There was a time when men were men and Web pages were Web pages. But cats and dogs are now best friends and everything online is an app. Today it's an app but tomorrow it's likely more than that - a whole, integrated, real-time Web that's half experienced on your own time and half experienced with together with others.
The rise of the Alive Web, as industry veteran Om Malik called it in reference to red-hot music sharing startup Turntable.fm, points toward a new way of experiencing websites, apps, music and other media: together with other people, in different real-world places but at the same time and in sync. Facebook's big announcements today at the F8 developer's platform included a hearty nod towards a Web of synchronous experiences. That's what Facebook's integration with Spotify, Netflix and lots of other apps is all about.
Facebook announced today that users will be prompted to listen to music together in Spotify, to watch video together in Netflix and Hulu, even to cook food and run in the park at the same time, if not literally together, using a whole host of other apps that can now tie into Facebook. APIs will deliver real-time notifications to Facebook friends and let those friends experience whatever functionality the apps deliver.
Facebook calls it real time serendipity and discovery will be a big part of it - but the experience of doing things together will go beyond discovery and change the way things are done.
Check out how Om Malik described this kind of experience in a blog post from June.
"Today, we have nearly a billion wired broadband connections and over half-a-billion fast wireless connections (HSPA, HSPA+, LTE and WiMAX.) And those numbers are growing. If you can ignore the poor nature of wireless networks, we now have seamless connectivity. From an iPhone to an iPad to a Macbook Air (or PC and Android equivalents), people can always be connected. This connectivity offers an opportunity to create a different kind of Internet experience that's more immersive and interactive. And that persistent connection is what allows us to create and experience the Alive Web. I think Chatroulette was an early signal of the Alive Web, although the world instead focused on the vileness of its content...
"I remember as a kid, my friends and I would congregate at a local tea shop (aka chai-walla) which would have cricket commentary live on the radio. We would feel the collective joy and agony of the game. It was the analysis of the game with my friends that made the game much more fun. Perhaps even today, for me, baseball games are best enjoyed in the company of friends (or absolute strangers in a bar.) Or shared through services such as Twitter.
"Seamless connectivity allows us to mimic many offline behaviors online, and interactions are part of that mega-trend...
"Tomorrow's apps and services need to not only be social and mobile, but they need to be engaging and immediate. They should have the ability to signal to us that there is someone on the other side of the wire."
Malik called out Facebook specifically in that post for feeling solitary and unengaging. I expect that people will feel very different about real-time Facebook with the arrival of the forthcoming social features.
It will be different though. It will make some people uncomfortable. There will be new social norms, etiquette, media phenomena and cultural understandings all rise from this fundamentally new way of experiencing the Web.
Can Facebook pull it off? Time will tell, but it's clear that the company is making a big play in this direction that will impact hundreds of millions of people. It may very well feel like an entirely new generation of Facebook and it could change the world in big ways, again.