Who would have guessed, personal expression has supplanted email as the killer app of the Internet in round 2, not that telecom executives and TV producers have noticed yet. That special property of humans, the desire to self-express and be unique and (almost as importantly, the other side of the observed-observer equation) to see others self-express has driven community sites to boom. Why is it that 17 year old high school senior Melody has gotten over 800,000 views of her break-up video spot with the funny cat squeals on YouTube? And Barry Diller thinks he is arbiter of talent. Even the site names belie the personal expression killer app, YouTube and MySpace.
Personal expression, née social, communities are growing exponentially in both video media (YouTube, Current TV, etc.) and social networking version 2.0 websites (MySpace (82 M registered users), FaceBook, Bebo (22 M registered users), etc.) and have their own devices like the Helio Kickflip phone for continuous communication with the sites.
The raw potential: “Communities, Joel, Communities…”
Online communities have assembled to meet the human needs of self expression, socialization and communication but their true power is not just in redefining traditional media, communications and entertainment models but in the potential for future applications enabled by properties of the communities themselves. The key properties of communities are the size of the groups - millions of individuals, the instantaneous and continuous communication of members, the fluidity by which members arrive and leave and the increasing degree of international members.
With groups this large and liquid being assembled and continuously communicating, the next level of community-based applications is already emerging, for example affinity search. Prefound is in the early stages of providing community-based affinity search (a similar concept earlier and less successfully executed by About.com and the Google Base).
However, the real long-term potential power of communities is to have millions of individuals coming together in virtual affinity groups for a variety of purposes, the two most obvious of which are opinion-registering (political, social, etc.) and economic transactions, and it cannot be overstated that this model is the norm for anyone currently under 30.