Review of Fishbowl by Matthew Glass

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This is a book rather difficult to pigeonhole. It is described by Amazon as contemporary, while one reviewer classified it as a lo-octane thriller, which would appeal to geeks. I think that pretty much nails it, except I think it has a wider appeal than the geeks among us. If you’ve ever seriously wondered where the internet is going to end up, then this book provides some interesting food for thought.

fishbowlGifted Ivy League student Andrei Koss hits upon an idea that promises to revolutionise social networking and move it on by a generation. Enlisting the help of his roommates, Ben Marks and Kevin Embley, he turns their dormitory into an operations base, where flashes of creative brilliance and all-night-coding sessions lead to the creation of Fishbowl. Within eight years they will turn a whim into a multi-billion-dollar empire; their creation will reach into every corner of the planet. But its immense power has many uses and everyone wants a piece of it…

And if that sounds like a certain film about a certain famous social-networking site, you’re right. There are some striking similarities to The Social Network. However, this book then continues and gains momentum just where the film finishes, with some chilling and fascinating conclusions.

Koss is a classic geeky genius, socially awkward and only truly happy when up close and personal with a computer screen, or other people who are equally at home in cyberland. I found it poignantly ironic that the ideal driving him forward to succeed with Fishbowl is his obsession with Deep Connectedness – a concept that will link people to others who truly line up with their own personalities and interests, no matter where they live. However, running a popular social network takes processing power and chunks of time, which isn’t free. So Koss and his two companions find themselves needing serious funding to keep Fishbowl going, which means finding some way to earn money with it. And the A-word is introduced to the Grotto, to the horror of the diehard fans of Fishbowl, who regard themselves as the intellectual heart and soul of the Fishbowl community.

Events impact upon Fishbowl, not least when they manage to attract the attention of Homeland Security and the FBI, but there is an inexorable push for Koss and the company keeping Fishbowl going to continue to extend the commercial side of the business. I found the descriptions of the growth of Fishbowl and the problems encountered along the way utterly engrossing. Glass manages to write knowledgeably about the technical and commercial obstacles littering the path of such a venture and make it interesting and comprehensible to someone whose knowledge of computers and the business world would fit comfortably on the back jacket of a pocket-sized paperback. It’s a nifty trick to pull off.

And he continues to impress with the various twists in the story. I saw some of them coming – after all there are only so many options open to a scenario featuring a social network site set in the present or very near future. But the final twist was an enormous surprise and has ensured that this book left a lasting impression with me. If you are interested in where technology is going, or any kind of science fiction fan, then give this book a go. It’s worth it.
8/10

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