social", and "Mobile" are only "done" if you are tech pundit looking to summarize the state of the world in a tidy 800 words. The reality is that these things are just building blocks whose novelty has worn off, but whose ultimate utility is far from being realized.

Sure there are a lot of smart people wasting away figuring out how to sell ads more efficiently. But I think we're still fairly reliably being wowed several times a year. Right now Kickstarter is the big wow for a lot of people, they're doing some real revolutionary work on the future of business and work. With Etsy being a good wow along the same lines before that. Obviously the iPad is making explosive entries into all kinds of industries which are being revolutionized for the 2nd or 3rd time in the last 20 years. And this guy talks like the iPhone happened ages ago, it was only 5 years ago, 4 years since the amazements started emanating from the app store.

I'm not too worried, change is accelerating and the wows will keep on coming. Five years from now should look more different from today then today looks compared to 2007. The main dangers are monopolistic predator companies, walled gardens, and government intrusion. Other than that, we will continue being blown away for years to come.

Why can't the next area of innovation be in education? I’m not talking solely about the transition from print to digital, but rather a complete reset on education with technology at its core rather than at the periphery? Rethink the status quo, with no sacred cows (teachers, buses, grades, testing, - even classrooms all up for grabs).

Imagine tablet devices or similar technology that provide individualized, adaptive teaching programs that exhibit techniques that allowed students to progress each at their own pace, using highly innovative and entertaining forms of education.

Imagine all progress (and regress) made by the student as a form of continual testing and as gates to increasingly more complex subjects, with programs that adapt to a student’s areas of weakness (and strengths), hitting at core concepts from different angles and in ways that appeal to that individuals ideal method of learning, until that student was able to progress to the next concept, or skip and then revisit once a complementary concepts is are understood that would augment that student’s ability to master the concept they skipped earlier.

Imagine technological innovation that allowed us to take a less linear approach to certain subjects, which is the only method today given the constraints of 1:* teacher:students and the invisible “bar” which forces certain students to move at the lowest common denominator pace, while taxing other students to keep, such as those that have difficulty learning in the cookie cutter way.

Imagine applications that blend multiple subjects (math, science, history), presenting the material not using your standard “preach at you” teaching technique, but instead using role-based or video game style interactive learning that makes the kid WANT to study, gets excited about the subject.

Envision a system where the best teachers become the product managers that formulate the logic and program flow for those innovative applications, and your run-of-the-mill teacher becomes a custodian for keeping things under control while the students interact with their devices, and of course, with each other, as social interaction is essential for their well-being as well.

Sure there would be many hurdles, not the least of these being teachers unions and the hurdle of changing centuries of preconceived notions of how education should be accomplished, but hey, the author asked for what the next revolutionary idea could be, and a transformation in education with technology at its core has my vote.

I have a lot of issues with what you just posted. Perhaps the biggest is enforcing a division between "best teachers" and "run-of-the-mill teachers" into a corporate project management of sorts. I'm not sure where you work, but just imagine if someone deemed you a "run-of-the-mill" employee and relegated you to watching people interact with tablets all day.

Some areas of life require a delicate moderation of technology, and education is one of them. Anyone who drools over education as a "start-up opportunity" likely hasn't done their research.

>Some areas of life require a delicate moderation of technology, and education is one of them.

Care to explain why? The GP had some valid points and your rebuttal is that he or she 'hasn't done their research,' without making a single valid point. The metaphor about 'watching people interact with tablets' is not at all what GP mentioned. He suggested that teachers design what interactions take place, and take a proactive role in ensuring that their interactions are effective, while still injecting 'human' aspects of teaching.

> "He suggested that teachers design what interactions take place..."

This is exactly my point. Those who work with software/tech/etc often trivialize the relationship between software and people who hold completely different societal roles. No matter how intuitive you make an application, no matter how effective you seem to think your application enhances learning, there will always be a vast number of people (in this case, teachers) who have not the time, nor the desire, to "design" a set of "interactions" for their student.

Are there effective teaching aids available for tablets? Yes. Does that translate to a need for technology-guided learning in more aspects of education? Absolutely not.

The OP talks about "a complete reset on education with technology at its core." I stand by my point; this is a dangerous idea. And you don't have to believe me, most any teacher will tell you this is a bad idea. Teacher flexibility and intuition is (usually) right; software isn't going to magically determine a child's academic strengths and weaknesses.

Education is not some cookie-cutter problem you can fix with a well-designed app.

Read Seymor Papert "mindstorms"

The publication date was August 4, 1993. Not to say it's irrelevant, but alot has changed since then.

