Coming soon: the disruptive molecular age of information

Now we’ve seen what Google has had up its sleeve with Google Buzz. I expect this is the last tool of the atomic age. No, not the energy field, the real-time content field.

“Huh?”

Before I start, tomorrow I’m giving a talk to Stanford University MBA students with MC Hammer and Loic Le Meur, founder/CEO of Seesmic (he wrote about his part of the presentation on his blog tonight) about what social media is doing to our marketing, and I’ve been working with a few companies on products that will come out over the next year that will move us from an atomic age of information streams to a molecular one, so wanted to talk about it, both here, and tomorrow at Stanford to see what bubbles up.

Look at Google Buzz. Each status message there is an information atom. You can’t easily grab two of these status messages and join them together.

Or look at Twitter. Tweets are information atoms. They stand alone. You can’t really combine them with other tweets.

Same with YouTube videos. My videos stand alone. You can watch one embedded on a blog and you aren’t even aware that the others exist. Atoms.

How about photos? Atoms. Try to join a photo from SmugMug with one from Facebook with another from Flickr with yet another from Picasa. You can’t easily. Yeah, yeah, geeks can by copying and pasting URLs but not in any nice way. Atoms.

Go to Facebook or Google Buzz. Each status message there is an atom.

Joining information atoms takes a LOT of work and a LOT of energy. Sort of like with nuclear energy, isn’t it?

Let’s discover what this molecular age of information might look like and what it might enable.

Before I start, though, can you find the original tweets that were made WHILE the Haiti earthquake was happening?

I bet you can’t. Go ahead and try. Go to Google search. Go to Twitter search. Search all night long if you want. You won’t find the original tweets.

Want them?

Me too, but they are hard to get to. Why? Because today we live in an atomic age of real-time streams. Once those atoms (er, tweets) streamed by they are almost impossible to pull back out. Why? Because our search systems don’t have the kind of metadata they need to make searching for them possible. No one linked to these tweets. You probably didn’t even know about them. They were on my screen for a few seconds and then, well, they were gone. Luckily I saved them for this post.

Here are the tweets that were made by people in Haiti DURING THE EARTHQUAKE: The first Tweet I could find was from Michelle Maura who wrote “Earthquake right now.” Within a few minutes a bunch of others had Tweeted similar things. My favorite was Ivon Bartok who wrote “The place rocked like a mofo.” While I was writing this post he also said he felt a 5.9 aftershock. About five minutes after the quake, MSNBC was the first news outlet with this breaking news Tweet.

How did I get these? Easy, I opened up WordPress’ editor and copy and pasted them where they sat unavailable to anyone except me until right now.

Now you notice that a blogger CAN make an information molecule. But look at how hard this is. I had to copy and paste URLs and if I wanted them to look like tweets I’d have to open them up, take a screen capture, upload that screen capture somewhere, link the screen capture in here, then link the tweet up. Whew, a lot of work. Like I said, making molecules takes a lot of energy.

But what if you had an iPad with a new tool? One that had a column that looked like Seesmic or Tweetdeck’s columns? One with a middle column where you could simply drag tweets into a molecule. One with a third column that would be an outbound column where I could add a text block, a video, an audio clip, and then distribute it out to Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, LinkedIn, or whatever else will be a place that humans want to read real-time streaming information?

Wouldn’t that enable a new kind of information curation?

Think this is just for info geeks like me? I’ve interviewed normal users about this and they keep complaining that it’s too hard to make a page of all their baby photos from their kids’ first birthday party, for instance. Think about it. You invite 30 friends over to your house. Some put photos on Facebook. Some on Flickr. Some on SmugMug. Now you have to join them all. I dare you to try. Yes, my audience can because we’re all geeks who understand HTML and copy and paste. Now put yourselves in the shoes of people who don’t have those skills or patience. They want a new system and someone over the next eight months will deliver it to them.

When the molecular age does arrive, it will have deep impacts on corporate social media. On traditional media. On us all.

Finally we’ll be able to share the patterns in the streams we’re seeing with other people.

Finally the search engines will have enough metadata to find those bundles of tweets, blogs, photos, videos, audio clips, and other info atoms that are actually important.

So, how do we get from the atomic age to the molecular age?

