For the longest time, I have been the most ardent advocate of three layered structures, not just on the web but also in the brick and mortar world. The reason is simple: game theory. Human psychology is such that it favours monopolies even though monopolies are as bad as things could possibly get. A three layer structure, properly thought out, can achieve the unthinkable – a non monopolizable structure.
Mobile Browsing as a space is ripe for disruption and you guessed it, a three layered structure could achieve such disruption.
The biggest problem with websites is that they are interactive but not standardized.
The biggest problem with syndication is that it is standardized but not interactive.
So clearly there is a sweet spot somewhere which is both interactive and standardized.
We have users with their browsers on the one hand and we have service providers with their websites on the other. What we want is some sort of middle layer that operates between these two groups.
What could such a layer possibly do? To start with, it could do FORMATTING, lol.
No I’m serious.
Imagine a service that could reformat each and every website into a standardized template.
Imagine if we could buy things without being aware of whether it is Amazon or Newegg.
This is possible because if both Amazon and Newegg make their products available to middle parties, third parties can present these on a single page.
Yes such transparent cooperation is a near impossible mission but only to begin with. We need to make a start.
We need to break down the gigantic problem into smaller pieces.
Why I am stressing on REFORMATTING is because the clients are so much more diverse than the services.
To start with, let’s take a simplified case: a service which mediates only between a single website and all its diverse users.
Let’s say I am a user with an email account and three devices: a phone, a tablet and a desktop PC. In the real world I would have to depend on the email provider to support all three types of access. Now based on how popular and responsible that service is, I would experience varying levels of support and refinement.
But what if there were a third party whose raison d’être was to provide a high level of refinement for my email experience. What if I could simply switch apps and threaten to stop using this third party in case it fails to live up to my expectation or keep up with what other such services are offering.
So essentially what I am proposing is this:
We need apps that are backed up with cloud services which are authorized to mediate in any and all our interactions with the actual web services out there. In other words, Cloud service B mediates between website A and user C.
It is allowed to do so because it offers to customize the experience based on User’s C’s hardware and usage patterns.
And because Cloud Service B is just a middleman, it always lives in fear of being replaced. So it tries to support as many user configs and website types as it can possibly afford to.
By User Configs I mean, if I am on Android 4.1 and have a 800×480 screen but only 256MB RAM and 512kbps access, I am still good to go because Cloud Service B would reformat the Websites A1, A2 and so on to fit my setup. And it is not just about reformatting, there is also real time malware detection implicit in such moderation.
Hopefully the story wont end there. Because Cloud Service B could get into acceleration of common components. But even that has been done before. What we are talking is a much higher level of integration later on.
For instance, today we talk of price comparison because each seller is locked into their own system. Later on it would all be dynamic based on the demand and supply situation. There won’t be any need of price comparison, only price history where the buyer would decide at what level of demand does he want to bite, if at all.
At least to my mind, it is the ideal setup.
Imagine all users and websites plugging into third party cloud services that offer a far more customized, standardized and refined experience to one and all. Imagine senior citizens getting their all their websites with large fonts and simple menus and so on. Imagine never having to worry about malware or backups because everything is mediated and in the cloud. Imagine fast loading services because everything is cached and customized.
Internet was always destined to disrupt ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. And while it has caused its fair share of disruption, things have remained, shall we say, non stormy.
For stormy disruption, we need fluidity. Three layer structures provide just that.
And there is no need to fear the resulting disruption because all such disruption eventually leads to a more equitable configuration for all concerned.
Could Instagram’s simplicity be preventing it from wreaking wide scale disruption
I believe that only Instagram is capable of wide scale disruption because we essentially have four social levels in terms of media types:
Text (Twitter rules)
Images (Instagram rules)
Audio (Spotify rules)
Video (YouTube rules)
Each of these levels can contain “only” the succeeding levels. So naturally Twitter is King because it can and does support Image, Audio and Video embeds.
But because Twitter is textual, there is no visual engagement. Think of it as an MS-DOS file manager. Without the filetype icons as cues, we have a difficult time making sense of things.
That’s the reason Instagram is the real King because it has visual engagement with text retrofitted. Another major factor feeding into Instagram’s success is that people are slowing losing their patience. The Net has been around for 30 years and we have not seen even 3% effort going into customization.
I, for one, believe that Instagram is the Future
In my opinion, only Instagram can cause wide scale disruption.
