Best of the Past: Living in the Immersive Age Now

January 26, 2008

After my initial post about the Immersion Age, Steve left me this little comment:

…I’m not convinced [that there is a difference between an Immersion Age and Information Age], mostly because if you read about the early Internet it was always supposed to be fully participatory – see When Wizards Stay up Late. To me participation and immersion are just continuations of the trends, this is all still part of the Information Age … we’re only at the beginning….

Information Age: We lived like a solo alpha male/female of primitive times, looking across the field for signs of interest and of importance (ie a fresh kill, a water spring, a bush full of berries). There was a rush to claim that knowledge as our own for our own survival, and did not linger long enough to gather further information (who killed the animal, why is there water here). We returned to these sites with frequency, but there may have been long periods of waiting between these gathering sessions, or we may have moved on to discover new sites of interest, new thresholds of information to use. If we bumped into another person, we shared some of our knowledge and took some of theirs, but these interactions were short.

Immersion Age: We are still a solo being, but we have collected together in multiple tribes, with connections between the tribes being apparent to others, or only to ourselves. Instead of “spot to spot,” we’re more likely to enter one of the tribes’ homes to search out for our information first. When we sit amongst the tribe groups, the information being exchanged between people is endless- and it’s everywhere: written on walls, garbage left on the floor, a piece of leather passed onto us. We receive information both when we request it and when we don’t, and all of it is likely to be valuable in one way or another. Our way of survival is as a settled tribe, an agrarian way of life. When we want something, we look around our tribe or go out into the field to the row of food and get what we need. Things are more available now than ever before.

There are a lot of companies and websites recognizing this shift in the way people are behaving on the internet. During the Information Age, for example, people had floating websites that were rarely connected to some kind of ring/network, then they had an email account on a different webpage/server, and their own collection of bookmarks. To get to their email, they had to surf away from their current site or open up another program. To chat with someone, they had to open up ICQ or MSN.

But in the Immersion Age, all of these applications are being combined into centralized suites, or will be soon. Let’s take two well known examples, and one who is less known, that are leading the way in this new age.

Google

Once upon a time, they were a search engine and that’s about it. They’re still thought of as only a search engine for many people, but their services are expanding rapidly. Google doesn’t want to be just a portal to other websites through its search engine; it wants you to use Google for search, for finding maps, for searching the news and news groups. Less than two years ago, they added Gmail so you could do your email from Google, but not only that, you could search from your email account to the internet, have instant messaging conversations with others on the Google network, and read syndicated newsfeeds of blogs. Close at hand is their Blogger application, soon they’ll integrate the online word processor, Writely. It’s probably only a matter of time before they buy a site like Pandora or Last.fm so you can listen to music while doing your email, chatting, and reading blogs all from the comfort of one site, one tribe.

Myspace

Myspace operates differently than Google, but no two tribes are perfectly alike anyways. Myspace has grown because of people working within the environment they’ve built to write their blogs, send messages to other members, listen to music from bands they’ve discovered through a search or friends, build up their networks of friends, explore other networks of friends, look through classifieds, watch music videos, and so on. People spend time on Myspace to explore and see what’s out there. They could do that through doing a web search, but they’re more likely to enjoy themselves if they start with someone they’re familiar with and see where it takes them. With a strong userbase of over 50 million, Myspace can expand in a lot of directions, just like Google, but Myspace keeps people within the Myspace Network, unlike Google where the opportunities to exist through a casual link are all to available. The only thing Myspace lacks is really a way to transfer money to people, handling business exchanges without a third party (credit card, bank, PayPal) entering into the equation.

Goowy

Goowy has started out like Google, by offering the basic service of email to its users. But since that intial stage, they have a way to organize Contacts, a Calendar application, and a virtual desktop from which you can keep to-do lists, read blog feeds, look at photos from Flickr.com, watch live updates of the weather, amongst others. They have a collection of games you can play within their site, and will soon be adding on public file storage and another instant messaging application that will work with AIM, MSN, Yahoo, etc. Like Google, Goowy works to keep you within their framework as much as possible, but unlike Google and like Myspace, one of their strengths is also moving forward with the entertainment value of their site. Google offers only their chat platform without a user going to a different site; Myspace has a strong media presence, and has a weak instant messaging platform right now. Goowy will be integrating the chat platform with their existing environment full of games and minis (widgets) for photos and other fun forms of information. With most of their minis, you enter the information once, and it will continue to update everytime you log on, or spend time on the site until you tell it not to. There is no constant searching for the same information over and over again. And like Google, they’re making a lot of this accessible on the desktop. You can move seamlessly from Goowy on the desktop to Goowy on the web.

What all three have in common is their ability to keep you using their sites until you’ve exhausted your time with them. This is different from Hotmail where your time spent there was dictated by when you were finished writing/reading/sorting emails. Theoretically, you could continue that loop forever, but for most there would be some form of finiteness to it. This is made obvious when you think about the initial time you sign onto a service like Hotmail versus Google/Myspace/Goowy.

With Hotmail, you’ll have an empty mailbox and empty list of contacts until you start sending email, share your address with others, set up your calendar, and so forth. Once you email X amount of people, enter X amount of people’s addresses into the contact list, you’re still left with an empty mailbox until they write you back. Your work is pretty much done after the basic set-up, so you leave to do other work while waiting. When you sign onto Myspace, you have an empty mailbox, profile, friendslist, etc. But after doing the basic set-up (which can be as basic or advanced as you want to make it), you can start browsing the 50 million other profiles, listen to their music and download the files, look through the classifieds, etc. You could do that forever and still not get through all the profiles as more are added every minute, and eventually, you’ll have to deal with messages and instant messaging from friends.

In the Immersive Age, you can live within these environments 24/7 and not get bored, whereas with the Information Age, you can quickly become bored of visiting the same sites. The Immersive Age grants you an endless supply of not just information, but with a large quantity of people to connect with (who are themselves an even larger bank of information, but a nonstatic bank).

And, of course, this is only referring to the way we use the Internet right now- all of this can be applied to the real world, as well- but that is for a future post.

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