We are all going to disagree about how much tech is too much in education. On the other hand, very few disagree that tech has no place in hospitals, the enterprise, supply chain management, etc. That alone illustrates to me how ridiculous it is to treat education as a space needing a "reset."

I don't know, I've been learning an awful lot from Khan, Coursera, and Udacity over the past couple months.

All great ideas. I've always thought that the boldest and most innovative education experiments will end up being run in the developing world (Africa, Asia, South America). The developed world has centralized institutions that provide a decent education at astronomical costs to its citizens. But these centralized institutions have special interests and look to slow down the innovation to a manageable pace for them, instead of serving the best educational experience for the students. As Larry Lessig's refrain states, <i>"The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it."</i>

The high demand for education due to complete institutional failures in the developing world and the reduced cost of learning and coordination that the Internet provides will make students there extremely receptive to new ways of learning as soon as it becomes affordable. Sufficient penetration of the mobile phone and the tablet computer in these populations will be the vehicle for this change. I wonder if this penetration could put some of these developing countries in a position to leapfrog old ways of learning and ramp up both enthusiasm around learning and skill acquisition.

The Promise of Computer-Based Instruction


Imagine a responsive system that negotiates the route between your present-state knowledge and skills and your (or your school’s or your job’s…) learning goals. Such a system requires a profile of your current knowledge and skills, a map of the declarative and procedural knowledge and skills that fulfill the learning goals, and a logic engine to reconcile the two.

Imagine applications that blend multiple subjects (math, science, history), presenting the material not using your standard “preach at you” teaching technique, but instead using role-based or video game style interactive learning that makes the kid WANT to study, gets excited about the subject.

Etoys in Squeak. Alan Kay has some presentations about them.

education is not a tech issue, its a social issue. When school boards decide to push creationism over evolution, its not a technology issue. We provide students the tools and all the information but have no way to inspire them to learn in competition with the idiocy of what the pop culture tells kids should be cool.

| The question is, as it has always been: now what?

| Decades ago, the answer was, "Build the Internet." Fifteen years ago, it was, "Build the Web." Five years ago, the answers were probably, "Build the social network"

In other words, when you read near future sci fi and think, "that's a cool piece of plausible tech that I really want right now!" what is it?

"We are prosthetic gods." That quote dates back farther than you might think. Printing, telecom, radio, the internet, the web, the social network, the smart phone... all of these take the sum of human knowledge/experience and inch it slightly closer to my brain.

The next step is to have it rest right against my temple while we debate whether or not to break out the scalpel.

Hate to jump on the bandwagon, but I'm ready for the Goggles. Google's commercials don't scrape the surface of what it could mean to have internet-enabled constant-on cameras on everyone's face, for better and worse. But that's the next space I want to explore.

This article is spot on in its thesis, though not always in its arguments.

Everyone is convinced -- because the people who work in marketing are happy because they can sell ads -- that social media is an important thing. It is not.

Social media is people doing what they were already doing, only more often and anywhere. Flirting with girls, talking with friends, etc. Making these activities digital is not changing society or improving lives. It is the same society and the same lives, with more time spent on these activities. Never has anyone gone to bed thinking "Gosh, I wish I had spent more time looking at funny pictures of strangers today." People often go to bed regretting not doing what they could have done when instead they were on Facebook and Twitter and [insert the names of 90% of the startups you have heard of].

Every founder will go on and on about "changing the world" if you let him. This is as if changing the world were something worth doing for its own sake. If you see a problem that is worth fixing and you fix it, then the change effected is important and even virtuous. But the key is that problem must be worth solving. Just because a petulant and spoiled American wants his iced mocha faster does not mean that speeding up sales of mocha is a worthy problem. Can you make money doing it? Probably.

I went to school to become an engineer (I'm 24) because I thought that computers and the internet were going to make invention and innovation possible even for people who did not work for industrial laboratories. Maybe the hugely reduced barriers to entry into the technology sector that resulted from cheap computers and good programming tools would lead young and eager people of brilliance to found ambitious companies to finally -- aren't we all sick of being exasperated by the mediocrity of culture and politics in the past 20 years? -- steer human life into better modes of existence and a new frontier of boldness. Sure, the internet cannot do this all on its own, but is such a powerful and promising tool, that maybe it would start things.

This has not happened. There are a few gems like SpaceX and Willow Garage that seek out challenge in this way, but they are doing it independent of the cheapness and openness that computers now allow. Worse, many of the companies that have been founded are dedicated to aggressively ruining the internet by making it a place for sucking up private information, showing ads, and selling the same old useless junk.

What it seems to me this article is about is that innovation in technology right now is about money, not about betterment. A billion dollars was just spent on Instagram. To do what? If you are so in the bubble of the "startup world" that you do not see the self-evident absurdity of a situation in which that is a possible and reasonable event, you are become blinded.

