YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET
Seeing the flurry of companies making their presentations at the overflowing and well-covered Web 2.0 Conference (my earlier post on this here), it's becoming clearer to many more that the the traditional ways that mainstream consumers have used PC software and today's relatively static Internet services is about to change.
We're entering the blizzard stage of Web 2.0 companies and services.
One has only to look at the diversity of companies introducing new products and services (good lists here at Buzzmachine) to see that both early adopters geeks like myself and mainstream internet users are about to be seeing a flood of cool things they can be doing to make their lives easier, better, more fun, less stressful, and generally cooler and hipper.
That is if you invest the time in subscribing to each of these services. After all, it's an "easy" user experience...just sign up and register. Typically, you have to do the following, in each instance:
"First, click here to sign up.
Do make sure that you read all the fine print in our User Agreement over here...just scroll down and down and down and down...there you are...now you can click on "I Agree" and you're all set.
(Yes, we do now have access to every bit of digital content you now use/own or will ever use/own, and can share it with our dozens and dozens of marketing partners from all over the world for all of time, to bring you additional new products and services into your capacious email inbox).
(THIS NEXT SECTION IS SOMETIMES REQUIRED IF THE SERVICE REQUIRES THE USER TO INSTALL SOME ADDITIONAL SOFTWARE...IF NOT SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH) Just click on this download button and don't mind those little check boxes that are already checked for your convenience...they'll just facilitate your receiving great stuff from us and our many partners for eons to come. Now find the software installation package on your desktop, click on it, and start the installation. Again, to be helpful, our installation package will install multiple ways to access all our products and services when you start up your computer, in your "Start" Menu, in your "User tray", your desktop and your "Quick Launch" menu. We may also ask that you make us the default choice for a bunch of things that you may have perfectly good other software for from our competitors. Now we can't have that now, can we?
Also, great news! If you thought pop-ups were cool, you ain't seen nothing yet. Because you're now using cool Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX and soon Atlas from Microsoft, you'll all get all these cool, flashy, animated, flying and buzzing reminders on using our service all the time on your computer screen, often with loud sound and video...especially when you're visiting our competitors' websites. Won't that be the cat's meow?
Now, (LAUNCH THE SOFTWARE IF REQUIRED OR GO TO OUR SIGN UP WEB PAGE), just type in a user name, and a preferred password. Oh, and now type it in again. Also, please type in this meaningless Captcha phrase into this little box over here so that we can make sure you're a human being and not a spammy computer bot. You can't read the light gray on dark gray typeface? Didn't you leave your glasses upstairs on the night-stand in the bedroom? Got them? Good.
Oh, you're not done yet...now you have to go and check your email for an email from us.
Found it? Good...now look for that loooong URL and click on it to "activate" your subscription/registration to our super-cool service. Your email service is text only? No problem, just cut and paste it from the email into your browser window...now be careful not to drop the 179th character in that URL!
Now go back to our home page again (remember where you last left it?) and check out our cool Flash demo on how to use our service. Be sure to look through our copious FAQ and/or KnowledgeBase for any answers to your questions on how to use our service to the fullest.
And if you can't find the answer there, check out our user forums (oh, you'll have to register separately for those) for an answer to your installation and/or user problem/question.
Still can't find it? Why just get in our email queue and we'll be sure to get back to you right after Christmas. Phone number? Why we don't use regular phones anymore, dontcha know? It's Web 2.0 and all...
Oh, and don't forget to bookmark us, on your current computer...and your home computer...did you also bookmark us on your laptop? By the way, if you have a cell phone/wireless PDA, you can also bookmark a mobile version of our service there.
Now, you're all set to get started. First you have to give some information to make our service truly life-changing for you. You can import it from your favorite PC and/or Internet services. Remember to make sure you convert the data from their file format to ours. You can always convert it back. It'll only take a few hours going through our FAQ/Knowledgebase/User Forums that we mentioned above.
Also, you may want to look at the following plug-ins/extensions/add-ons that will make your life soooo much more better and productive if you add them now. And do remember to download and install them on your other computers that you're using our service on, won't you?