First, ask yourself these questions to put pressure on the industry to answer these questions:

1. Why can I tag a photo in Flickr but we can’t tag tweets or Google Buzz items?
2. Why do I need to come to a blog tool to join Tweets, blogs, photos, videos, etc together? Why can’t I do that where I read real-time streams like at Twitter.com, Google Buzz, or in tools like Seesmic or Tweetdeck or Tweetie?
3. Why can’t I build real-time information molecules simply by dragging and dropping these atoms into a molecule builder? Why do I need to copy permalinks and paste them into a blog editor?
4. Why haven’t we seen a real-time reader system that lets us see Tweets, Facebook status items, Flickr photos, Yelp restaurant reviews, Google Buzz items, YouTube videos, and other items all in one place?
5. Why hasn’t the web evolved so I could drag a tweet from Twitter.com into WordPress.com’s editor and have it linked up automatically?
6. Why can I favorite tweets (I’ve faved about 12,000 into this stream in past 10 months alone) but I can’t bundle them together?
7. Why can we work collaboratively on Wikipedia to build an encyclopedia of the world’s information, but we can’t work collaboratively on people’s profiles to add data we know about each other onto our profiles?
8. Why can’t brands join their tweets to your tweets about them? Or, why can’t I do that myself? When I write about a Ford car, for instance, I’d love to join tweets from @scottmonty, who works at Ford, in with mine, especially since I might be responding to a tweet of his.

Someday soon these questions will be answered and then you’ll know we’re in the molecular age of information.

I want to mix content together to make even more powerful content, but no one is giving us tools to create real-time molecules.

When will the molecular age of information start? Tomorrow I’m visiting Stanford University where Google and Yahoo started to see if the students there have any answers.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

76 thoughts on “Coming soon: the disruptive molecular age of information

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  2. I want to create a “super bookmarklet” that would allow me, when I am on any web page, to very easily grab “atoms” from the page and send them someplace. In one click I want to be able to grab an image, or a text snippet or a video from a page and send it to a page I publish, which is what you are calling a “molecule” which is just a bunch of entities from the web linked together somehow, in a way it can be easy shared or reviewed later on. I want the page I create to be a very maleable one where I can drag-drop stuff around and add more notes, and more items over time. Think I'll start working on it…

  3. Robert,

    I represent a company who actually built this but ran out of funding. Currently exploring options for the patent and source code. I sent you an email on the subject.

  4. I will have to correct you on 4: Add your facebook & twitter profiles to favit, subscribe to some flickr feeds and enjoy all of them melted in a single stream.

    Also, on 7 check CrunchBase – yes we can!

  5. Robert, Nova Spivack recently updated his 2004 article, “A Physics of Ideas: Measuring The Physical Properties of Memes” it includes wonderful elaborations on your atomic/molecular approach to information – including testing models.
    http://bit.ly/9QrFma

  6. Interesting points and comments (at least most of), before reading again and looking to some links seems to me that mainly is a matter of metadata (standard format of) and a social concentrator/broker of info-objects where people collaborate in terms of tools, tagging, etc.
    I think that big players like G., FB and so on have little or no interest in doing something like you stated. Sorry my poor English, hope to have explained my thinking.
    Rob

  7. Wow, its rare I hear echoes of Martin Buber in a tech discussion.

    If you guys really care about collaborative narcissism, there's an older, but related concept: I-Thou relationships vs. I-It relationships.

    If you get a chance, rveryone here should read “Ich und Du” or “I and Thou”. Its a little skinny book where Buber talks about about how it is getting harder and harder to have I-Thou interactions with people, and more and more of our interactions are I-It, meaning, using people for something, as opposed to interacting just for the pleasure of it.

    Actually, there's an intereting connection to a Heidegger's “On Technology” here and the concept of using nature as “standing reserve”…but I'll stop here, before 1995 calls and asks me to give back my Continental Thought syllabus.

    Glad to see people thinking about these things and not just about “exits”.

  8. OAI Object Reuse and Exchange is a specification, compliant with the Architecture of the World Wide Web and Linked Data best practices, that addresses (1) giving an identity (URI) to the molecules you talk about and that are, in essence, aggregations of web resources (2) describing the components of the molecules, i.e;. the aggregated resources. See http://www.openarchives.org/ore/1.0/toc . Tools can leverage this spec to achieve interoperable “molecules”.