Stop thinking like a marketer and think like an inventor with balls. Stop trying to get rich unless you are getting rich by doing something that is worth doing.

I write this as someone who honestly loves technology, hacking, the hacker ethic, and HN, but I walk around Palo Alto every day being slowly crushed by disappointment. The problem is not that the good hackers are being spread across too many companies, it is that too many companies are not doing things worthy of hackers.

> Social media is people doing what they were already doing, only more often and anywhere. Flirting with girls, talking with friends, etc. Making these activities digital is not changing society or improving lives.

That is completely wrong from my experience. By the same logic the mobile phone didn't improve anything because you could already call people on land lines (and indeed, people argued exactly that). E-mail didn't improve anything, rather it was damaging, because people stopped writing letters.

Facebook has improved my life. A lot. It has enabled (not enhanced, enabled) loose but very enjoyable contact with acquaintances I hadn't seen for ten years. The light-weight way of staying in touch is perfect for keeping associated with my network in my former city after I moved. I get a steady stream of pics and status updates from my sister and her kids. People I've met travelling years ago suddenly mention they're coming through my city, and we catch up, or vice versa.

All of these COULD be facilitated using pre-Facebook technology, but pre-Facebook experiences suggests that they didn't.

All the companies I know, from local dev shops to funded startups to public behemoths, are hurting for good hackers. Even though there may be too many companies not doing things worthy of hackers, why aren't worthy hackers gravitating towards those companies that are worthy?

I agree though, we need more of these companies. I think of all the things that we could be doing, and I remember how I used to want to change the world before running a business got in the way. Sometimes you need an opportunity that puts you in a position to do something that truly fulfils your dreams, as Elon Musk did with PayPal.

Can only hope some of us are observant enough to have our preparation meet with opportunity.

Hackers aren't gravitating because hiring is broken.

>People often go to bed regretting not doing what they could have done when instead they were on Facebook and Twitter and [insert the names of 90% of the startups you have heard of].

I know I have. Many more times than I care to admit.

>it is that too many companies are not doing things worthy of hackers.

Excellent. And since I always ask this question of people who lament the status quo:

What did you have in mind?

Make ubiquitous computing a reality (Raspberry PI is a step in this direction).

Make personal analytics useful (something like http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/09/stephen-wolfram-reveals-t..., but in a way that is actually useful to normal people).

Link the offline and online into one seamless reality (google glass)

If I had to dream about the future and what it should be we're aiming for, it'd be joint universal augmented network access. I want to live in a world like this one --> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denno_Coil

Add Google self-driving car to that list. Reducing alcohol and speed related deaths to zero within our lifetime, getting rid of car parks (fleets of autonomous vehicles move onto the next customer), cheaper delivery of any physical product currently delivered by road, reduced CO2 emissions (cars know when they need servicing), more productive workforces- you can sleep during your commute, the list of benefits is mind boggling. I would love a kit that I could snap onto my car today that could do this (laws notwithstanding). It's going to be a massive game changer for societies.

Subways/trains do this! You don't need self-driving cars to make this world a reality!

Subways/trains don't collect you from the front door of your house and deliver you to the exact spot that you want to go to.

Conceptually, I think this is similar to the last-mile broadband problem[1] - it's not economical to lay fiber to the customer's home unless the customer lives in an urban/reasonably densely populated area. Similarly, if you want to go from transport hub to transport hub (bus/rail station, airport etc.) that's no problem, but getting from the transport hub to your home ranges from expensive and awkward to impossible, depending on how far you live from the transport hub.

Self-driving cars solve this problem. Who cares if you have a 100 mile commute, if you can snooze all the way? Just order the car for a set time every morning to allow enough time for the drive and go back to sleep on the way.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_mile

More particularly, subways drive up real-estate values, thus pushing people out of areas served by subways -- unless you convince the government to spread subway access universally throughout the entire sufficiently-populated area.

Compare Europe and New York's Tri-State-Area to Boston or BART.

He doesn't HAVE to have something in mind. He is merely telling us about a problem that he sees with the current situation.

While I may have sounded sarcastic, even dismissive. (If you read it in your head with the right tones.) I actually ask because I love hearing about what people think the future should be like. The hope is that if I ask enough people my own vision will change significantly.

So while I don't necessarily expect people to have something in mind, I always hope they do.

I think you ask a great question. I'll bite. Here is what I have in mind that will change my world.

Small data. My data. A 1999 google like interface into an index of me: my email, my documents, images and video that I've collected. Nice to haves would be a copy of the various conversations I have had on third party social media sites.

