Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Life 2.0, Part 3

I am waiting for Web 3.0, which will ingrain itself into my real world in such a way that it will be virtually inseparable from my environment and approach a certain Artificial Intelligence aspect.

The Web 3.0 thing is a definite. I see it as the collective consciousness of all the information you can find on the Internet combined with your personal profile put through marketing and modeling software (algorithms?) to make predictions on behavior or even suggestions.

This is all dependant on our use of the Internet, which is becoming more and more prevalent. Web based applications are replacing locally run software. This idea gets us back to the mainframe model where your computer is simply a terminal slave for a larger, smarter, central computer. (Ever see Wargames?) But the larger smarter central computer in this case is replaced by a smudge of information across geographic and electronic areas.

Of course there will always be customization and personalization because that is what we demand but imagine a world where instead of choosing a system platform to run, you choose what site you will log into to do all your computing. Google seems to be heading in that direction and they aren’t the only ones who get it. In all honesty, I shiver at the idea of giving up my individuality to buy and pick and choose my software as I like for my own system that resides on my own hard drive locally instead of having an internet box that gets me access to a remote server that only looks like its mine.

This has been tried before but not too much success. Now with online video and photo sharing, blogging, and services like Gmail, this is becoming a reality. All a large company like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Apple or someone else has to do is start acquiring all the little websites and making them their own. Oh wait! This is already happening. More and more, the graphical interface of the web is replacing what lies beneath.

Bit Torrent is a file sharing protocol where multiple computers that hold the same file speed up uploading requests and limit bandwidth consumption by sending bits of data over a wider distribution of files across multiple sources. That’s my understanding of the technology. As more people pick up the file the faster the download time since there are more bits out there to take from simultaneously. With technology like that and an ever increasing bandwidth, it will not be long before we can seamlessly share all kinds of data and files no matter how large, further allowing remote accessing and increasing the ability of storage space to become almost infinite.

If I have a virtual hard drive but the files I keep are merely images of what I want instead of the actual file, every time I want to access it (lets say it’s my favorite movie or album) the file is sent to me by this distribution protocol instantly. Would I know the difference between actually owning a file and just having immediate access to it whenever I want?

Is the next evolution a model where my children buy dumb boxes and the internet makes available for free, powerful applications and services like Photoshop, Microsoft Excel, Gmail and Youtube all for the simple price of having to look at some pop up ads? Or a small subscription fee? Perhaps the ISPs will start offering subscription packages to online software apps ala the current model for cable offerings.

Even better I choose a menu of items I want to access for a price per month that I can change month to month as my needs change. Do I need to retouch photos this month? Order Photoshop. Is it tax season? Order Turbo Tax. Is my child going back to school in September? Time to reorder my favorite word processing software. For a couple of dollars per month I always have the most updated and latest software version instead of paying hundreds ever time I want one or have to upgrade.

The software companies make out because distribution costs and packaging is eliminated in favor of allowing more users access to their software. Lower price points may translate into exponentially larger subscribers and legal subscribers, at that. How much does Adobe loose on all those pirated and copied versions of Photoshop? Or how many people don’t use it because the price point is too high but they’d love to have it?

Take a $500 program and charge $10 per month for it. Then offer it so that you are always able to use the most updated and latest version if I so choose (or I can continue using the previous version I am used to until I want to switch up.) I’d do it so that I never have to mail in a registration card again or worry that in a few years I have to fork out another $200 to upgrade to the version that everyone else is using or that runs on the latest operating system.

Do you want the basic broadband subscription with channels like Google and Yahoo along with basic photo editing, word processing, email software and the 500 Terabytes of storage? Or do you want the Silver package where you get all the search engines plus the Microsoft Office Suite and Adobe package of application subscriptions and the 1 Petabyte of storage space? Great, now wait while we scan all your appliances and stereo equipment for integration into our control panel web page. What’s that madam? Sure, you can control everything when you are on vacation or at work, just log into your account. Your kids will get the PG-13 version access as well.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Life 2.0, Part 2

The personal web log, otherwise known as a Blog, has exploded over the last few years. The average web surfer can now access hundreds of site that allow them to set up a their own blog for free. Anyone with a connection to the Internet can be a content producer. Blogs can be rarely updated, extremely personal diaries or professionally run, frequently updated, journalistic reports on the world, politics or culture.

Wikis are the public sites where anyone can contribute and edit content. The most famous, allows anyone who registers to alter the encyclopedic content of the site on everything from politics to comic books. I think of it as the collective consciousness of the web.

