Monday, April 27, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

The New York Times has a story about a website started by an 18 year old high school student in Vermont called Omegle (the website, not the high school student). The idea of the website is to let people chat with random strangers rather than someone they already know. As our student so wisely says, "You can’t learn anything from someone exactly like you."

Of course, for those of us who remember the Internet's early days, chatting with random strangers has a long history. In fact, I happen to know a married couple who met via a totally random MSN Messenger chat. I can remember random chats on CompuServe and AOL and ICQ and even (if I remember correctly) early versions of Skype. The whole concept of being able to chat for free with someone from anywhere in the world was one of the "gee whiz" Internet concepts right up until everyone realized that these chats don't tend to produce much in the way of learning about the world or other people. Indeed, Omegle doesn't seem to have solved the fundamental problem, summed up in the article by Jason Tanz, a senior editor at Wired:
"The first person I connected with said, 'let’s have cyber right now,'" he said of his experience on Omegle, referring to cybersex. "The second was a 14-year-old kid from London. It’s not hard to see how this is going to be a problem."

At any rate, the point is not whether Omegle is a good idea or a bad idea. The point is that to an 18 year old high school student it's a new idea. There's probably a lesson in here for would-be Internet entrepreneurs or anyone who wants to make money off of young people. The lesson is something like, think of something you used to like doing when you were a kid that people don't do anymore. Update it slightly and then have the confidence to release it into the world as though you were the first person ever to have thought of it. Otherwise you might get beat out by an 18 year old who doesn't know that he didn't invent anyway.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Oh, you're so negative! Yet... so.... right... :P