What do Snapchat stories, Pokémon Go, Facebook live video and virtual reality all have in common?
Two words: virtual experience.
In his book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (Amazon), author Kevin Kelly talks about the "internet of experiences," where the internet will increasingly become more about virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence-as-a-service, rather than the old "internet of information" that it's been since the beginning.
Kelly is right. His "internet of experiences" is inevitable. But why?
The reason is obvious: Information overload.
The first web site, which was created by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, was all about linking pages of information with other pages of information. Since then, just about everyone who produces information has gone online. Plus, there are billions of blog posts, social media messages, articles, podcasts, videos and more online. Bill Gates' 1994 groundbreaking Comdex speech was called "Information at your Fingertips." Google's mission was to "organize the world's information."
The boomers and Gen X-ers put a world of information at everyone's fingertips. But the millennials are opting out by demanding more experiences and less information.
It's clear that the online and tech-using culture has been moving away from information-based communication for years.
Social networking and messaging have evolved gradually in the past five years. Back in 2011, people wrote (and read) multi-paragraph length posts. Over the past five years, the sharing of and engagement on social networking posts have favored pictures, animated GIFs and text-and-picture memes over information-rich posts.
One way to look at it is that social interaction has gotten less "literate," moving from paragraphs to sentences to partial sentences to emojis.
But it's not really about "literacy," it's about escaping from information overload. Emojis require a kind of emoji literacy, but they communicate vaguely and ambiguously and prioritize feelings and emotions over facts and information. The rise of emojis is a symptom of the decline of information -- or at least, the rise of information avoidance.
The growing desire for less information has been accompanied by an increasing desire for more experience.
Here's where the public's growing obsession with "virtual experience" over information is already showing up on the internet.
'What it's like' headlines
Have you noticed the sudden rise in headlines that use the phrases "what it's like" or "how it feels"? Here are thousands of examples from Google News.
This headline trend, which used to be rare, is clearly an attempt to hook a public craving experience, rather than information.
Traditionally, a standard news story might start with the headline: "California Woman Loses Home to Wildfire." But the new headline style is: "What It's Like To Lose Your Home To A Wildfire."
It's the same story, but to attract experience-craving readers on social media you have to promise a vicarious experience of events, rather than just information about events.
And the technique works. People now gravitate to "what it's like" and "how it feels" headlines because people are increasingly repelled by information and attracted to experience.
Live mobile video is taking the internet world by storm. It started with Meerkat and Periscope and now Facebook and Google are getting into the act. (Google's live mobile video feature should hit YouTube any day now.)
Here's a truism that vloggers, video podcasters, TV professionals and others know well: Whether you watch live or watch a recording, anything that's broadcast live has a distinct quality that is very different from video with multiple takes and polished editing before broadcast. Live video has less of a packaged feeling and more of a "you are really there" vibe to it.
The world of online video is growing more popular, and the authentic, unscripted, unedited live format is on the rise because it's less like content consumption and more like experiencing someone else's world.
Snapchat and Instagram 'stories'
Snapchat fans were a little stunned by the degree to which Instagram essentially copied the Snapchat stories concept. Instagram Stories hit phones in an update Aug. 2, and, like Snapchat stories, it enables the creation of 10-second photo and video clips that vanish after 24 hours.
The promotional video for Instagram stories shows, among other scenes, a woman shopping for shoes. She captures a video of the shoes with her phone, then draws a question mark over the video before sending it off to friends.
This new way to communicate represents the decline of information and the rise of "virtual experience."
This story of the woman shopping for shoes would replace the behavior standard six months ago, where she would have taken a photo of the shoes, messaged them to friends and asked, "what do you think of these shoes?"
But in the world of "virtual experience," the question mark replaces information in her request, and the video adds the feeling of experience that isn't easily conveyed with a photo.
Most people I know who add images, drawings and words on top of their Snapchat or Instagram stories do so to add a sense of humor or fun to their stories, without explicitly saying so with words.
The trend is especially stark on Instagram, where stars used to thrill followers with beautiful photos. Now, when they add stories, the quality is way down, but the feeling of "being there" is way up, making that content more appealing.
Pokémon Go and virtual reality
Pokémon Go is a huge hit. But why?
The game is made by Niantic, a Google spinoff that previous published Field Trip and Ingress.
If you're unfamiliar with Field Trip, the app alerted you to facts about your current location. For example, it could notify you if you're at the location of a famous movie scene or historical event.
Ingress, on the other hand, is a game like Pokémon Go in the sense that it's location based and pits teams against each other. But Ingress is a vastly more complex game than Pokémon Go, with a long list of rules and strategy best practices to learn.
There are all kinds of theories about the radical popularity of Pokémon Go. But one way to look at all three apps is that Field Trip focuses on information, Pokémon Go focuses on experience and Ingress is a kind of hybrid of information and experience, and their relative popularity reflects the degree to which each favors experience over information.
While mixed reality games and applications like Pokémon Go provide a "virtual experience" lite, full-blown virtual reality (VR) is explicitly and completely about creating "virtual experience."
VR is assumed to be all about games. But games, and especially "first-person shooter," "open world" and other game types are already highly experience-oriented. VR games will be great. But the real VR revolution will be in applications that replace information-intensive activities like reading, social networking and business communication with a "virtual experience" of "being there" and "doing that."
Of course, we'll always have more information coming at us than we could process in a thousand lifetimes. But the new world of "virtual experience" will give us more appealing and human ways to learn, communicate and play.
Now sit back, put on those goggles and experience the rise of "virtual experience."
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