Alexander van Elsas wrote an incredibly thought provoking post about the future of the social web, if you haven't yet read it then I would advise heading over there before continuing here.
He defines the web 2.0 era as being that where "every user can be a public figure" due to the relative ease in which we can broadcast ourselves and our personal brand to thousands via the various social networking services we have available.
He argues that the changing habits of new generations - who seem to prefer to keep their information private except for their closed circle - will shape the way services in the social space will operate in future. Rather than services aiming to meet the masses he says that there will instead be smaller communities but with more intense interactions resulting in a need for business models which scale down instead of up as at present.
So, will the next wave of services counter the rush towards a global village and instead concentrate more on local, more personalised agendas?
I can agree with Alexander's ideas to a point but I can see the focus in the social web splitting and going two ways - there will be a bipolar existence but the extremes will not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
Julian Baldwin has said that Web 3.0 will beget a 'larger conversation' as new bloggers will benefit from the links we provide to the 'established audience' and that those newcomers will be able to build a following much quicker than anyone in the web 2.0 era. While this may be true to a degree I feel that the shift will occur because of the continuing ease with which technology allows us to produce our own 'Truman Shows'.
Rather than die out, the global conversation will continue to grow; there will always be ego-warriors or web superstars but as it continues to get easier to build a presence we will have a greater number instead of an 'elite' group of A-listers. There will be more people with greater access, greater penetration and a greater public profile as the technology to create and distribute the content that we create becomes ever simpler.
Not only is our ability to produce content enhanced but the next generation has an immediate advantage over us; they are growing up with the tools and services as part of their everyday lives. Unlike those of us who have had to adapt to life in the web 2.0 - or even web 1.0 - age our children will be increasingly more comfortable, and familiar with the technology at their disposal allowing for better use to be made of it. There will be less time wondering about the 'how' and more spent on the 'what'.
On the other side there will be, as Alexander says, an increased focus on smaller, more specific communities - maybe for discreet functions, jobs, localities or interests. These smaller dedicated networks will allow a much greater depth of interaction and immersion as they seek to use the benefits of the social web to address specific issues or needs. This is already occurring with services such as Ning but the facilities, uptake and opportunities will increase dramatically.
These smaller networks will focus less on the individual but more on facilitating connections within the group and on the actual 'output' - the results achieved by the group, the cumulative effort.
Despite the radical differences in approach between these two extremes there will not necessarily be a separation of the two spheres - there will always be crossover. People will not want to become isolated and retire exclusively into their small networks but there will be a necessity to withdraw to these think tanks in order to achieve the required results.
The global conversation will be the melting pot where ideas form, themes are created and trends emerge; these ideas will be taken back to the subject specific groups where they will get chewed up, reworked, refined and spat back out to the global conversation. The smaller groups will focus on those things that would otherwise get lost or diluted amongst the global conversation, their output will then supply and maybe even re-influence and direct the larger conversation.
Best of both
I feel we are therefore looking at an amalgam of both Alexander and Julian's ideas but people will drift between the global and local conversations as needed. Perhaps the way the conversations are held will change but the two streams will still exist and both get ever more prevalent.
Because of the juxtaposition of the two spheres of communication I would disagree with Alexander when he says that the next generation will move away from the want to have a public appearance but not in the way you would expect me to disagree.
The ego-warriors in the global sphere will always want to be in peoples faces and making names for themselves - that is just human nature. The fact that more people may be putting themselves in this position, however, means that less emphasis will be placed upon those who do. We only have one Robert Scoble in our web 2.0 world (some may say thank goodness) but in future there will be many with this type of exposure and penetration - it will no longer be such a novelty.
In the local sphere I imagine public appearance to become of even greater importance but not in the exhibitionist way we are currently used to. Instead, the emphasis will shift to the 'public' further encouraging us to take our online relationships offline and increase the actual face to face interaction almost as a backlash to the virtual world we are currently inhabiting.
The shift to more focused, smaller communities will allow this to happen as you will only be trying to organise meetings with a finite group improving the relationships within it, but it will not be at the expense of the global conversation.
Is it impossible to predict where online interaction will take us? Where do you see yourself contributing?
Image by Crystal.