SNW INTERVIEW -- Aug 23 -- Where would we be without the Woz? I had the occasion, and the honor, to interview Steve Wozniak recently, and get his thoughts on the rise of social networking. - Mark Brooks
Why do people use social networks? Aren’t networking and social somewhat the antithesis of each other.
A lot of geeks have this reputation of not being able to socialize with normal people. When I was younger I was always around electronics people and we would talk in the same language among ourselves and other people didn’t understand us but you always seek out some sort of communication.
I look at computer kids sitting in their bedroom all day long. They’re not opening newspapers, they’re not exposing themselves to the same sources of knowledge as the rest of us but they’re picking it up online. They’re as well educated as we are but they’re just off doing it on their own, their new different way.
So socialization really isn’t separate from geekism. Now understanding the needs for people to communicate in the most normal ways and what do people like to do, what do they like to talk about? That might be a little strange for the geeks but actually somebody has to set up the tools, somebody has to build the car before you can drive and driving is a big form of socialization too.
So we’re the tool builders. When we first came out with the Macintosh, we spoke about making programs that you would figure out how to use simply by looking at them and that’s what today’s Web 2.0 is really getting at. It used to be so difficult to write it into programs and have the music start up. Nowadays you just drag a song in or a picture like the simple forms of page editing, graphics and stuff.
People cite SixDegrees.com as being the first social network but before SixDegrees.com what were the real building blocks for the social networking industry?
Back in the early 70’s, there were modems and people could dial into big computers. We had ideas that someone would leave a message and then 100 other people would dial in and see the message. We were talking about other forms of socialization like schooling and how these computers would be used and how once everyone had their own computer all of a sudden we would be in touch with our few friends that mattered.
We didn’t see the internet, it wasn’t there at all. The Arpanet was around connecting university computers and a few cities but nothing like today.
Then the next step was after personal computers came out. A bunch of young kids knew how to type in some weird lettering that told the modems how to behave in a certain way. They could adapt programs called BBS programs (bulletin board systems) and some people could dial in over a slow modem and type in some stuff into a computer for others to read. The next person could dial in. Usually it was limited to only one phone line at a time.
That got extended into the big world with big computers and tons of phone lines so that hundreds of people could dial in at once. And the first one, that had maybe a million users, was called The Source. Also there were a bunch of services like Prodigy that were going to spin up and do the same sort of thing.
AOL really took a different approach and AOL spun out of Apple actually. They were based on the graphical user interface. So AOL was Macintosh only at first. And all of a sudden, they brought you a world. You signed up for an account, you got the phone number account so you could dial in with your modem and instead of seeing this text, text, text, it was using the mouse and making selections.
AOL’s chat rooms were the most popular thing and they may still be today. It was more popular then email. The internet came shortly after that and it had very little resemblance to today’s social networks at first. The internet unfortunately was designed for one purpose by scientists in the early days. When you design a system to work for one kind of people it’s very difficult to modify it and move it around. So we started creating web pages and gave them a little bit more appearance.
So it took a while for the world to change. Google, MySpace, Facebook.., these started by very young people not far out of college age just scrambling around with some new idea with a passion and dedication to make it work because they believe in it. So we’re slow to adapt where as new kids don’t have preset notions. It’s easy for them to jump in and when they see something good in their terms they recognize it instantly.
The PC is the weak link in the social networking continuum. Do you think we’re going to see a day when people use their mobile phones to access the internet in the US more then their PC?
I think its just going to be a continual mix. Some people want to have their laptops; some people smart phones and some want to have both. The phone is not as good an experience as the computer screen. Its just a part of the world and walking around with your very mobile devices and getting your instant messages all the time can get bothersome after a while. And I think screen and keyboard is still going to remain the main user interface method. It’s been that way for 50 years and people talk about moving on to voice and things but I don’t see it happening for technology.
So there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there working feverishly on the next generation of social networking sites. What message do you have for those folks?
Well there are so many people just thinking I’ll create a social networking site with maybe one little difference or for one particular group of people and it’s a little bit late in the game. Once you have some huge ones that take over and define what the nature of social networking is its difficult to come up with your own ideas that are going to matter that much. When we started Apple we had to buy parts and somebody might come in the door and say hey I’ve got the same part for a penny cheaper and we generally wouldn’t switch. We want to keep doing business with the same people who are serving you well and they have to have more then a nickel or a dime advantage in pricing to get you to switch because that builds relationships. You really do get locked into these sorts of things and it’s very hard to even switch like your email program or your favorite word processing program.