The Living Web

Those who attempt to predict the future generally fall under one of four categories: Technologists, Spiritualists, Futurists, and Historians. The Technologists are opitimized by people like Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. Technologists are interested in buzzwords, and “killer apps”; they don’t so much predict the future, as much as they attempt to invent it. They enjoy making far reaching claims such as “by 2012, the Home Entertainment Center will be fully controlled by the Personal Computer.” So here at the beginning I tell the reader not to worry: I’m no technologist.Then there are the Spiritualists. Their predictions are usually based upon an eclectic mixture of metaphysical energies that are focused through crystals, and directed towards the third eye of a psychic. The psychic has a “vision” which provides an astrologer with a “key” to read the stars. The astrologer then reports his findings to a guru who in turn informs the public of “the approaching age of Aquarius”. I never went to wizard school, so I’m not qualified to give such predictions.The more scientific cousins of the spiritualists are the futurists. When the futurists aren’t attending their weekly Klingon classe, or preparing their Borg costume for the next Star Trek Convention; they will be found creating technologically advanced nowhere lands. However, this group has lost considerable authority since the building of space needles at world fairs went out of style.I myself fall squarely into the historian camp. In other words, my predictions are made by placing current trends within a frame of historical parallels. So without further delay, here is the summery of this speculative work so far:
  • Blogs wikis and social software are mere prototypes of the mediums which will fuel a rapidly growing “living web”.
  • The long-term consequences of the living web will be comparable to the consequences of the printing press on middle age Europe. We are already seeing the first ripples of the living web’s influence on political campaigns, journalism, and academia.
  • The historical parallels are strong enough to suggest that the consequences of these technologies will be far-reaching, unintended, and above all, unforeseen.
“The living web” is not an abstract concept; yet people fail to make a distinction often enough. The living web is seen on the front pages of blogs, the top of the forums at discussion boards, and the latest revisions of a wiki. The content is created or selected by human beings, and is organized around loose, unorganized communities of similar interests. The content of any given corner of the living web will change on a daily basis. Often these changes are directed by feedback from the audience, breaking news, and the general interests of the folks who typically frequent such a site.The “dead web” is basically “the world-wide archive”. A blog page becomes part of “the dead web” once it is indexed into monthly archives. Similarly, old wiki-revisions become part of the dead web. However, the plethora of badly coded 1998-era homepages, with big purple and orange letters set against rainbow backgrounds; with a soundblaster-16’s MIDI rendition of “Stars and Stripes forever” as background music; these sites are perhaps the best example of the dead web.As was stated in the thesis: blogs, wikis, and tools such as drupal are primitive prototypes of the technology which will end up governing “the living web”. The strengths of these tools should be fairly obvious when one considers the success of the dean campaign and wikipedia. What is perhaps less obvious is the actual social function of these tools, and my predictions for the next 5 years are based predominantly on my analysis of these functions.Anyone who spends more than a month on the web will develop an online persona. I, for example, am currently not “Nick”: the long haired, Rachmaninoff-playing philosophical hippy type known by my friends and family. As far as the Internet is concerned, I’m “Nick Lewis” founder of the progressive blog alliance, and headmaster of the Net Politik Fellowship of Punditry – a prodigal self educated pioneer of the progressive web. Or at least that’s what I’m aiming for.The point is that the living web is made of people; the quality of the technology that they use to collaborate is the biggest limit upon what the inhabits of the living web can accomplish. What this introduction represents is an attempt to get my own notes in order. About 5 months ago, I lost myself in research; I now find myself in a position that I feel my notes can be brought together. My next post in this series will cover the historical effects of new communication mediums on societies.