This index should be set up in a way that I can easily include a copy of it in my Trust that will pass my assets to my daughter (note - I am increasingly thinking that the raw data, much of what either lives in the cloud or gets backed up to CrashPlan, is an asset that should be part of the an Estate that gets passed to the next generation). She should be able to add to it when she is a old enough and (if I am so lucky) my grandchildren's grandchildren should be able to search for vague terms in the stories that their great grandmother (my daughter) told them when they were young. They will get links to relevant emails or documents that help them explore the past. They will be able to see the connections between images takes a the same time or location in a way that lets them explore their history. As I understand this tool better I will be able to narrate a one way version of my story to those of future generations.

As I said above, a tool like this would solve my problem. Do you think it would be useful to a computer literate, smart but non hacker/programmer type? Any ideas on how you think one should approach this problem?

Cool. That sounds like the crystals Superman uses to learn about Krypton and his parents.

That sounds like it would be fantastic!

I went to school to become an engineer (I'm 24) because I thought that computers and the internet were going to make invention and innovation possible even for people who did not work for industrial laboratories. Maybe the hugely reduced barriers to entry into the technology sector that resulted from cheap computers and good programming tools would lead young and eager people of brilliance to found ambitious companies to finally -- aren't we all sick of being exasperated by the mediocrity of culture and politics in the past 20 years? -- steer human life into better modes of existence and a new frontier of boldness. Sure, the internet cannot do this all on its own, but is such a powerful and promising tool, that maybe it would start things.

I hate to sound all Statler-and-Waldorf on you, but DO-HO-HO-HO!!!!!

Technology is not going to change our social system. Our technology is fine and dandy. Our social system is increasingly shitty.

So the real question is: how do you take anti-profitable activities like fixing our social system (ie: wealth redistribution) and make them profitable?

This comment is gold. Are you sure you don't want to move to Sydney and build robots with me?

I'm really sick of hearing all of the hatred that facebook gets.

It's a useful tool that I use every day for organizing meetups and, in my opinion, is superior to a mailing list in pretty much every single way.

My local reddit users group has almost 1000 members in it, and has no branched into several "sub groups" [a book club, a film club, a music club, a workout club, and a hacker club]. Just now before reading this, I found a movie to go to tonight with somebody, committed to start reading a book with somebody else, and got invited to an event this Friday.

Oh, and somebody who is planning an event for this Saturday asked me to RSVP.

Last weekend our group had a nearly 100-person strong "masquerade" at a bar in Phoenix. We pretty-much took over the bar.

None of this stuff would happen if not for facebook, and I know this because there have been active attempts within our community to push stuff back onto reddit, all of which have failed.

Facebook is a useful tool to me, and a useful tool to a lot of other people. If it disappeared tomorrow, it would effect me in a very negative way.

People react negatively to FB because they are abusing their usefulness. Want to easily find someone to go to a movie with? Fine, give us your web browsing history, your friends list, your email addresses, your phone numbers, your social calendar, your location history, where you lived, worked, and went to school, many full-text conversations with your close friends, and... oh yeah any pictures of you that all your friends on FB take, plus you should tag your friends in pictures that you take. That way we can correlate your location retroactively even if you don't personally "check-in" with us.

Did I mention that your friends list isn't private, law enforcement can get all this data at any time, and we're using all this data for business purposes?

What the hell are you talking about?

I found somebody to go to a movie with because he posted on our film group saying:

"This film is playing in Tempe tonight, who wants to go?"

And I responded with a "Me".

>Did I mention that your friends list isn't private, law enforcement can get all this data at any time

No, and I'm glad you didn't, because that sounds like utter bullshit. "At any time"? Do you mean "With a court order"?

This "oh no I'm so scared" reaction to facebook is neo-luddism at its finest. The point at which facebook turns into a magical black box is too high for some people, and they get scared of it.

Here's the big bad secret: facebook isn't doing linguistic analysis on your messages, and if they're using information about what youtube videos I've "liked" to serve me more relevant ads, then good, I'd rather see information about bands or lecturers I'm interested in visiting Phoenix than I would about penis pills and weight loss "secrets".

I found somebody to go to a movie with because he posted on our film group saying:

"This film is playing in Tempe tonight, who wants to go?"

And I responded with a "Me".

The ads they show you will now be more targeted, about movies and located around Tempe. I've seen ads based on search terms in "private" conversations I've had on FB. They mine your interactions very aggressively. You'll almost certainly see that guy's posts on your "News" feed more often for a while.

"At any time"? Do you mean "With a court order"?

OK, I was a tad hyperbolic. But LEOs can search FB for "public" information about you and your friends without a court order. I put public in quotes because if you're not keeping on top of your privacy settings, you probably don't realize that some things you thought were private are actually public.

