Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 20, 2012 4:09 PM

The Impermanent Internet

The Internet is like an elephant: it never forgets.

Whether it's a deep cache, a like on Facebook, a retweet, a simple Google search, a screen capture or more, it seems like the Internet is a massive repository for everything that we do - in text, images, audio and video - that lives on in perpetuity (whether we like it or not). For some, that is a good thing. For others, it can be somewhat regrettable. In my first book, Six Pixels of Separation, I make the case for being both active in the online channels and careful of how you create content within it, because it will always be a part of search results, algorithms or more. As the digital age evolves, we are also allocating real value to digital items (think about the e-books that you buy or the songs that you pick up on iTunes). We pay for digital things (and value them) much in the same way that we buy physical items. But, what if the future of the Internet wasn't about that. What if the future of the Internet was no longer about creating the same value for digital items that we have for physical items. What if the future of the Internet wasn't about creating these long legacies and online diaries of our lives in multimedia? What if the future of the Internet was about fast, temporary pieces of content that are here right now and gone a little bit after that?

The temporary Internet of things.

It started with Netflix and Spotify. Suddenly, there is no need to own a handful of movies or music when - for a subscription fee - you can have access to entire libraries of content on-demand. The value of content shifted from owning stuff to having access to everything. It suddenly became worth it to not own anything in lieu of having access to everything. Ownership of content is becoming less and less important to consumers as streaming becomes more and more accessible. While some will simply glaze over this shift in consumerism, it is a massive deal in terms of understanding the new consumer. More recently, Snapchat, has been gaining momentum (hat-tip to Joseph Jaffe for introducing it to me). With Snapchat, users take a picture (or short video) and send it to friends via their smartphones. That's no great innovation. What makes Snapchat interesting is that the picture (or video) can only be seen by the recipient for a couple of seconds after they have opened it. After that, poof! It's gone (like Keyser Soze). All of the content shared on Snapchat is temporary. So, what's the point? Young people are currently driving the growth of Snapchat (which many people see as a contender to the Instagram throne) because of that very reason. They have no need to keep this stuff on a hard drive, they're creating content much in the same way we used to have conversations in the pre-Internet days (did you ever think of archiving your face-to-face conversations?). They're also probably flocking to Snapchat because it's not Facebook or Twitter (where their parents and teachers are). Sure, you can grab a screenshot of a picture sent to you (which, when done, Snapshot sends a notification to the creator of the content that this has taken place) and yes, it's also known to also have tons of porn on it (go, figure), but there is something happening here that is worth studying: perhaps this is the beginning of a new, temporary, kind of Internet that none of us ever expected.

The digital hoarder.

There's no doubt that there is a massive need for better management and storage of our digital selves (from banking and health records to family pictures and the documents that we create), but beyond that, are we moving into an era of enlightenment that doesn't require us to store, keep and manage things like a quick little chat between friends and more? Snapchat may well be a fad, but it could also be the continuum of something more. At the end of last week, All Things D ran a news item titled, Facebook to Launch Its Own Snapchat Competitor App. From the article: "Facebook is currently testing its own built-in-house version of a 'Snapchat-like' application, a messaging app that allows users to send impermanent photo messages to one another, according to sources familiar with the matter... Facebook's new app is another in a string of the company's aggressive movements into the friend-to-friend communications space." Suddenly, having content that we create with the full knowledge that it will both self-destruct and be impermanent, could well usher in a new kind of content and consumer.

I don't know about you, but I'm fascinated by this and the marketing applications and opportunities that come with it.

By Mitch Joel