The anatomy of a networked digital life

Our digital life is being extended in multiple ways every day, not only by new software but also by new hardware and experiences being created that merge the social, physical and technological worlds we inhabit. I have been trying to piece together a framework for describing where we are today from the perspective of the design of future systems. This is important to me because I feel we are continuously responding to very small events in an over-hyped fashion.

Take for example, About.me, which was acquired by AOL for millions of dollars. It is a simple concept, definitely not new. However it is presented in a really nice format and did very well in its launch phase (got 400K users in its launch). It is about establishing a collated personal identity on the web. Incrementally, the venture adds nothing to the state of innovation, but (at least in AOL’s mind) adds a service to the existing offering making it more attractive. What is additionally interesting is that they raised over US$400K as initial funding, which reminds us there is money waiting to be spent. It is not just the investors, but a large part of the worldwide social networks, that contribute to this success.  

Different applications that have been successful across social and professional networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (I am actually surprised that WordPress has not gone social in the same way). They have been targeted at solving a specific need in a specific manner. If we were to think in terms of a generic breakup, the anatomy would consist of:

  • Identity: This is both one’s own identification and also the identification of groups and networks we participate in. Each group and network is also a collection of identities. A related sub-dimension is Privacy.
  • Content: This is the second dimension and spans both user generated content (self) and explicitly (e.g. collaboration) or implicitly (self) networked content generated as a result of activities that we perform on the network. Related sub-dimensions are of the experiences, skills and attitudes we need to contextualize (e.g. location or service), aggregate, organize, present, propagate and personalize this content.
  • Analytics: This dimension refers to the aggregation, analysis, reporting and insight into the Identity and the Content dimensions.

So far, we have not gone beyond these three dimensions. The paradigm is structurally similar to pre-Web 2.0 days when we talked about content, community, commerce and collaboration, the 4Cs or later with Sramana Mitra’s Web 3.0 = 4Cs + P + VS (content, community, commerce, context plus personalization plus vertical search) formula. So much has changed, but this remains pretty much the same.

I am not sure there exist other dimensions. In the last five years, these three dimensions have been rethought with the focus on the network rather than the commerce, giving agency to individual expression and the freedom of free.

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