Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The year of Social Networking

I think that it’s safe to say that 2007 was the year of social networking. The year started with Facebook opening their APIs to third party developers in April. Since making its APIs available, Facebook has signed up 100,000 developers who have created 6,000 applications. Microsoft’s response was to invest $240 million in Facebook, valuing the company at a whopping $15 billion! Myspace followed suit, opening their APIs as well. Then Google got into the fray, teaming with Myspace and others to create a set of open standards for building social-networking aware applications.

The really big news was how a group of Ron Paul supporters used the internet, including various social networking sites, to bypass the brain dead talking heads in the mainstream media and mount a truly grassroots, insurgent campaign for President.

Facebook and MySpace aren’t the only companies whose aim is to redefine the entire computing landscape towards a reusable, web-based, utility-oriented, “social”, and composable architecture. Others notable companies include Amazon, SalesForce, Google, and now even Microsoft itself with its set of Live services.

The staggering thing about all of this is how fast the computing landscape is changing. Who would have thought even a year ago that a social networking site that was originally designed to enable Harvard University students to hook up, would become one of the driving forces in this new era?

How did this new model seem to just spring out of nowhere and position itself to challenge how computing resources are defined, delivered, managed, and used?

We’ve all heard of Moore’s law -- the number of transistors in integrated circuits would double ever 2 years. Moore’s law points to a more general law – the law of exponential change. So, Kryder’s law states that hard drive capacity will double every 24 months; Butler’s law states that the amount of capacity over an optical network doubles ever 9 months; Hendy’s law – the number of pixels per dollar in a digital camera…

The amount of data is doubling in the world every year as well. In 2005, 5 exabytes of information was created, enough to line a 12 foot long bookshelf for every person on earth – all 6.5 billion of us. Last year, it was 12.5 exabytes. It will double again this year. In 2010 the number of bytes generated by digital cameras, mobile phones, and business IT systems will equal the number of grains of sand on the world's beaches.

Think about what exponential change really means. Imagine that you have a sheet of paper and you fold it in half. Then fold it again and again and again. After 6 folds, it’s as thick as a fingernail. Not very impressive, huh? After 15 folds it would be about as tall as the average woman in the U.S. At 37 folds it would nearly stretch from Seattle to Tokyo. After 100 folds, it would be the larger than the known universe – more than 13 billion light years across.

This is essentially what we are faced with – accelerating technological change that is helping remake the world in unpredictable and rather dramatic ways.

What does all of this mean to us as individuals in the computing field? The short answer is unbounded opportunity and peril.

First, the peril part. When I first entered the field a little more than 20 years ago, I remember this “old-timer” (who was about 30) telling me that he intended to spend the rest of his career as a PROFS administrator. For those of you who never heard of PROFS, go “Google it” and then tell me if this guy still has a job doing that.

What about the opportunity part? As we’ve seen over the last few years, the opportunities are endless, at times very exciting, and potentially rather lucrative.

Whether we wind up in peril or in prosperity largely depends on our ability to continually apply new technologies to society’s most pressing challenges and opportunities.

Are you ready for the challenge?

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