  9. Three excellent points made in this post. A) content is isolated. If you want to connect two pieces of content you have to work to get it done. Which, comes right to point B) joining content is expensive. A high-tech natural language processing algorithm takes development efforts, while in case of a universal tagging feature it costs mainly time and focused attention. C) real world patterns should translate to connections just as real world objects translate to content.

    However, I think that aggregation of related content resembles a graph more than a molecule. I admit the atom-molecule metaphor paints a vivid picture of the transition from isolated content to context, but if we dig a bit deeper we'll see that the universality of molecules is incompatible with the uniqueness of context.
    I see one possibility though where molecular structure as a model is indeed applicable within a graph of content. In content mapping (a field that I'm exploring) complex relations are expressed as patterns of basic ones, bonds and content elements (atoms) being the same for each occurrence, much like with molecules.

    Details and examples: http://collectiveweb.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/o… and http://collectiveweb.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/s

  10. He's obviously referring to fusion where you put in an immense amount of energy to get out even more. True, the product of this process is a different atom not molecule but I guess we can look past this glitch.

  11. What is the business model in doing something like this? You think people will be willing to pay to grab atoms and put them together? Or, can you grab someone else’s atoms and repackage them for sale?

  12. Nice. That's why I named my company “Atomic Media Inc” several years ago. It's a play on my name but also the standalone nature of media, (and “ink” :)

    Molecular is how businesses will organize themselves in the future…

  13. I suspect the answers to most of your points is that Twitter and streams have only been popular for a couple of years and the idea of have a full API also is pretty new, but all this stuff is coming I expect. In particular:

    1. I expect a client will do this at some point (or already does), but I doubt Twitter or Google will do this themselves for a long time
    2. The clients you mentioned are just getting starting and bet they will have this a some point, though you may have to look wider than the most popular clients
    3. Isn't this the same as 2?
    4. http://FriendBinder.com does this except Yelp and Buzz. Buzz needs some more features in their API before it can work
    5. WordPress is opensource I expect someone could do it
    6. Isn't this the same as 2 & 3?
    7. http://smidgn.com/ will do this I think
    8. Lots of social networks have comment systems that would do that, however people seem myopic over Twitter and won't switch to platforms which innovate on stuff like that.

  14. The discussion is clearly interesting for someone with a ChemInformatics and StructuralBiology background. I agree that patterns are much simpler to remember, than single atoms. I can tell you immediately what Asprin or Phenol look like and what properties they have. Anyway, if you are really interested in such discussions, you should talk to a Structured Data Mining expert. Some of them might have some experience on large scale graph mining issues ;-)
    Here some more reading on this topic http://bit.ly/bNIwiu and see also the molecule mining article I created on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecule_mining

    P.S.: Never underestimate the standardization and indexing problems for multi-colored graphs (aka molecules).

  15. Hi Robert,

    I like your analogy. I remember back in 2004, I thought about a tool I called the “Information Gatherer” that would basically let you do just what you described. You would basically gather (or bundle) information together, attach more information (such as comments, voice recording etc ..) to it and then dispatch that new enriched piece of information (a molecule) in any other means (such as email, blog post etc…). I still have all the specs. Unfortunately at the time I could not find teammates to work on it. I wish we could talk some more to make this happen. Hope the talk at Stanford will be fruitful.

    If you happen to find people interested about the idea, I'd love to get working on it.

    Cheers,

    Alex

  16. “Sort of like with nuclear energy, isn’t it?”

    Not really nuclear energy no. Chemistry is what you are talking about.

  17. Inane social media meta-messages as some sort of trumped-up sub-atomic buzz-metaphor? My response? Stand away from the microwave, please.

    And people don't really want 5 sites and the ability to link all content, they just want one that's easy to use, every new fad gets the new content, the old just abandonwares out, forever stuck in some no-use scenario graveyard, that Dare Obasanjo can use as Microsoft Spaces stats.

    Tons of mash-up gimmicks that do most of what you want, just they have the Web 20 back-end scripting-tricks architecture of a fire-blaze-ready grass hut.

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