Podcasting takes things a step higher. It is a natural evolution of the blogging phenom where a person (and usually more than one) takes their blog ideas and records them by voice. Think AM Talk Radio.

In addition more technologies like social networking sites that let you post your own profile and photo sharing site that allow you to upload and post your own photos for public viewing can be rolled into the Web 2.0 movement.

On MySpace millions of posters keep a running list of interests, connections, bulletins and news. They post photos and connect with old or new friends. The teenage market seems to be a high user base and indie rock bands seem to proliferate MySpace with their profiles. The ability to modulate the site with art, music and video adds to the appeal. Of course the real value in the site is for the advertisers to put their message in front of the millions of users that visit the site everyday. MySpace has minimal interactivity. It allows you to post your personal information and connect to others but it does not allow for anything close to real time feeding of information and on the fly changes. It’s pretty much a dinosaur that is a victim of its own massive popularity. is a site where users pick up articles off the web and link to them. Then other users vote up or down the article or story. It can be anything and of almost any subject although technology news seems to get the most “DIGGS” as they are called. The popular items are then talked about on a podcast. If you can imagine that this site draws in thousands of users every day and none of them are paid to search and post their favorite stories. It seems almost a badge of honor to be a newshound for and then have your picks become popular. While great for disseminating information that a group might find useful and share with each other it also could provide a boost for an otherwise not-so-popular blog or news site that gets a story or post DUGG and becomes popular.

This brings us to a term that even I just learned but have been experiencing and using for a long time now: Folksonomy, better known as Tagging. On the web, people use tags to describe a created object or piece of information. The difference between Folksonomy and Taxonomy is that Folksonomy is an organic, user created system that has no formal rules and Taxonomy follows strict guidelines. So when I post by picture on Flicker for the world to see, I apply search tags to it myself based on what I feel best describes the image. The same idea applies to my blog posts, sound bites, video uploads and all other user created content. When you add a tag to your information and it is picked up by other sites it will then be grouped with other pieces of information that are similarly tagged.

So all I need to do is apply a group of generic tags to my Flicker photo and when a user comes on to search for all tags related to “Ford Mustang” the picture of my classic car may show up. The downside is that there is no subsystem in this type of classification so if I only tag my image as a “Ford Mustang” then there is no central database that will also group all “Ford Mustang” searches under “Automobile” as well. The benefit is that I can add as many tags as I wish and require to my information and am not beholden to a committee defined classification system. In this iteration of the Web, users are defining the content themselves or it could be said that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

In addition I would categorize the Massively Multiplayer Online Games like World of Warcraft in this category. People are living, fighting, socializing and bartering (and even making a profit) off of this virtual world. Second Life is another wildly popular site where people create alternate personalities and basically live a second life online. This is attracting real businesses to set up shop in the Second Life virtual universe.

As a side note, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash featured a virtual world where players immersed themselves in a total virtual reality. The author coined the popular term for an online personality that is called an Avatar. Though the virtual computer world in the book was more extensive and visceral than current virtual reality experiences online it was a very good prediction of the direction we are heading.

This has made us a culture of writers, performers and consumers of media in a fashion never predicted. I profess that technology is making us more literate and expressive and less apt to being swayed by the old paradigm of Mass Media.

The diversity of the information that real people share is amazing. I ran across a blog that someone was running where they documented their experience dealing with being a single father trying to gain custody of his children. Where can someone with that specific interest go to find support and companionship but in this arena?

Narrowcasting to niche interest groups is where the future lies. Sure, we may still have the need for a big media companies to handle the large stories, the ones that require a behemoth to get done but within that is a splintering of interest groups. A picking and choosing of what I want rather than having to wait for someone to discover my demographic needs to be fed.

No matter how you slice it, no matter how popular it becomes, sites like MySpace are ugly, tacky and virtually non-functioning. Ever notice how slow it is to load a MySpace page or navigate. The access and networking it allows outstrips its flaws for most teenagers and they probably never even notice. MySpace probably has a few good years left (if that) and it will die a painful death. Or has no one learned the lesson of AOL yet?

Is there an uglier side to all this beyond aesthetics? Of course. The access and networking has allowed many people to do evil to other people, take advantage of unfortunate souls and commit crimes and scams. But this is a facet of human nature not the technology. To change this we must change. In the meantime a democratic and uncensored Internet is a good thing. The censoring and protection has to happen at the nodal level, within the home and at the points of access. Am I sounding a little idealistic, a little liberal? Then let me take the extra step and quote Stewart Brand: “Information wants to be free.” Not that it should not cost anything but that it should be available for those who want it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Life 2.0, Part 1

Your real life and the Internet will resemble each other more than your think.

