October 14, 2009

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The older I get, the earlier it seems.

So many gone things once looked like final stages: AM radio, nuclear bombs, FM, stereo, FM stereo, TV, color TV, quadrophonic sound, answer machines, PCs, online services, bulletin boards, home PBXes, newsgroups, instant messaging, cell phones, HD, browsing, pirate radio, free wi-fi, friending, tweeting.

Yeah, some of those aren’t gone yet, but don’t count on their staying around. Not in their current forms.

Three conditions have been profoundly increased by technology during my brief (62.2 year) lifetime: connectivity, autonomy and abundance. Those have been provided respectively by the Net, personal computing, and data processing and storage. I can now connect with anybody or anything pretty much anywhere I go, as an autonomous actor rather than a captive dependent on some company’s silo or walled garden. I can also access, accumulate and put to use many kinds of information of relevance to myself and my world.

Some creepy dependencies are still involved, such as the ones I have with ISPs and phone companies. But I believe even those will become substitutable services in the long run, much as the best “cloud” services are also becoming substitutable utilities.

I haven’t said that all this is a Good Thing. In fact I’m not sure it is. Meaning I’m not sure it has been good for us, or our world, that we have drifted so far from the hunting and gathering animals we were when we diasporized out of Africa during the last Ice Age. Perhaps we have adapted well without evolving at all. Think about it.

We are, if nothing else (and yes, we are much else) a pestilence on the planet. Few creatures other than rats and microbes are more widespread, or have done more to eat and alter the Earth’s contents and its living dependents. Sure, I’m enjoying it too. But at some point the party ends. When it does, what do we go home to?

Anyway, this all comes to mind while reading Nick Carr‘s The eternal conference call. His bottom lines are killer:

  The flaw of synchronous communication has been repackaged as the boon of realtime communication. Asynchrony, once our friend, is now our enemy. The transaction costs of interpersonal communication have fallen below zero: It costs more to leave the stream than to stay in it. The approaching Wave promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we’ll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds. Welcome to the conference call that never ends. Welcome to Wave hell.

It’s the latest among Nick’s Realtime Chronicles. As always, strong stuff.

The original was born during a writing project David Sifry and I were doing for . Late at night David pinged me and said “Look at this,” and I was amazed. It was the first search engine for what we then called The Live Web (and now call Real Time). Basically, it was a search engine that just paid attention to RSS, which back then consisted mostly of blogs. (I welcome corrections from David, or anybody, on that. It’s been awhile.) When David made Technorati a company, he put me on its advisory board, and for awhile I had some influence on where it went and what it did. It was also, for many subjects, my primary search engine. If I wanted to follow conversation about a subject, Technorati was where I went first. I also liked the way it allowed me to look at a topic’s trending over the last few weeks or months. Technorati was also a technical pioneer, introducing tag search, along with new standards and practices around tagging in general. After Google Blogsearch came along, I used both, but Technorati was usually my first choice. I especially liked s.technorati.com, which gave the same results through a plain no-bullshit search UI.

Over the years, however, Technorati came to value popularity and buzz more than the kind of stuff I was looking for. Some of the same functionality was there, but it was buried deeper and deeper. For example, feeds of searches. If I wanted to subscribe to feeds of, say, a search for Nokia N900, I could click on something that said (or meant) “get a feed for this search.” Google Blogsearch had the same feature, and made it easy. Still does, giving me a choice of Blog Alerts, Atom and RSS, under a heading that says “Subscribe”. Twitter search, similarly, has “feed for this query”.

Without being able to find that feed easily, I lost interest in Technorati, only going there when I couldn’t find the results I wanted elsewhere. By that time David and most of the other people I knew at Technorati had moved on, so I didn’t have much interest in volunteering advice.

But I learned this morning (via Twitter, naturally) that Technorati had gone through an overhaul. It’s certainly faster and less cluttered. But I still can’t find feeds for searches. Trending seems to be gone, or hidden where I can’t find it. And I have no idea how to do tag searches with it. Maybe that’s because, as CEO Richard Jalichandra explains here, “We’re eliminating many of Technorati.com‘s annoyances and some features, especially ones people didn’t use enough to justify the cost. Instead, we’re focusing on delivering the value people really want from us: instead of boiling the ocean to make coffee, we’re aiming to deliver the non-fat soy latte you asked for.”

Well, that “you” isn’t me. Which is cool. Technorati has become less a search company and more a media company. They launched Technorati Media at the same time. It’s a way to buy and sell ads. I wish them well with it. (Hey, Techcruch likes it.)

Meanwhile I’ll stick with Google Blogsearch for my live Web searching.

Wonder what the rest of ya’ll think.