But there is another story in this too, one that harkens back to those other historical examples I just gave. It is that Great technologies are typically sold, incorrectly, on applications we know but succeed on applications we can't yet guess. Trade with Japan was what sold the transcontinental railroad; populating the western United States was what made it a historic milestone. Automatic toilet flushing sold the microprocessor to Intel; the personal computer, cellphone, iPod and video game player is what made Intel and its competitors rich and famous.
The same is true, I think, for the technologies of Web 2.0. MySpace and Facebook saw their initial success as platforms for people to connect socially online. Twitter began as a side project, a novelty application for smartphone users to share their day with friends.
But now, under the press of history, these technologies are beginning to morph before our eyes. Suddenly, as you read the Facebook postings of Iranian protesters, it suddenly becomes apparent that social networks are becoming their own pseudo-nation states, complete with voluntary citizens, laws (often in conflict with their real-life counterparts) and degrees of sovereignty. Meanwhile, Twitter (and video counterparts like Qik) is becoming the new wire service, replacing newspapers and television as "the first draft of history." I think we are going to see the same thing happen with other Web 2.0 companies, such as LinkedIn, which will likely become the vast global job pool for protean corporations.
Like the people of the late 1860s and the early 1970s, we have seen the future, but it has only been through a glass, darkly. Now, that glass is becoming clear …
This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michael S. Malone is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNews.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.