MAY 2008 IN

Quick Answers: The Next Big Internet Trend

I knew something had changed when I started to hear “over a thousand friend requests” said with a sigh. And there were other signs that participating in the web was wearing on people. Blogs that no longer permit comments. Famous Second Life characters abandoned so that people could move about that virtual world anonymously. And my own participation as an expert on a discussion board — it was exciting for a few weeks, but then one day I just forgot to log in again.

This decade’s big Internet trend, replacing content with social interaction as the center of the web experience, is starting to run into resistance. People enjoy the idea that they can be a part of what’s going on in the world, but who has the time to keep up with it?

I have a friend who can’t wait till the price of the iPhone falls enough that he can feel good about getting one. It’s the Internet connection he wants, but not so he can keep up with his blog. “That can wait till I get home,” he says. No, what he wants is stock quotes. He says he could make an extra $10 a day in the stock market if he could follow certain key stocks at critical times and time his trades better.

When I think of the uses for a smart phone, the one application that jumps out at me is the idea of getting traffic alerts while I’m out. I could avoid traffic jams without having to listen to commercial radio.

Just yesterday I heard a story of someone who was considering a major purchase, who researched it online and decided against it in just ten minutes.

I think these stories point to the next big Internet trend. People want to get the value of the Internet without putting in the time. They want quick answers: reference material, expert advice, product information, and so on. Traditional web services will resist this trend because it goes against their advertising model. When users spend hours on your site, you can show them hundreds of advertisements. If they spend only fifteen seconds, the advertising opportunity is tiny by comparison.

But it is still an opportunity, and heady times are coming for sites that find new ways to provide quick answers. This trend won’t hit in a big way this year or next, but around 2010 I expect we’ll start to see quick answers as the core of many web users’ experience.

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