When I was born, in the 1950s, TV was new. While the basic forms of the medium were in place, most of what we saw was borrowed from other media—burlesque, radio, movies, the stage.
But our generation defined TV. We made it a basic part of our vocabulary from the start. The quick-cuts and self-references from decades spent in front of the tube, everything from Saturday Night Live through MTV to The Simpsons—those were made by us.
My kids, now 15 and 12, have a different vocabulary. My kids are part of the Internet Generation.
They have grown up with PCs. My son was four when the Web was spun. On Friday nights they go to their rooms. My 15-year-old daughter is lost in Fanfiction.net. My son plays with Sid Maier's Civilization games, or on Neopets.com. There is no fighting for our one TV. I sit before it alone.
If you can't wait for my kids to grow up to see what comes next, go to any college campus. Today's sophomores were in grade school when the Web was spun. And they have created new niches for you before our eyes.
Here is one. When you're hungry, it's a drag to go offline, pick up a phone, then drive somewhere to cure your munchies. Here you pick from among a list of local fast-food houses, order from an online menu, pay by credit card, and wait for the grub to come to you.
Staying on campus means staying online. Take a look at the shopping districts around most college campuses. If they don't have Wi-Fi access, they're empty.
College students take these preferences with them when they go into the world. When my neighbor has a party, he doesn't crank up the stereo. He programs a list of MP3s, runs them through good speakers, and then leaves everything alone. Every anticipated mood—welcoming, drinking, romanticizing, leaving—they're all pre-programmed.
The reason you can't stop file-trading has nothing to do with the law or ethics. When you live on the network, you use one device to buy music, get music, store music, and hear music. You're not driving to get a one-hour CD, packing its jewel case in a stack somewhere, then reloading every hour. The experience must be more organic than that.
This has already happened with gaming. Online games have become one of the most profitable niches we have. Users download complex clients, they spend real money for complex experiences, and they play for hours and hours on end. Microsoft and Sony are making a ton from this—why can't they bring that knowledge to music?
As storage and screen quality improve, the same thing will happen to video. Instead of fighting it, get ready to profit from it.
If you want to know what to put in your online store, start talking to college students about what they don't have, what they want, and the hassles they want eliminated because they are slowing them down from getting what they want.
And when you set up your store, don't forget the young alumni. Don't let the graduates wander off your site—serve them. Communicate with those valued customers and keep giving them what they want. Grow with the market.
Now I was planning on writing about new, simpler ways to build Web applications from outfits like KOTW. But those are just stops along your path. Simpler, deeper Web applications and Web stores, bought and designed entirely online, are a great way to get into a market quickly and inexpensively.
But they're not the game. Finding a niche, defining a paying market, reaching that market and serving it—that's the game. Technology is a means to that end, not the end itself.
So find yourself a campus somewhere, or better yet (since the competition is less) a high school. Listen to those consumers. Give them what they want.
Don't look to me if you want to define opportunity. Ask the Internet Generation.