Sunday, March 16, 2008

It Started with a Pot of Coffee

This is a story about an epiphany. It stars a coffee pot, a Mac II, and an early web browser called Mosaic. In 1995 I was working at BBDO, heading up a group that designed and produced interactive new business presentations (we worked in Photoshop before it had layers!). Our IT group had just installed Mosaic on my computer, giving me a window into this odd new world called the Internet. Poking around that landscape in the mid '90s was like walking through a half-empty convention center populated, intermittently, with billboards that displayed only welcome messages and the locations of all the other billboards. In other words, there wasn't a whole lot of "there" there. My reaction was a big, "Huh?". And then someone gave me the URL of the Cambridge Coffee Pot . The caffeine addicted computer scientists at Cambridge University constructed what may have been the world's first web cam as a way to determine if the single coffee pot in their building, located in a far recess, was filled or not, thereby saving a wasted trip involving several flights of stairs. Even though the image was updated only about three times a minute, my first viewing of it felt electric and I realized that everything we knew about communication was about to change. With nothing more exotic than my chuggy little computer and a primitive browser, I was looking, in near real time, at an image of something incredibly obscure and very far away. I could see around the world.

I had a similar shiver of excitement at this year's SXSW interactive conference. It wasn't the ubiquitous laptops, Blackberries, and iPhones that nearly everyone was using to tap out their thoughts and comments. It was how they were doing it. They were Twittering and nothing illustrated the power of this mini-blog form more than the now infamous Sarah Lacy interview of Mark Zuckerberg. In the old days (ummm, 3 months ago, for example) public opinion would coalesce only after an event passed, when conversations could happen and reviews could be published. But once again, technology has removed the time lag. From the very start of the interview, in real time, the audience twittered their opinions to each other as well as to the twitter universe outside of the conference room. Inside the room, people coalesced around a nearly universal opinion that the interview was a train wreck. Emboldened by the confirmation of their opinion, people heckled and left - near the end they poured out in droves. Outside the room, it became a topic of discussion, blogs, and reporting, before the event had even ended. An analysis of what this may mean for the future is a topic for another post. But be assured, we're on the cusp of another seismic change in communication. In the meantime, use your voice wisely. It can be heard around the world.

communication, SXSW,Twitter, blogs

1 comment:

cathcam said...

Yes, it was fascinating to watch the tweet stream as it happened. I guess next-up is someone brave enough to have a twitter feed scrolling behind them while they present...