In the wide world of the Internet, is impossible to predict what will catch on and what will land in a disastrous thud failing to cause any commotion. Technology has always been a rather unpredictable field, for unpredictability is one of the main concepts behind that word: if it can be mathematically analyzed in order to determine where it will be, or what will happen in a few days or in a number of years, then it becomes a pattern rather than an exercise in human creativity, which is what ends up pushing technology forward. Things become even more complex when we begin taking into account the intense human aspect of the Internet, where one relevant share can start a trend and a positive recommendation can be the difference between a service being unknown or being worth a few billion dollars. If the behavior or mood of one human is hard to foretell, it is even harder to say how a very heterogeneous group of people will react to something, and in that impossible task rests the magic of being successful in the virtual world.
Still, all online services that have succeeded in the past few years share a quality in common: ridiculous simplicity. Google is a white screen with a text box and a couple of buttons whose functions are summed up in a couple of words; Twitter limits its pieces of content to 140 characters, forcing people to broadcast information in direct and summarized ways; Tumblr is a blog system where ideas are passed around as images, instead of boring text; and Facebook, as full of functionalities as it may be, can be very useful even if users limit themselves to the service's three key words - share, like and reply. Nintendo's first venture into the social world of the Internet - Miiverse - has much in common with all of those tools when it comes to its ultimate intent and, as a consequence, it has a lot to learn from them.
At first, one would think that instead of looking at those forms of online media, Nintendo should gaze upon what currently exists inside the gaming backyard - Xbox Live and Playstation Network - but while some concepts could indeed be successfully imported from those two, they should not serve as role models, and in that regard Nintendo is quite safe, because it has never been a company with a tendency to follow the pack. It, instead, historically acts as the first to venture into an area, and it is followed more often than not. Assuming that the Wii U replicates the success of the Wii, Nintendo is dealing with an audience that is much closer to that that uses Facebook than to Sony and Microsoft's crew. It is an audience that does have its share of people who are very comfortable with gaming and technology, but it also houses a bunch of people who have a hard time using PCs, and if Miiverse fails to reach those people, its full potential will not be fulfilled, and all games and features that will rely on it will be vastly underused.
Nintendo has always been comfortable in dealing with simplicity. The Wiimote itself reduced complicated functions to the intuitive pointing of a cursor, the touch-screen of their handhelds brought the winner simplicity of tablets into the gaming market, and the Wii U already provides such a straightforward interface in combining the two possibilities into a single system, which guarantees that interaction between users and the Miiverse will be easily grasped. Equally important, when it comes to access, is the fact that Nintendo's little universe will be available not only on the Wii U, but on other mobile systems that have access to the Internet, which nowadays means any smartphone. In relation to what happened with the Wii's online functionalities, which got completely overlooked due to the fact that accessing them was a chore, that is a major positive step, because this portable nature of Nintendo's social network can turn Miiverse into a mandatory stop whenever its users log into the Internet, much like many people are constantly online on Facebook whenever they are around their PCs or cellphones.
With the ability to be frequently logged into the network, two problems arise: the issue of providing enough engaging features for gamers to have a reason to sign up on a daily basis, and filling up those features with relevant user-generated content, which when truly recognized sends a nice cycle of constant production into motion, since people feel eager to earn more recognition among the community. Nintendo has always had major trouble with dealing with content by users, as they are so overly protective of their audience that getting a comment or message green-lighted is an exercise in bureaucracy. It is hard to believe that the company will suddenly do away with their annoying overprotective quirks, but as long as they find a suiting balance between the mad anarchy that is the Internet, and rules that validate clean and quality content, the service will be on a roll; that is it, if it has enough good features to support it.
Upon the system's announcement, Miiverse was by far its most unfairly ignored pieces. It is an absolutely brilliant idea coming from a company that has a disastrous past dealing with online gaming, which is probably why it did not get the attention it deserved. By now, our brains have become automatic in assuming that whatever Nintendo proposes for their online services will be completely lackluster, but - by looking at the first steps they have taken in creating their own social network - they seem to have finally come to terms with the current state of the Internet, and such comprehension - even in the middle of such an unpredictable environment - is key to success. Now, it is time to be off to work on the materialization of that charming universe.