Ever read a fan produced ‘zine? They’re cheaply produced magazines, mostly printed by photocopying or very cheap printing technologies to distribute to a small number of subscribers. They are usually not very slick, professional nor are they meant to be. Quick and dirty is the name of the game here. They are generally written about a specific topic like a rock band or most notably the science fiction culture. They are always self-published and have little if no promotion. Generally a ‘zine has an underground or indie feel to it and is definitely amateurish.

With the increased popularity of the ‘zine throughout the 1980s and 1990s it inevitably gave way to what is now called the Webzine. The web is the best place to publish on the cheap. There are more than enough free software, hosting and promotional sites out there to support a large number to focused webzines.

Centuries before ‘zines people produced their own bills, flyers, newspapers, pamphlets and libels to disseminate their point of view. These most democratic carriers of personal expression could be distributed or sold on the corners of Colonial towns and European cities. While the distribution of such material was limited by human travel times and low literacy rates, it could still have a great influence on public opinion. In 1649, English Parliament instituted the Printing Act, which sought to stem the decadent distribution of libels.

Pronouncements in public squares in the cities of Greece and Rome were probably the closest equivalent in the ancient era.

When a computer protocol was written by Ward Christensen so that one could dial up a Bulletin Board System in 1977, the early precursor of the World Wide Web was born and the sharing of information freely through networked computers residing in the homes and offices of “some other” people became possible.

The World Wide Web really started at CERN (No Al Gore joke here), European research Lab. Tim Berners-Lee set up the first web server. From the CERN website: “The idea was to connect hypertext with the Internet and personal computers, thereby having a single information network to help CERN physicists share all the computer-stored information at the laboratory.”

The ability to find, browse, search and create information that can be viewed by anyone with a computer and an Internet connection came to be. The Internet has evolved from a means of transmitting scientific and academic information to a great way to waste time.

You can spend hours of your day looking up old Eighties songs and T.V. shows or browse for the coolest gadgets or download the latest music. I will admit that I’ve spent many a slow day at work surfing the web for mindless content to pass the time.

When I first got connected to the Internet, sites on Geocities were all the rage. Those that were successful grabbed domains and set up indie brands of their own. For all the glitz and glamour of the dot com boom, most pages were static sites. They allowed a user to browse for information and the most interactive thing you could do was buy something from Of course this was a revolution in itself and immediately eBay made us all junk enthusiasts. It revolutionized the dissemination of information from a central location to the rest of the world. A cottage industry of spreading rumors cropped up as well as another host of sites that looked to dispel those rumors.

The growing pains of the industry were exposed in lawsuits and large payoffs for domain name squatters. Also, the dot com boom proved that investors could be both extremely smart and stupid at the same time. In the end, it began to occur to most rational people that an idea and an actual business model were not the same thing just because it was fashionable.

In the last few years the concept of a Web 2.0 has appeared. If you’ve heard of the term then you might already be involved with the movement. O’Reilly Media coined the term in 2004 and have held conferences regarding this phenomenon. It is very well described by Tim O’Reilly in his article “What is Web 2.0?” Do a Google search and you can find it. In his definition he describes Web 2.0 as a “continually updating service that gets better the more people use it.”

There is debate as to the validity of this concept and if it is defined enough to merit such a classification and separation from another “era” of the life of the World Wide Web. People like to retrospectively define the times such as art movements and historical periods in terms of labels. We have the Renaissance, the Cubistic Movement in art and the Jurassic Age. At the time most people did not know they were living in that particular time when a cohesive theme binds them together. For example the Sixties or the Fifties as we define the decades invokes a special set of feelings and ideals, styles and images.

Whether people believe there is a Web 2.0 or if the buzzword is meaningful or not is not really all that important. Web 2.0 is a movement or a cultural shift in the use of the Internet because of ingenious new ideas or technologies rather than an upgraded Internet structure or software itself. Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts all contribute to this shift in the usage of the web from a passive activity on the part of web surfers to a more democratic and interactive experience. The users of the web are the creators and the designers but not just in a static sense; there is a dynamic, customizable aspect to it.

Instead of static pages that are accessed by users surfing and searching, Web 2.0 is more decentralized with a movement toward sharing and deep linking. A website can link between targeted pages or information on that page and the creator of a site can refer or comment on something specifically. No longer are we required to enter through the “front door” as was the custom. Not that it could not be done before but with the development of these new models the World Wide Web resembles an intricate and homogenous design rather than a radial sphere or a spider’s web. Web 2.0 is a fractal.