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This morning, I read about the release of OnLive and the consequent, identical Akklaim announcement.  Both promised a new form of gaming with a very simple console in the home instead of the computing behemoths that now inhabit the living room – a model where the majority of the computing is done in the cloud. As a result, some at GDC have proclaimed the current generation of consoles to the last ones.

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The enabling factor for these innovations is the broadband network. Before consoles were plugged into the web, they needed to have all the relevant files and processing power. Now, both can be streamed very quickly. Of course, as more gamers shift to cloud gaming the network will need to be upgraded to bear the additional load.

All this begs the question, which comes first: the network or the application? In this most recent case, it’s the network that enabled the application (cloud gaming) to appear. But this isn’t always the observed behavior.

The telephone (application) forced the network first with phone lines, then cellular to be built. The same is true for television, first with radio transmitters then with cables. Thirdly, it’s also true for the internet. But after the initial introduction of the network, it’s the applications which drive the evolution of the network because ever more traffic requires ever more sophisticated networks – cellular, cable tv and fiber to the home.

Is it true for social networks?

My thinking at the moment is the same pattern holds true for social networks. The primary interest in Friendster, MySpace and Facebook at their birth was finding and connecting to friends. After this had been established, it was all about the applications: photo sharing, social gaming, etc.

Does anyone have a counter-example of this where the network created the application?

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