Are you ready for the "hypernet"? You'd better be.
Like it or not, this next stage of the Web content revolution is headed your way, says Roger McNamee, a widely regarded venture capitalist. (Among his big wins: Facebook and Yelp.) There's nowhere to hide.
The hypernet, as McNamee describes it, is the next big swing in what he sees as the pendulum of technology, which "swings between commoditization and high production values." Right now, he reckons, we're poised to enjoy a wave of high production values in content fueled by the collection of programming standards known as HTML5.
Years ago, PC screens displayed "content" (a word that had yet to be co-opted by computerniks, as I recall) in the form of green text on a black background. All content looked the same. Then, Apple's Macintosh arrived. After a fitful start, it made WYSIWYG screens, desktop publishing, and multimedia content mass phenomena.
The rise of the Web, McNamee says, swung the pendulum toward commoditization. It put masses of content at user's fingertips for essentially no money. This content was quite static, though, because it cost too much in the way of programming and bandwidth to deliver anything more. Producers of this stuff were pretty much giving it away, leaving it to Google, the middleman, to earn most of the profit it generated.
Enter Apple, again, to push the pendulum in the opposite direction. Its iPhone and iPad swept away the PC and Mac as the most popular devices for consuming digital content, and the zillions of branded apps ushered in an economy of paid-for content, much of it sufficiently animated to grab people by the eyeballs and never let go. (Yes, Android-based phones and apps are part of this phenomenon, but Apple clearly has been the No. 1 factor.)
"What happened?" asks McNamee. "Consumers adopted Apple's model faster than any technology in history. When you include the dollars spent on hardware -- how can you not do so? -- it is possible that Apple's ecosystem may be larger than the Web ecosystem. Whoa!"
Now he says the moment has arrived for yet another swing of the pendulum. The catalyst will be HTML5, which promises to spiff up Web-delivered content with all sorts of animated graphics, sound, gobs of embedded logic, and levels of interactivity that will make Adobe's Web-era Flash technology look as animated as drying paint.
HTML5, he argues, will enable Microsoft (now controlling well less than half the world's Web-connected devices), Google (seeing mobile users largely forgoing its cash cow, index search) and Facebook (slow on the mobile uptake) to win back much of the business and momentum they lost to Apple and its app-centric strategy.
Apple's position of market dominance is unstable. Giant tech companies with giant cash positions have been left out of the Apple ecosystem... and they will eventually seek a way to get back into the game. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Intel, Oracle, and others have the scale, the cash, and the compelling incentive to develop an alternative to Apple's app model. One or more of them may succeed.
They can do this, he argues, by embracing HTML5 as a way to deliver entirely new kinds of content. Imagine higher production values than are possible with Flash, such as interactive virtual realities delivered with every pop song someone downloads. Imagine content that can engage viewers directly in e-commerce transactions without forcing them to leave the page they're viewing. Imagine multimedia ads that can search the pages in which they appear and adjust their offers and pricing automatically. Imagine Web pages that weave together content and services supplied by a vast array of highly specialized cloud-based sources -- and even enable those services to interact with one another on behalf of the user at any given moment.
Sounds fun, no? I wonder what kinds of HTML5 content we'll be seeing in the months to come. Your thoughts? Is the hypernet real, or just, well, hype?