And, if they're from many of our great third-party partners, you'll have to sign up and register for those services as well.
Make sure you upgrade your software when we release our next beta next week, and the week after, and the week after...well, at least until the cows come home. Don't worry...it'll be an easy install.
Now remember, you have a free trial for now, but pretty soon we'll be bugging the crap out of you every time you start up your PC (work, home, laptop, cellphone/PDA...pretty much anywhere you downloaded our little starter application into), to sign up for our premium paid service.
Yes, we'll be bothering you to do this until infinity, and you'll have to hire a computer consultant to uninstall our software from all your machines if you decide not to pay to use our service.
Finally, can we please ask you fill out this little ol' online survey on what you think of our service so far?...."
Ok, so maybe I exaggerated a bit...or am I?.
The important thing is that we're going from a world where we may have half a dozen to a dozen such services that we put up with this from today to literally hundreds, if not thousands over the next few years.
For each service you may be interested in it (say a next-next generation search service like the upcoming Kozoru), there'll be at least two if not more other competing services you'll want to check out as well. For every cool music recommendation service like Mercora, there'll be a few more that may have bells and whistles the first one may not. And new platforms, er, sorry, "Playgrounds" like Ning (my post here) will only make ancillary services around the infinitely long tail of these applications proliferate like rabbits in that Visa commercial.
The point is the user will need to go through some variant of the above "sign-up experience" for each one, evaluate it over a period of time and then decide which one to go with. But unlike desktop software of yesteryear where upgrades and revisions typically took months if not years, the "perpetual beta" mantra of Web 2.0 means that you'll be in "perpetual evaluation" mode for your core services (see Seth Godin's excellent summary of Tim O Reilly's Web 2.0 slide that mentions perpetual evaluation here).
None of these problems are new for customers/consumers of technology driven products and services. We're used to fast evolving and constantly obsolescing PCs, DVD players, MP3 players and WiFi routers.
But this time we're going from linear growth to growth curves that are more exponential and combinatorial. The last is key because the increasing "mix and match" interoperability of the various consumer web services. Your Flickr feeds can be used in your blog, your favorite social networks, your instant messaging services etc.
Consider this, in the ten years that we've had the wonderful pleasure of using Yahoo!, a little more than 10% of their approximately 400 million global unique users subscribe to the personalization offered by My Yahoo! One wonders how many of those 40 million My Yahoo! users actively change their personalization settings after setting it up for the first time.
And yet it's the cat's meow of uber-web personalization services offering ALMOST everything you can think of...much like an AOL of the 1990s without the screeching modems and busy signals.
The average mainstream user (read your/my mom, non-geek friend or relative) will NOT put up with the complexity of adding/learning/managing and then personalizing all these services.
And if they do put up with it and download/register once, they'll more than likely will not become regular, active users.
I mean ask yourself...how many times did you download an application and actually use it more than a few times?
Getting over this giant mainstream adoption hump will be the bane of the existence of most of these next-generation consumer Internet services...and it's going to be tougher going than in Web 1.0 (1994-2001), PC 2.0 (post Windows 3.0-1990) and PC 1.0 (1982-1990).
All this goes to VC Fred Wilson's timely, implicit question in his post titled "Point Services vs. End -to-end Services":
"One of the central tenets of Web 2.0 thinking is that lightweight "point solutions" that can be stitched together by the consumer are preferable to end to end solutions that are stitched together by the service provider".
We're at the "invent it and see if it sticks" phase of this second cycle of the commercial web, now increasingly infected with "let's fund it/invest it/and quickly flip it" to the next Big Internet and/or Incumbent company that is hungry to catch up with the Web 2.0 hype and technological realities.
We're at the "we know it's just a feature, but maybe we can build a company and business model around it", stage (again!), and if not, we can always flip it to one of the above-mentioned companies who need these features (aka Point Solutions) for their product and/ service suites.
So it's manna from heaven for early adopter geeks, entrepreneurs and investors...but remember it's not mainstream until your mom asks you for user name on this "really cool" service she's started to use...