Vardi on the power of the 'net

Many-to-Many: Yossi Vardi on Social Software

Yossi Vardi, the founding investor of the company that created ICQ (which is now up to over 400 million users) spoke at the Les Blogs conference in Paris. He made the point that there are three to four major forces on the Internet: self expression; communication; sharing; collaboration.

Notice none of these is “commerce” or “storage” or “reference.”

For a long time I’ve believed the Internet’s real power is social. What made AOL so huge was its chat rooms. And now that it’s on the ‘net — one of the few reasons anybody still uses AOL after they get broadband from another ISP is that they don’t want to give up the social milieu of the AOL domain.

People will put up with horrible usability to be a part of a community. Or to express themselves or share information or ideas or files. One of the real killer-app features of Napster that people underestimated was the ability to see what other people who liked one song you were looking for had on their hard drives, because they might have things you like that you don’t even know about yet. Or at least that’s how it worked last I used Napster, before it was shut down.

Vardi seems to agree. At least according to the paraphrase posted at Many2Many, he says that “the killer app on the Internet is people” and talks about social cues and how the most desired feature on Yahoo Instant Messenger is to see what songs their friends are listening to while online.

People say porn is the main driver of the growth of the Internet, but I wonder. I mean, the assertion does have a kind of cynical fun to it — much like the old saw that what grew VCR usage was porn rentals. But in the case of the ‘net, it may be overlooking the real nature of the beast. For one thing, porn is for broadcast and consumption. It’s not two-way, not social inherently. Of those kinds of things online, it’s likely the biggest. But of *all* kinds of content and interaction online, it has a lot more competition.

Plus, “Porn” is a pretty easy category, not very splintered — so it’s easier to track it in aggregate. But if you say “social interaction” or even “community” is a similar category, and added up the aggregate of just the money spent by users on all the various journal sites, dating sites, etc, plus the advertising dollars going into things like MySpace and Friendster, my guess is it would dwarf “porn” as a category of commerce online.

Has anybody done this kind of comparison?

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at