JP's riff on the state of the revolution, circa Y2K. A variant of this was presented at the Banff Network Superconductor: Tactical Media for Fat Pipes conference, at the Banff New Media Institute, sometime that summer.

Frankly, I miss interactive media. I mean, what it really meant, back when new media was still new. Once upon a time, it was a phantasmagorical feast that included VR and immersive worlds, telecollaboration, distance learning, games, new interfaces, explorations in interactive fiction, A-life, the net and all the amazing new things you could try with it, interactive installations, location-based entertainment, MU*s, etc., etc.. The overarching thing about it all was that it was a continuum. Once more, with feeling: it was a continuum!

Then we got the whole 500-channel universe convergence thing. Which became the 5 million channel universe on the web (or the 50 million search result universe, as you prefer, ugh). Then e-greed grabbed everyone’s attention, and took all the fun out of everything. Dotcommerce was a hurl-the-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks consensual hallucination. It tried to superimpose the hedge-your-bets business model that characterizes the entertainment industry onto the network economy, and tanked. (In this model, you fund a high volume of product in scattershot fashion, betting that one or two blockbusters will subsidize the rest of the bombs.) Somehow the venture capital community caught the bug, and suddenly "I'm writing a screenplay" was replaced by "I'm writing a business plan." It spread across the world like wildfire, fueled by the proverbial millennial/goldrush/tulip mindset. And then, in perverse opposition to common sense, everything started to componentize. Mere software features were fluffed, coiffed and packaged as companies and blithely waltzed out as standalone IPOs. The more readily and steadily capital flowed, the more the rhetoric became buzz-worded and acronymized. Dotcoms gave way to portals, vortals, B2Cs, B2Bs, e-commerce, m-commerce, broadband, ASPs; the list goes on ad nauseam. (I once had a guy call me up and tell me he needed me to make him a B2B. "I need my B2B!" he screamed at me over the phone, as if I were a genie, a pizza delivery service, or some strange combo of both.) But that was then, ancient history, last year. Thanks to the "correction" we seem to have regained our sanity, at least for the moment, and come back down to earth. So let's get back to our continuum.

Fortunately, it's still there.

So, What's the Big ID?

Here's my (stubborn!) vision:

Let's posit that all media forms (now known or hereinafter invented, throughout the universe, etc.) have been digitized, and that the entire canon of human data, information, knowledge and wisdom has been collected, collated and contextualized, to the best of our abilities. It resides, universally accessible, in the Great Server in the Sky.

Let's further posit that security and privacy issues have been resolved to the point where reasonable protections (whether social or technical) are firmly in place, and ubiquitous net access is such a cultural norm that it has virtually vanished into the woodwork. Given such a world, what would I want from it?

I'd want to be able to simply ID myself to the system, whenever I want to and from wherever I am, say "Hi, it's me," and have it bring me my custom environments. For example, let's say that I am on a plane from Los Angeles to Amsterdam and I've got 10 hours to go. I could watch what the airline has to offer on the seat-back screen, or I could access the Great Server in the Sky and say, "Hey, bring me my entertainment environment." Up would come my own collection of music, movies I'd noted that I wanted to see, games in progress, episodes of television shows I'd recorded for later viewing, etc. Already customized by me for me, it's just there, waiting. Or say I am in a doctor's office, and the doctor is running behind. There, under the pile of aging magazines, is a small screen embedded into the waiting room table. Again I ID myself, and pull up my work environment. In the twenty minutes I'm waiting for the doctor I check my voicemail, do a little research and dash off a few emails. Or imagine that I am at home, and get a videophone call from my aunt in Canada, who is working on the family genealogy. On the wall-sized flat panel screen in our respective living rooms, we access our personal virtual environments and agree to share her family tree document, which appears on both screens, editable by either of us as long as we're connected. Or say that I am at a trade show, and have just received a demo of a service that I think our company should seriously consider. I access the Great Server via my mobile phone, pull up my workgroup environment, and "beam" the specs to my team for their review, right from the tradeshow floor. Once someone has replied, my phone pages me, so that I can hear their feedback.

Please, Sir, Can We Have Some More?

The possibilities for the customized content continuum are almost endless, so it's a big and fuzzy concept at present. But that will change as its outline slowly comes into focus, as we begin to shape its aspects. Arguably, we're already moving in that direction, as our evolving terminology would tell us. We know we want our network to get us what we want:

When we want it (a.k.a. "on demand")

Where we want it (e.g., "m-whatever")

How we want it (viz., "mass customization","e-CRM", etc.)

[Oh, and by the way, it’s okay to suggest things to us when we don’t know quite what we want, but don’t you dare be obnoxious about it (we're already onto the psychographic/demographic thing; go ahead, put personalized ads on every available space, and eventually we'll numb out and tune out completely, guaranteed. Bone up on your permission marketing, people.)]

Ultimately, when our content is delivered to us, we want it to be relevant, device agnostic, respectful, convenient, and inexpensive. Is that so much to ask? <g>

Interactive media is about to make a comeback, reincarnating as the content continuum. Once upon a time, there was only a small band of us, dazzled and enchanted by the potential riches laid out so splendidly before us. We tried to tell everyone about it, but they went glassy-eyed when we did, and only got bits of the story. Then the false Pied Piper came to town, and we watched sadly as the other children followed him out of the village. We were alone again for awhile. But now, hundredth-monkey style, the original vision is spreading itself into a collective one, capturing the imaginations of more and more thinking people around the world. And as the global network economy reignites and begins to pick up steam (don't worry! it will), our continuum is peeking out from behind the clouds again.

Boy howdy, it's been a long decade.


Strategist, futurist, e-business and e-community architect Jeannine Parker (a.k.a. JP) defies categorization. She is President and Chief Innovation Officer of The J Parker Company, a strategic positioning firm and think tank for Internet, convergence and transmedia ventures.

copyright September, 2000, Jeannine Parker. All rights, etc.
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