The Fourth Age of the Social Internet

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Contributed by Andy Newton

It is said that the original purpose of the Internet was for military purposes; to reduce the number of green-screen terminals proliferating in the offices of DoD administrators or to allow researches to exchange data regarding nuclear warhead testing or to link radar installations. Whatever those intents, the men-at-arms who wanted this digital thoroughfare quickly lost control. Things like electronic mail and terminal talk easily found a home in the first age of the Internet, and this thing meant for the clash of armies has always been a social medium.

Those days were followed by an age of hyper-linking, hyper-media, and the World Wide Web. Then came the pundit-named “Social Media” age, consisting first of weblogs and RSS but now dominated by micro-blogging and 140-character hyper-blogging.

Today we are witnessing the dawn of the fourth age of this social experiment: hyper-specialization – the exchange of very specific data for very special purposes. Hyper-specialization is the melding of hyper-media with social media for specific applications, and it combines the “standing on the shoulders of giants” aspect of human progression with the speed and power of the Internet. It is technical evolution for the everyday man.

Consider PartyFine Records. When they posted the song “Paint a Smile On Me” to SoundCloud, they were drawing on the power of hyper-specialization to promote their artist, Black Yaya. Soon after, a young artist named Badamix in Marseille, France, took “Paint a Smile On Me” and produced the Badamix remix.

PartyFine Records knew what they were doing. They were drawing on the culture of remixing that has grown-up around SoundCloud’s unique sound playback features, where artists collaborate together to make songs. Today, whole musical careers are being made based on remixing.

SoundCloud itself is remixed, or as programmers today call it, “mashed up”. Other websites mix in SoundCloud features and build upon it to create even more specialized music-sharing experiences. 8tracks.com uses SoundCloud for sharing playlists legally using provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and the fan-driven site IndieShuffle.com pulls together the music playback features of SoundCloud with the commenting features of Facebook to deliver curated music for the “Indie” and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genres.

Over at Thingiverse.com, another type of hyper-specialization is occurring. Instead of songs, the stock in trade is mechanical drawings. Here users are immersed into the MakerBot world of 3D printing, digitally creating and recreating real-world objects with for-the-home, computer-controlled, industrial robots. And they use the tailored features of Thingiverse.com site to search, upload, and download CAD designs so they can drive the gears of their digital cottage factories. What do they design? What do they bring to life? Everything from special-purpose wrenches to iPhone cases to jewelry to gun parts. The site boasts that it now has over 100,000 3D models and growing.

Hyper-specialization comes in more casual forms as well. The users of Strava exchange running and cycling routes, noting which streets have friendly traffic patterns and which hills will turn a light afternoon 5K into a struggle. Fitbit users can taunt each other with their weight loss measured by WiFi-enabled scales, and they help each other out by cataloging nutritional data on foods so that each user can adjust their daily diet. And Waze users combine the hyper-specialization of their GPS-enabled driving app with hyper-collectivism to let each other know where accidents and speed-traps are located so they can improve the commutes of all users.

And more specializations are popping up all the time. All of it building on the technologies that came earlier and the refinement of ideas shared. And all of it unplanned, and all of it unimagined until recently. And all of it used by millions each day.

Andy Newton is the Chief Engineer for the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), responsible for software and systems design and development process and architecture, standards development and research. Andy has many years of software engineering experience ranging from embedded systems, thick clients, and application servers in a broad array of areas such as industrial controls, back office and work flow processes, and Voice-over-IP and more. He is the author of many published and ratified protocol specifications and is the primary author of the new RDAP specification. Additionally, he is well versed in other Internet technologies such as RPKI, DNS, and Whois. Andy also holds a black-belt rank in Judo, and together with friends runs a fan-driven music blog about alternative and indie music.

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