Three Things about the Internet

by Charles Miller on August 19, 2008

Lachlan was recently interviewed for the Sydney Morning Herald about what was exciting on today’s Internet, and graciously threw the questions to the public. I thought I might give them a stab.

What are the three things online that are exciting you the most?

“…the thing that Usenet did, the important thing that Usenet did that put everything else to shame, was that it provided a way for all of the cool people in the world to actually meet each other.” — Russ Allbery

There is really only one thing on the Internet that excites me, and that thing hasn’t changed since I first got my free1 University shell account and logged onto Usenet.


It’s no coincidence that most of the cool Internet apps that have been developed since that time have been about people. People finding other people. People communicating with other people. People sharing their knowledge, their passions, their enthusiasm with… people.

Sure, on the way the Internet has given us ways to buy things without having to talk to annoying salespeople, has given the music industry a much-deserved kick up the arse, and is in the early stages of delivering the self-same kick to broadcast television. All that means is we're going to need more people to recommend good stuff to buy, listen to and watch.

What gadget do you never leave home without?

Hands down, my iPod. Back when I was four, our parents bequeathed me and my brother their old record player. A month or two later, they had to confiscate The Beatles’ Help for fear that I would, in fact, keep it on 24-hour rotation until I was seven.

I’ve always been surrounded by music. I think if I were forced to go without it, I’d go completely insane.

What will be the Next Big Thing?

Do you remember what life was like before the mobile (cell) phone?

I suspect quite a few of my readers won’t, so let me give an example. Say you’re going to meet somebody for lunch. How do you find each other? How do you tell them you’re running late, or cancel at the last minute because something came up? How the hell did we cope back when the mobile phone was a brick-sized yuppie accessory we couldn’t afford?

It sounds trivial. It is trivial. But it’s just one of a hundred different ways that the simple fact that you, and everyone you know has a mobile phone has changed the way we go about our daily business. Ways we don’t notice until we point at them because they’re second nature now.

(Aside: Have you noticed how popular culture is cleanly divided into stuff that's new enough to be reliably documented on Wikipedia and YouTube, and stuff that happened before 2002? Anyone experiencing their childhood today will find the whole thing still pristinely archived online for them when they're nostalgic adults.)

Right now, mobile data is making a similar transition from clunky novelty to ubiquity. Mobile phones changed the world in a hundred little ways because they made the people you know always a few button-presses away. Mobile data puts all the world’s information (not to mention all the people you don’t know yet) in your pocket too.

This is why our data is moving into the cloud. We're going to access our data through more, more specialised devices, but we want them all to be able to interact with our digital lives. But more on that later.

Oh yes. As almost-mentioned earlier, broadcast TV as we know it is dead. It just hasn't realised yet. More on that later too.

1 Given the ratio of time I spent in the UCS labs to the time I spent in lectures, one might more accurately say that the University charged several thousand dollars a year for an Internet account, and threw in tuition for free. Sorry Dad, but it seems to have worked out perversely well in the end.

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