The Internet has turned our existence upside down. It has revolutionized communications, to the extent that it is now our preferred medium of everyday communication. In almost everything we do, we use the Internet. Ordering a pizza, buying a television, sharing a moment with a friend, sending a picture over instant messaging. Before the Internet, if you wanted to keep up with the news, you had to walk down to the newsstand when it opened in the morning and buy a local edition reporting what had happened the previous day. But today a click or two is enough to read your local paper and any news source from anywhere in the world, updated up to the minute.
The Internet itself has been transformed. In its early days—which from a historical perspective are still relatively recent—it was a static network designed to shuttle a small freight of bytes or a short message between two terminals; it was a repository of information where content was published and maintained only by expert coders. Today, however, immense quantities of information are uploaded and downloaded over this electronic leviathan, and the content is very much our own, for now we are all commentators, publishers, and creators.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Internet widened in scope to encompass the IT capabilities of universities and research centers, and, later on, public entities, institutions, and private enterprises from around the world. The Internet underwent immense growth; it was no longer a state-controlled project, but the largest computer network in the world, comprising over 50,000 sub-networks, 4 million systems, and 70 million users.
The development of the Internet today is being shaped predominantly by instant, mobile communications. The mobile Internet is a fresh revolution. Comprehensive Internet connectivity via smartphones and tablets is leading to an increasingly mobile reality: we are not tied to any single specific device, and everything is in the cloud.
COMMUNICATION OPPORTUNITIES CREATED BY THE INTERNET
The Internet has become embedded in every aspect of our day-to-day lives, changing the way we interact with others. This insight struck me when I started out in the world of social media. I created my first social network in 2005, when I was finishing college in the United States—it had a political theme. I could already see that social media were on the verge of changing our way of communicating, helping us to share information by opening up a new channel that cuts across conventional ones.
The Internet and Privacy and Security
Another key issue surrounding Internet use is privacy. Internet users are becoming more sensitive to the insight that privacy is a must-have in our lives.
Privacy has risen near the top of the agenda in step with an increasing awareness of the implications of using social media. Much of the time, people started to use social media with no real idea of the dangers, and have wised up only through trial and error—sheer accident, snafus, and mistakes. Lately, inappropriate use of social media seems to hit the headlines every day. Celebrities posting inappropriate comments to their profiles, private pictures and tapes leaked to the Internet at large, companies displaying arrogance toward users, and even criminal activities involving private-data trafficking or social media exploitation.
The Internet and Culture
As in the sphere of education, the development of information and communication technologies and the wide-ranging effects of globalization are changing what we are, and the meaning of cultural identity. Ours is a complex world in which cultural flows across borders are always on the rise. The concepts of space, time, and distance are losing their conventional meanings. Cultural globalization is here, and a global movement of cultural processes and initiatives is underway.
Again, in the cultural arena, vast fields of opportunity open up thanks to online tools. The possibilities are multiplied for disseminating a proposal, an item of knowledge, or a work of art. Against those doomsayers who warn that the Internet is harming culture, I am radically optimistic. The Internet is bringing culture closer to more people, making it more easily and quickly accessible; it is also nurturing the rise of new forms of expression for art and the spread of knowledge. Some would say, in fact, that the Internet is not just a technology, but a cultural artifact in its own right.
The Internet and Personal Relationships
The Internet has also changed the way we interact with our family, friends, and life partners. Now everyone is connected to everyone else in a simpler, more accessible, and more immediate way; we can conduct part of our personal relationships using our laptops, smart phones, and tablets.
The benefits of always-online immediate availability are highly significant. I would find a long-distance relationship with my life partner or my family unthinkable without the communication tools that the network of networks provides me with. I’m living in Madrid, but I can stay close to my brother in California. For me, that is the key plus of the Internet: keeping in touch with the people who really matter to me.
The Internet and Social and Political Activism
Even before the emergence of social media, pioneering experiments took place in the political sphere—like Essembly, a project I was involved in. We started to create a politically themed platform to encourage debate and provide a home for social and political causes; but the social networks that have later nurtured activism in a new way were not as yet in existence.
The Internet and Consumer Trends
New technologies increase the speed of information transfer, and this opens up the possibility of “bespoke” shopping. The Internet offers an immense wealth of possibilities for buying content, news, and leisure products, and all sorts of advantages arise from e-commerce, which has become a major distribution channel for goods and services. You can book airline tickets, get a T-shirt from Australia, or buy food at an online grocery store. New applications support secure business transactions and create new commercial opportunities.
The Internet is one of the key factors driving today’s economy. No one can afford to be left behind. Even in a tough macroeconomic framework, the Internet can foster growth, coupled with enhanced productivity and competitiveness.
The future of social communications will be shaped by an always-online culture. Always online is already here and will set the trend going forward. Total connectivity, the Internet you can take with you wherever you go, is growing unstoppably. There is no turning back for global digitalization.
Innovation is the driving force of growth and progress, so we need to shake up entrenched processes, products, services, and industries, so that all of us together—including established businesses, reacting to their emerging competitors—can move forward together.
Innovation is shaping and will continue to shape the future of social communications. It is already a reality that Internet connections are increasingly mobile. A survey we conducted in early 2013 in partnership with Ipsos found that 94 percent of Tuenti users aged 16 to 35 owned cell phones, 84 percent of users connected to the Internet using their phones, and 47 percent had mobile data subscriptions for connecting to the Internet. A total of 74 percent of users reported connecting to the Internet from their phone on a daily basis, while 84 percent did so at least weekly. Only 13 percent did not use their phones to connect to the Internet, and that percentage is decreasing every day.
Mobile Internet use alters the pattern of device usage; the hitherto familiar ways of accessing the Internet are changing too. The smartphone activities taking up the most time (over three hours a day) include instant messaging (38%), social media use (35%), listening to music (24%), and web browsing (20%). The activities taking up the least time (under five minutes a day) are: SMS texting (51%), watching movies (43%), reading and writing e-mail (38%), and talking on the phone (32%). Things are still changing.
Smartphones are gaining ground in everyday life. Many of the purposes formerly served by other items now involve using our smartphones. Some 75 percent of young people reported having replaced their MP3 player with their phone, 74 percent use their phone as an alarm clock, 70 percent use it as their camera, and 67 percent use it as their watch.
We have been observing these shifts for a while, which is why we decided to reinvent ourselves by placing smartphones at the heart of our strategy. I want to use this example as a showcase of what is happening in the world of social communication and the Internet in general: mobile connectivity is bringing about a new revolution. Tuenti is no longer just a social network, and social media as a whole are becoming more than just websites. The new Tuenti provides native mobile apps for Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone, as well as the Firefox OS app and the mobile version of the website, m.tuenti.com. Tuenti is now a cross-platform service that lets users connect with their friends and contacts from wherever they may be, using their device of choice. A user with a laptop can IM in real time with a user with a smartphone, and switch from one device to another without losing the thread of the conversation.
The conversations are in the cloud, so data and contacts are preserved independently of the devices being used. This means the experience has to be made uniform across platforms, which sometimes involves paring down functionalities, given the processing and screen size limitations of mobile devices. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so on are all evolving to become increasingly cross-platform experiences. But Tuenti is the first social network that has also developed its own Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)—the company is an Internet service provider over the mobile network. Tuenti is an MVNO with a social media angle, and this may be the future path of telecommunications.