One of the reasons behind Instagram’s success has been the Simplicity of the service but this very Simplicity could also become the reason for its downfall.
On the other hand, it is quite possible that complicated features might put off the majority of IGers.
The middle path is what Instagram needs to take.
But how is it possible to have both Simplicity and Complexity at the same time.
The answer could lie in the API.
Instagram could start off by providing these advanced features in the API so as to let third parties come up with innovative implementations. Later, Instagram could provide its own client (called maybe IG Plus) to compete with these third party clients. Finally, Instagram could provide these features in its mainstream client.
By staggering the rollout, Instagram would be able to avoid sudden server overload (even in these cloudy times) and also get time to iron out the inevitable wrinkles.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks and design Instagram’s next level client IG Plus
IG Plus would not be foolish enough to mess with a formula that works. So it would have 2 levels. The basic level would function exactly like the mainstream client. The advanced level would have all those extra features.
So when we start the client, we would see the usual 5 tabs.
If we long hold the header we would get into the advanced level. The colours would have to be slightly different to indicate that this is not the basic level.
Because advanced level does not mess with the basic formula, it can be very very experimental. I repeated that word because we need some intense changes to the way things happen currently.
But before we get into those “very very” features, let’s see how the advanced level would “basically” operate.
It would basically operate like a visual Twitter of sorts
We could have three tabs.
Tab 1 could be STREAM
Tab 2 could be PINNED
Tab 3 could be ENGAGE
STREAM would be what sources we are following (as opposed to people)
PINNED would be what images we have bookmarked
ENGAGE would be what we shared from among our Pins
Please note that everything about the Advanced Level would be private. It would not show up anywhere in the mainstream client even after it gets incorporated in that.
It would be a visual Twitter of sorts because for instance, if I am following TechCrunch, I would receive the article in a regular 612×612 image with the TC logo on the top left, the topic logo (say startups) on the top right, then the Headline, the main image and the body etc in the rest of the image. Naturally each source would be free to design its own layout.
If I find it Interesting, I would Pin it. If I find it worth sharing, I would “Engage” it. I could also decide to have the image show up in my basic account.
Now let’s get more experimental
The STREAM could have Criteria as sources for instance “Popular”, “Controversial” etc
The PINNED could have activity tracking. For instance “Mr X has escaped” can have an update. “Mr X was spotted” and another one “Mr X was nabbed” etc
The ENGAGE could have social tracking “Shared by 36 other users” “Show all comments” etc
Now let’s get very very experimental
VIBGYOR CRITERIA STARS
The STREAM articles could have a multi-criteria system. Let’s use a VIBGYOR star system where we can attach criteria to each star in order to exploit the power of visual association.
For instance, if an Image has been Pinned more than n times, activate Indigo star. If a particular user has pinned the image, activate Yellow star. If Image is seeing disproportionate engagement activate Red star.
These scripts could get very complicated. Third party sites could offer VIBGYOR script services. These guys could look at our PINNED tab and deduce the criteria we may have subconsciously used then provide the refined versions as scripts. So now the Red Star would activate only if the disproportionate engagement is from users who know what they are talking about. Or these third party sites could simply rig our VIBGYOR with the most popular scripts going.
Now whatever image comes on our STREAM would have these VIBGYOR stars. If some criteria are not satisfied, the corresponding stars would be grayed out.
SOURCE BLOB REDUNDANCY REDUCTION
The STREAM articles could be co-owned blobs. For instance if TechCrunch has nailed one Samsung Galaxy S4 rumour and TheVerge has nailed another one, both rumours could be co-presented in a co-owned blob. The blob could be created and co-ownership decided dynamically by Instagram itself.
ENGAGEMENT BLOB MAXIMIZATION
Similarly the Engagement could be co-owned by users. There are two levels of users: Sources and Sinks. All users contributing to blob engagement are Sources. All users reacting to these blobs are Sinks. For instance, because we respect TC and TV, we may believe those two rumours, but if a Chinese user has some local source of information which contradicts these and he quotes that as blob engagement then his Source ratio would increase.
Source:Sink ratios would have merely symbolic meaning if these were not backed by currency. IG currency would need to be centrally managed by Instagram and could take all such actions into account.
These are just some ideas worth looking into. There are many more possible within such a framework for instance audio/video embeds. The basic idea is that Twitter / Instagram streams are very simplistic and come at huge opportunity costs. The way out could be a second advanced level of interaction that does not disturb the basic one.