Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Internet of the here and now

There is a new trend that's growing in the digital world. I like to call it 'the internet of the here and now'. It's not a new concept. The philosophy of 'carpe diem' (Seize the day) dates back to pre-Christian times in the Western world, and is equally well accepted in the Eastern philosophical systems. To cast off the past and stop worrying about the future, because only the present minute is given to us. Different ways to say the same thing. Live in the here and the now

Yet, as the internet grows, it has become a repository of things from our past. We are constantly adding our personal scrapbooks of memories, ideas and opinions to blogs, social networks and forums, stuff from the past is getting digitized, and the sheer amount of data we generate is growing at an unimaginable pace. Coming from a legacy of PCs and hard drives, we are concerned about how much we can store, in the cloud, in our accounts, in digital lockers like Dropbox and Google Drive. We still feel in control if we can search and retrieve some email from ages ago which helps us to answer an important question today.

But we are human, and the appeal of the transient and the impermanent continues to be strong. As the internet matures, the 'here and the now' is featuring more and more prominently on the digital landscape, in the form of apps, services and even social media, that try to persuade us to live in the present moment, not in the past. 

Here are some of the top indicators of this trend:

1) Snapchat grows beyond its teen appeal

Until recently most adults knew Snapchat as a messaging app used by young people to send self-destructing photos and videos with a caption - a concept that amused them and presumably triggered a lot of plain foolish, and some risque content to be passed around. But Snapchat has grown out of this mode. The mobile app made headlines for its unique coverage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. Snapchat sent all its users a set of curated photos from users who were live at the event, offering a very different and candid perspective of what it felt like to be in the stadium during the match. There is an even more interesting feature that Snapchat has added, currently available only in New York and L.A. Called geofilters, it is a functionality that allows users to add context-sensitive labels and drawings to their Snaps based on the location. For example, if you are at Disneyland, you can add a Disney logo to your Snap. As if this were not enough, there are now even rumors that Snapchat will start a mobile payment system. Which has given rise to many jokes about your money disappearing. But still, the once-infantile app is using some pretty creative ways to lure users into its ephemeral world.

2) Sobrr, the 24 hour social network

Snapchat came before Sobrr, but it was reading about Sobrr that actually inspired me to write this post. It is a social network that erases everything after 24 hours - photos, posts, even friends (unless you choose to keep them). Founder Bruce Yang says "Sobrr encourages people to go out and live in the moment. The fact that everything will disappear keeps the user engaged with things in the present."

You can see how true this perspective is, if you take a typical Facebook scenario. Several people (some of them strangers) have met up for a party that gets progressively more boozy and stupid (or wild). Next morning, you receive several friend requests on Facebook from people you chatted with for hours and you are not sure if you want them to be permanent contacts on Facebook who know everything about your life. Meanwhile some other enthusiastic people have tagged you in some photos that you'd rather not be tagged in. Get the difference? Facebook is about our past, it's about our relationships and how we manage our image. Sobrr is the network of short time friends - the area of socialising, rather than building and sustaining relationships.

3) Facilitators of spontaneity - Vayable and RoadTrip

Geolocation is the hottest technology powering apps today. Knowing exactly where people are helps companies to personalise and localise offerings. Google has a head start, but more and more interesting offerings are entering the market place.

Vayable is a travel app designed to defy the common wisdom that people like to plan every detail of their foreign vacation in advance. Targeted at a young demographic that wants to infuse the free-spiritedness and spontaneity of their youth into their travel experience, Vayable lets users book spontaneous experiences from local guides, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes in advance. Incidentally, the local guides are all handpicked by the company as experts and insiders who can offer their own unique and colorful perspective, ensuring that as a user, you get an offbeat experience compared to a regular tour.

Roadtrip Mixtape is a simple and charming app that ties up the music playing on your phone or tablet with the place you are visiting - for example, musicians who hail from the places that you are passing through. Since the recommendations are location-based rather than genre based, you will hear an interesting and whimsical mix of music depending on the route you are travelling.

Pinterest has launched a similar location-based feature on their mobile app. If you are near a location that you have pinned earlier, the app will notify you, and even give you step by step instructions on how to get there. Obviously such a feature also triggers discovery, which is another big theme of the modern internet.

On a lighter note, living in the here and now can also have its weird side. General Motors in China recently demonstrated a prototype app called DiDi Plate which lets Android users text car owners simply by scanning their license plates. Want to flag down a taxi driver? Want to send an abusive message to a lousy driver who nearly banged into you? Or want to ask the cute guy you noticed in the traffic jam out on a date? It's all possible in the internet of the here and the now. Ask and you shall receive :)


Sources : TechRadarMashableVenture Beat, Fast CompanyEngadget