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Cafeteria-style is the future of social media... and everything else online, too

You want to know what the next social media service that will be eating all of your time will be? All of them. Or rather, all of them that you want, in whatever proportions you like.

Recently, Twitter announced a couple of big integrations -- one with MySpace and another a few days later with AOL. And Facebook bought FriendFeed while simultaneously copying Twitter features. So where is all of this headed? Let me put on my prognostication goggles (they look a lot like my regular glasses, mind you) and tell you.

The future is integrated: For a while, "walled gardens" were the rage in social media. Your Facebook friends were totally separate from your MySpace friends, and so on. These walls are falling, and I predict that within three years, the only walls still in existence will be the ones you put in place yourself -- and you may even have to pay for the privilege. Hey, these people gotta make money somehow. Services that resist such integration too strongly will wither and die. Who the hell wants to manage a half dozen closed, totally separate accounts? Even spies hate that shit. Everything will be able to see and talk to everything else -- so will people. Don't worry, this is going to be awesome.

The Next Big Thing isn't a service, it's a platform: Specifically, a platform (or app, if you prefer) that integrates all these services. It may be browser-based or stand-alone. It might be both. But it'll be set apart by the way it makes mixing, matching and managing these services as simple as selecting things off a cafeteria line. To follow the analogy, it will also make it easy to dip your fries (say, YouTube) in your applesauce (Twitter), if that's how you roll. It will also help you manage and group your friends -- real friends, work friends, whatever -- and control which of them can see others. Similar services already exist to some degree: As I type this, TweetDeck is happily flashing updates from Twitter and Facebook at me, and if I want to add MySpace, I can. But they are going to get better. A lot better. And they are going to integrate everything from the obvious social media service to e-mail, web browsing, video editing and probably, somehow, "happy endings." And as a result...

The web as we know it will cease to exist: Sort of. I mean, it will still be there, but it's going to be accessed, built and used so differently that it's going to look as alien to today's users as yesterday's FTP, Gopher and Lynx look to us. And our kids are going to laugh at us when we tell them about how, "In the old days, you had to go to separate websites for each thing you did, and you had to type the name in!" as they fiddle with their neural jack and suck protein paste from a nanotech straw in their electric, flying car. Lucky little bastards.

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