_"At any time"? Do you mean "With a court order"?_

A National Security Letter would do just as well, and at least two years of data need to be at the government's disposal. Without addressing the merits of National Security Letters, I should point out that one covering your data, or many people's data, or all of Facebook's data, might arrive at any time.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_security_letter * http://www.aclu.org/national-security-technology-and-liberty... * http://www.justice.gov/oig/special/s0803b/final.pdf

>The ads they show you will now be more targeted, about movies and located around Tempe.


>I've seen ads based on search terms in "private" conversations I've had on FB.

Why on earth would you think this was "private"? It's private to you and your friend, but you're using a third party (facebook) to facilitate the interaction.

Gmail does the exact same thing. So does amazon.

But they're not doing it for nefarious reasons. Having all this information together is genuinely useful for users. That's why they do it! People want it, and for good reason.

The side-effect that all this information provides an unsettlingly complete snapshot of your life, trusted to a single entity, is an inevitable byproduct. Facebook has certainly made a few mistakes, but the things people complain about aren't specific to Facebook -- they're inherent to any useful, complete social network.

Is there a consumer-friendly solution to this dilemma? I'm not sure. Privacy-wise, you can't have your cake (super-connected with your friends) and eat it too (keep the site from knowing about all those connections).

If this were for my benefit, they would either stop tracking me across the web, or somehow make that data available or useful to be. It's currently opaque, so whatever their reason is, it's not for my best interests. Also, I think keeping my friends list more private would be nice. And being able to pay money instead of being shown ads would benefit both me and FB.

Making the data available to you probably would be interesting but using it to 'improve' your experience probably drives more engagement.

Also, having you paying money would probably be less beneficial to Facebook, as I'm sure they can make more money from advertising.

I'm not trying to defend FB here but it is worth remembering that they've reached 800million people so they've obviously got something right. The question people should consider is at what cost to themselves.

I agree with you that the Facebook hate - especially from non-techie peers - seems kind of foolish to me.

Just thought it was funny though - that your local Reddit group convenes on Facebook. I thought the self-serve subreddit platform was made for that micro-community purpose! ;)

It is, but it's not very good at it. Facebook "bumps" threads when you respond to them, so relevant stuff stays at the top.

And people use pictures of themselves as identifiers. It's a lot easier to recognize people based on faces than it is to recognize them based on silly usernames.

I mean...these are people that I regularly interact with in real life. I get the pseudo-anonymity for reddit proper, but non-anonymized interactions on facebook are good.

Gotcha. Good point. I was really impressed with Meetup's functionality for these purposes as well - for the same reasons you've mentioned.

I'm an organizer too, and when Facebook's new group system came out (Was it a year ago now? Facebook time is it's own reality...) its functionality was just perfect.

Little things like Facebook's group system - I feel like there's a million different innovations on Facebook that all blow my mind. We were hacking a jomsocial social network at one time as a hobby project... Every time FB launched something we just couldn't help but laugh at how simple they made it all seem.

Guess it all ties back in to your original point. Facebook. Respect.

None of this stuff would happen if not for facebook

You could have said that about AOL or CompuServe or any other of several previous market leaders. for that matter, people managed to have social lives prior to the advent of the internet; the media of communication were things like posters, bulletin boards (as in large pieces of wood), small ads, magazines and so on. I don't think the article is picking on FB particularly, it's just the company that happens to be on top of the social networking pile right now. What the author is getting at is that things have sort of plateaued for the time being and it's not obvious where the fundamental innovation is coming from, so in the meantime you're seeing a lot of cargo cultism.

Think of what we have now as a large-scale version of the pre-web internet, which was much more limited in scope than that of today, but internally quite well connected as long as you were content to adopt a unix-y way of looking at things. The advent of the browser upended all that, but at the very beginning it was quite clunky and a lot of people thought it might be a problem in search of a solution. To my mind, the proliferation of APIs and attempts to establish platforms is quite similar to past stages of development. Facebook is not the problem; it's the curremt least bad solution to the problem (for many people). I'll cannibalize a recent comment on another thread [1] to sum up why:

Avid Facebook users want their content within Facebook's standardized UI and relatively well-curated system. Like AOL, Facebook is the online equivalent of the mall - somewhat bland, but fairly clean, safe, and above all well-organized. Myspace was just as technically impressive as Facebook back in the day, but because it included a host of customization options it wound up looking like a shopping district that had gone to seed and was covered in bad graffiti and flyposters. You could tell it was doomed when some people were making a business out of selling sparkly animated gifs as page backgrounds. Myspace was so freely customizable that browsing and navigation ended up becoming a chore for visitors; you'd go to someone's page, loud music would start, and you'd be frantically looking for the transport/volume controls - like multimedia Geocities. With Facebook you never get lost as a visitor, and if the site limits a page owner's visual expression somewhat, the same is true for everyone else so you're not at a real disadvantage.

1. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3850935

So what is the problem, exactly? Platform fragmentation. I spend most of my social internet time on Hacker News and Metafilter, and on a few other forums to a lesser degree. It's probably not an accident that these are among the least visually crufty and feature-rich social sites on the web; HN doesn't even allow inline hyperlinks. I personally share things mostly by cutting and pasting URLs. I maintain very little presence on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or (insert your favorite thing here) because of the transactional overhead. All social sites involve Conversations with persistent Communities of People about Stuff, and I've capitalized those 4 elements because they're like the legs of a table and can be captured within relatively simple data structures.

Platform fragmentation is the fact of all these different services having distinct identities. From an individual human point of view what matters is this conversation, the social groups we are in, you and I as persons, and this substantive topic. We could be having this conversation on Facebook, G+, Twitter (in very fragmented form) or wherever. What makes HN unique is the stuff people want to talk about and the group of people with overlapping interests. The actual mechanisms of displaying and posting are incidental. to my mind they should be wholly transparent, in the same way that I don't care about exactly which routers this message goes through to reach you, or where those switches and servers are located, or who manufactured them or wrote the firmware. We've abstracted away the hardware layer, and in my perfect world we'd now abstract away the UI layer as well. On the other hand, you could make the argument that NNTP and Usenet have ultimately failed to fulfill their potential because of a tragedy-of-the-commons problem; it's so public that it's hard to curate, and it's not obvious how to make money out of it.

PS: also a problem for RSS. The browser is, at its core, a page rendering interface, just as a terminal is a highly interactive text interface. That's great, because we are very clever at putting things on pages. But what we need now is a network traversal interface.

This type of "whatever's new is old" complaining is pretty cliche. I mean, of course people are going to try to innovate in evolutionary ways more than revolutionary ways.

Revolutionary innovation is at least partially random and obviously much higher risk. It often comes as a result of many people iterating many times on the same-old-same-old.

This article really seems to do nothing other than state the obvious and offers no real suggestions or directions for where to go or what to do next. Oh right, biotech, cure for cancer, end hunger, solve the energy crisis, etc. Because no one has tried or is trying to solve those, and they are clearly as easy as figuring out how to get people to share photos of themselves.

I agree... but I'd like to phrase it the way I thought of it. The evolution the article made me think of is not really innovation but rather integration. Things like Google Wallet, mobile apps, etc... they aren't new technologies, they're current or old technologies applied in different ways. If the article's author wants innovation on the scale of the electronic computer or space flight, you've got to understand that that kind of innovation is far more difficult to create, as you pointed out.

From the previously-posted thread on this that got no other replies:

an astute article. One thing not addressed here is the failure of the Smantic Web paradigm to really take off; I don't know whether this is because of a lack of critical mass in the quantity of semantically coded data or the immaturity of ontology frameworks or something else - my best guess being that the browser is no more suitable to traversal of the semantic web than FTP/ Archie/ Veronica/ Gopher were suitable browsing tools for hyperterxt - although each solved 'part of the puzzle.'

The semantic web has one huge problem imo: There was/is typically zero incentive to semantically encode data. As shown by things like IBMs Watson, you're better off extracting sentence semantics with NLP than by hoping someone has encoded the data for you.

Another thing is that huge ontological databases actually exist, it's just that no one seems to be able to use them for anything useful. Knowledge bases and formal reasoning over them used to be a big deal in AI.

This comes from someone who tried to do a startup that essentially tried to incentivize creating semantic data. It's a hard earned lesson, but I now have zero belief that manual formalization of data is ever going to take off. Even if lots of cool things would be possible if it did.

Largely agree. What saddens me is that the extracted semantics are not apparently being shared or exchanged automatically, which is holding us back. On the upside, I remember the view that mass internet usage couldn't take off because open protocols didn't provide sufficient economic incentives for private actors, but that turned out OK.

would be quite interested in hearing more about your startup if you want to post to HN or correspond via gmail.

No prob, I'll send you an email when I get home from work.

There was/is typically zero incentive to semantically encode data. As shown by things like IBMs Watson, you're better off extracting sentence semantics with NLP than by hoping someone has encoded the data for you.

But yet, adoption of SemWeb tech is growing. Google and Yahoo both rolling out their respective "rich snippets" type interfaces a couple of years ago helped a bit. Those acts raised awareness of the value of SemWeb tech and gave it a bit of a kick. I saw a post[1] earlier today that mentioned some research showing that 25% of the HTML pages out there have embedded structured data (microformats, RDFa).

