The Point

5 Things from the Future by Nate Westheimer

I've recently taken notes on the top 5 things in my life which I believe are indicators of what the future looks like:

  1. Twinkle
  2. AppleTV
  3. Silicon Alley Insider
  4. Meetup / The Point / CarrotMob
  5. DonorsChoose & Kiva

Twinkle

Twinkle Screenshot

No need to put the iPhone or Twitter on my list, because the Twinkle application (jailbroken phones only, for now) combines both of these tools and highlights what is most revolutionary about these two phenomenons.

On the surface, Twinkle is just an iPhone client for Twitter, and has an appearance much like the popular desktop client called Twitterific. However, its ability to tap into the iPhone's GPS/location API, as well as it's tie-in with the phone's camera turns the device in your pocket into a geiger counter for social ambiance.

What do I mean? When I open Twinkle, I can press the "Near Me" button and find recent messages and photos posted by folks right near me - whether I know them or not (coincidentally, my friend Patrick Ewing had just messaged as I took this screenshot).

This is a significant departure from other location-based social platforms -- like Dodgeball, Socialight, and BrightKite -- because I am passively being introduced to things occurring in my surrounding, while I'm out and about, rather than just connecting with people I already know when they "check in" or leave geo-specific notes. Instead, these are people chatting away as usual, just with the added meta-data (and thus context) of location and images.

It's about the meta-data, not the data!

(My friend Chris Messina wrote more about this, by the way.)

So, this is Twinkle today -- very cool -- but the Twinkle of the future (or whatever succeeds it) will have more meta-data and more open data (location based data will be shared via Fire Eagle or some other broker/standard), and it will also incorporate more data sources (Upcoming.com's data could alert you to something happening next to you; Facebook's data could tell you when you're near a friend of a friend).

This is the future.

AppleTV

AppleTV

Quick multiple choice exam folks. "Podcasts" have:

  1. Been predicted to really break out in 2004200520062007 2008 ...
  2. Are delivered via open standards (RSS), which means anyone can publish a podcast
  3. Have been adopted by major media, with little success outside public radio example
  4. Are good for major media because they get to control the source files thus ad inventory
  5. Very hard to monetize without critical mass, because getting everyone on one ad platform is hard
  6. For consumers, they are conceptually tethered to iTunes and the iPod (thus the name), creating a glass ceiling for adoption 
  7. All of the above

The answer, of course, is 7 -- "All of the above."

But the AppleTV changes everything you knew about podcasts, new media distribution and new media consumption.

While this first started last fall when a firmware upgrade included access to YouTube's library of videos -- the first time user generated content could be consumed in a "lean back" environment -- the "this is the future" change came in early February, when the device upgrade included a entirely new interaction around it's 100,000 feed library of podcasts.

This new interaction -- which most importantly allowed the user to watch/listen to shows "on demand" (actually an interaction first introduced by Odeo) -- eliminated the clumsy necessity to "subscribe" to a feed, only to listen or view the episode you really wanted. Finally, you could view a podcast episode on-demand.

AppleTV finally lets you surf the video web like you watch TV. Lean back AND surf a never-ending, democratized base of content.

That's powerful. See that screenshot above? Yeah, that's my friend Gary's show, WineLibraryTV, featured next to Larry King -- on my TV? How ridiculous is that?!

That's the future.

Silicon Alley Insider

Okay... roll you eyes... Nate is a contributing writer for Silicon Alley Insider and calling them the future. What a jerk!

But wait! Silicon Alley Insider is not the future, but their approach to journalism certainly is!

What happens when you take professional writers, make them use the veracity-threshold of old media but act like a blog and play with bloggers!?

Folks, if journalism has a future, this is it. Online versions of newspapers are boring and emulating them makes you just as boring; meanwhile, blogs are often amateur, and relying on them will often leave you misinformed.

But, professional blogs, like Insider, combine the best of both worlds... and create a go-to spot for information you NEED to know in a format you CAN easily consume.

Kara Swisher and AllThingsD is another fantastic example of this (she has complete editorial and operational independence from WSJ, though is funded by them).

As traditional newsrooms crumble across America, expect to see more of these hybrid opening up and competing.

They are the future.

Meetup and its followers

Scott Heiferman said the only thing that really stuck with me at last year's Personal Democracy Forum. He said, "The revolution will not be on YouTube."

Indeed it won't. Still today, the most powerful things that happen are when people -- real people -- organize and do something together, in the same location. As powerful as Obama's online fundraising has been, think about how he bootstrapped his grassroots fundraising: by getting large groups assembled, and asking them to donate, in whatever amount they could, some money to his campaign. News reports of tens of thousands-strong demonstrations, even through Barack's toughest weeks of the campaign, propelled him closer to the nomination -- not to mention the people gathering at polls to vote for him.

In fact, in a world where people can just stay at home, donate and phone-bank from their couch, getting people together matters more than ever!

Anyway, Meetups are a great example of this, but there are many new technologies facilitating group action in new exciting way; including:

  • The Point -- think of this service as "tipping point insurance" for group action. What does that mean? With this service you register a goal and ask people to sign-on to the goal. The catch is this: no one has to do anything around that goal (give money, boycott, march, etc) unless the right number of people sign up too. A one man march doesn't mean anything, and a Million Man March only works if a million men show up and are counted. 
  • CarrotMob -- At this point, CarrotMob is more and idea plus one example, but it's pretty compelling. Check out this video:

I started with a quote from Scott Heiferman, so I'll end with something he recently went on record saying:

This kind of thing... -- inventions in group-power -- will have more impact on the future than anything.

I agree. This is the future.

Donors Choose and Kiva

In general terms, charity organizations have always had great intentions, but they've also been terribly inefficient at delivering on their missions because of administrative, supply-chain, and other inefficiencies -- and donors are catching on.

Luckily, organizations like DonorsChoose.org and Kiva.org are revolutionizing the word of philanthropy, and are leveraging the web to make giving feel good again.

So what's the magic of Donors Choose and Kiva? They're great examples of "Just in time Philanthropy" (cool! Google says I just coined this term).

With DonorsChoose.org, teachers register their classroom needs, and people/philanthropists sign-up to meet those needs by donating the exact amount for the project. Then, the money goes straight into the hands of those teachers, with relatively lightweight administration in between. Ask for a pencil and thee shall get a pencil!

With Kiva, I can loan money directly to a business man in a developing country -- the agency doesn't decide what to do with my money, the recipient does. They're just there to make the process run smoothly.

I'd like to see how this model could be extended into other important realms of philanthropy, like food banks.

Why organize a food drive, have a bunch of people bring a bunch of random food to one location, and then find a way to transport that food to a foodbank that does or does not need what you've gathered?! We should take the Donors Choose model, have food banks tell us what they want, and then buy that food on Fresh Direct to be delivered on site! If Fresh Direct had an API like Amazon's we could put this in place and eliminate entire agencies, getting more of the right food in the right hands, directly from those who are giving!

In general, the Internet allows us to be much more direct in our actions and, in many cases, nearly eliminates the need for bloated agencies and NGOs.

"Just in time Philanthropy" is most definitely the future!