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Designing Online Communities: Will History Repeat Itself?

Written by Ben Rossell | on August 13, 2015 at 2:00 PM

HigherLogic_Blog_Will_History_Repeat_itself

Sure, no one has figured out teleportation or traveling at light speed, but it has still been interesting to see many of the technologies in old sci-fi movies and shows like Star Trek transition from fantasy to reality. Cell phones, digital tablets and video chat were all futuristic technologies that have now been actualized.

However, even though some of these technologies have begun to emerge in daily life, often the direction of technology doesn’t perfectly match what was anticipated.

In Trevor Owens’s book, Designing Online Communities, he talks about the history of Internet groups, emphasizing the importance of understanding the past (the intent of early creators and users) in order to most effectively use our tools in the present.

While talking about the emerging perspectives towards the early Internet, Owens mentioned how some people who studied online communities anticipated the Internet becoming a virtual 3D world. Speculation at that time envisioned 3D virtual avatars walking around a virtual3D space. While a 3D world would have been a much more familiar and intuitive structure for the Internet, besides some online gaming, this articulation of Internet sites is essentially non-existent today.

The way people envision technology progressing often doesn’t turn out to be too accurate—this is a recurring pattern.

In the 1700s, electricity was viewed as an oddity only fit for parlor tricks and casual entertainment. No one at that time could have foreseen the far-reaching possibilities of electricity.

When the first computer was built, the creator anticipated there would never be a need for more than three or four computers. He would be shocked to see the prevalence of computers in our every day lives (work, transportation, communication, etc.). 

In the late 1800s, a flammable material was thrown away as a useless byproduct of the kerosene refinement process. So much of it was thrown away that people claimed dropping a burning match on a lake could set the surface of the lake on fire. It wasn’t until Rockefeller—dissatisfied with the amount of waste and eager to improve efficiency—attempted to find a use for this “worthless byproduct” that he discovered the value of gasoline.

A similar principle holds true for online communities: there are likely many more applications for this emerging technology than people presently imagine. It’s important to resist the temptation to be satisfied with the status quo and accept the notion that online communities are approaching the pinnacle of their functionality. We shouldn’t be content with the current level of technology, instead trying to push on and be leaders in the development of the next generation of online communities—whatever form that may take.

Where do you see the technology of communities going in the future?

Topics: Community Platforms & Updates

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