[1]: http://ivan-herman.name/2012/04/18/structured-data-in-html-i...

Edit: better link to specific part of the discussion that mentions the "25% of pages contain RDFa" claim:


I think it's the way evolution works. Sometimes it's slow for a while - then things click into place and there is rapid progress.

The Khan Academy (and other free online, high quality education) is probably the most revolutionary thing that has come out of the internet in the past few years.

I don't know how much effect it has at the moment in the developing world - whether resources like that are used in the classroom and by students - but the potential for transformation is huge. There is an enormous amount of people in the world with untapped talent because of lack of access to high quality education.

Biotech, synthetic biology etc aside, I think the next thing to facilitate change in computing is portable display technology - for personal use maybe it will be Google Glass once it's a mature product. For shared use I think low cost, lightweight high res laser/LED pico projectors will take off in the next couple of years. The computer itself will be a tablet/mobile phone, either with its own display or hooked up to one of these new display devices.

Battery tech is another interesting one - once we work out how to produce cheap, high energy density, long life batteries from a natural resource that is abundant, we'll see a lot of accelerated progress in several areas.

Of course the 1st world problems of not having enough cool gadgets and software will be put into perspective when the Earth's limited food/energy resources vs growing population starts playing out for real.

I don't like these "where's the innovation" posts, too negative. There's lots of exciting software being built. I will however admit that, in general, the Glass Project was the most exciting thing I've seen in a while. So maybe this is really about the lack of innovation in the hardware space

If it is the case that innovation in HW is lagging behind innovation in SW at this time, then it would seem that investors have something to do with the phenomenon, not just the entrepreneurs. When I read the line below today, it was alarming to me:

>Then he hit a roadblock. A big one. Migicovsky couldn’t raise more money. Few investors were interested in betting on a hardware startup, or dealing with the headaches that often come with manufacturing goods [1]

Perhaps the bulk of entrepreneurs and investors are after the "quick money". I know some pure finance types currently at Tristate area hedge funds contemplating a switch to Venture Capital (I urged him to reconsider, for a variety of reasons). If hypothetically, investors pat the entrepreneur on the back for the quick flip web startup, and the entrepreneur pats the investor on the back for financing his quick flip web startup, then is it any wonder that perhaps, HW entrepreneurs get lost in the fervor?



Totally agree. Not sure if that's the case across the board with VC's but it does make sense.

I 'm with you on the hardware angle. Seriously, where's the SDK and the apps for my programmable home cleaning/general purpose robot? It's not like it costs much nowadays to stack a robot arm on top of a roomba. What about cars, where is my inspector-gadget car that parks itself and doesn't let accidents happen? Embedded software should not be limited to flashing leds with arduinos.

Edit: Somewhat related: http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2012/04/global-robot-populatio...

> More money has got to change hands.

No, quite the opposite. If you really want to be bold about inventing the future, money is one of the things that needs to be replaced.

The internet is, in a general sense, a technology for cooperation -- for organising collective activities through shared information. Money is really just an information channel for doing that too, but it is now comparatively obsolete.

Money is a receipt given for value created. I think you mean to say that dollars and pesos should be replaced, which I agree with to a point. However, giving up money, to a government, is like giving up sovereignty. How could a government fund wars or welfare if they couldn't print money.

No, money is a receipt given for rivalrous, excludable property owned, and then sold off, or for excludable services rendered.

We thus have an economic system that hugely neglects the provision of commons and public goods.

Here is one simple attempt to explain the value of many of the startups that are otherwise dismissed by such naysayers, although coming from a heavy tech background I am the first to admit that some of these startups are incremental and featurettes at best.

We are in the age of sensors and A/D conversion. Many (not all) startups today do operate at the app layer... they are web / mobile apps etc. They produce tools that enable us to consume and produce info... at scale... we're talking millions of people are slowly but surely doing the analog-to-digital conversion for a future. At a mass scale, the result will be x,y,z,t,status,interest,social,connection connections/graphs for many things across many verticals. Privacy issues aside (they cannot be ignored, but bare with me for a second), the end result is a real-time layer on the world that exists in the digital domain, not the analog one. We are creating a world of installing "sensors" through market forces.

There is a step function in innovation (a new S-curve, if you will) that will occur at some point, that will be dependent on the world where things are digitized (the one we are creating now) in order to unlock innovation further. Not just technically, but from an adoption/diffusion/comfort level in society. We are going through that now... so the outcome ain't so bleak. At the end of this particular journey (call it a bubble, call it something else), we will have 1 billion+ people who a) are comfortable with sensors / digitizing their stuff and themselves b) and are doing it.

We are converging on a dominant design of what a digitized world looks like, through market forces! And in more recent years, the big data techniques emerging that will also be pushed by market forces. The best way to think about that is the following: In the ABSENCE of the incremental innovation (instagram of x, pinterest for y), I can imagine many future business and technology plans saying: we would like to build this technology, but it is not feasible because it requires a world where everyone is a sensor. Or even better, our new technology can change the world, but it assumes that people / things are digitized.

tl;dr: current crop of startups are creating sensors for big data and other processes. This can create future innovation opps that leverage this big data in new and profound ways. The absence of such startups is a blocker for that future class of innovation.

Hope not too incoherent... typing this at 30,000 feet in a cramped seat.

I think there's a new paradigm in the making, many people are talking about it... but it's young.

The internet of stuff is next!

A lot of the building blocks are in place, personally I think Arduino is a really big component that is driving the revolution and Kickstarter is providing a surprisingly good platform for funding it. However there's still a few missing components. One of the goals of LTE is to power this new network, but existing carrier business models don't seem appropriate. As a consumer I'm really not interested in paying $20 (or more!) a month for each my fridge, and toaster, and television, and door to be connected. Light Squared was a promising push in the right direction, which unfortunately failed.

Along the same lines of networking though, I think there's a lot of really good opportunities for low end hardware. Qualcomm dominates the market in LTE chipsets, but good luck getting access to the developer stuff as an indie user. API's tying all these components together will be essential.

I'd love for this to be true, but I think it isn't. An internet of stuff depends on raw materials being dirt cheap. Unfortunately, during the last five years or so the price of raw materials has started to increase, not decrease, and for reasons so fundamental it's unlikely this process will end soon.

So rather than an internet of stuff the new paradigm in the making will probably have something to with scarcity. No idea what, exactly, but my bet would definitely on a future of scarcity rather than a future of abundance.

3d printing!!!

Is the new future offline?

We have grown attached to our electronic devices and online friends. Maybe we need to step back and think about going back?


We're so enthusiastic about the possibilities the internet offers us that we want to do everything online now, even things we're hardwired to do irl. Inane chatter in real life causes your body to release hormones that make you feel good. Inane chatter on facebook not so much. So maybe the future is indeed that we learn to take the internet for what it is: a fantastic tool for disseminating information and doing business, but nothing more. So the challenge will be to give people meaningful ways to interact with each other in real life now that the human component has been taken out of things like education and shopping.

We're so enthusiastic about the possibilities the internet offers us that we want to do everything online now, even things we're hardwired to do irl.

We're "hardwired" to do everything IRL, simply because we couldn't have evoved to adapt to it in such a small period of time.

But here's others technologies that we weren't "hardwired" for, and which actually "re-wired" us: Language and Agriculture. I'm having an hard time figuring out how doesn't your argument apply to them too.

Inane chatter in real life causes your body to release hormones that make you feel good. Inane chatter on facebook not so much.

Well, I actually find inane chatter to be painful anywhere, but; the Internet is just Facebook now? I'm not hardwired to play online games, but they do make our bodies release dopamine and cortisol, even though we're not hardwired for it.

So maybe the future is indeed that we learn to take the internet for what it is: a fantastic tool for disseminating information and doing business, but nothing more.

But we're not hardwired for that either. How is that application good? Shouldn't we be transmitting information in form of songs, as it's natural?

So the challenge will be to give people meaningful ways to interact with each other in real life now that the human component has been taken out of things like education and shopping.

When was the human component taken out of things like education? And did the introduction of the web really remove a meaningful interaction, or did it just free up time that can now be spent with e.g. your family instead of with salespeople? Because that's my (anecdotal) experience.


Social media does contribute to communications and economic growth, in the same way automobiles have. Social media also has real downsides, in much the same way.

That said, reading about SpaceX excites me much more than reading about Instagram.

There is lots of stuff happening which I hope we'll probably see integrated soon in our mobile phones.

The top two things which I'm waiting to see in my mobile is 1) The lightfield camera and 2) a device like the "sixth sense".

Pick up this magnetic wedding ring and you can feel electro magnetic fields. The massive field microwave puts out is the most amusing one I have found so far. http://www.supermagnetman.net/index.php?cPath=61

is the lytro really all that impressive that you would list it as one of two things you want to see in mobile? i think i would rather see about a dozen other things in mobile before I really cared about shifting focus for my crappy mobile pics - NFC being chief among them

An inovation incentive from consumers would probably work better then the current system.

Shame so much talent is wasted creating so much shit all with the ultimate object of dumbing down the populous to a bunch of media consumers.

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