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 Amazon.com. 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.

1 comment:

The Phoenix said...

The world wide web has become much more interactive. It's amazing how such an invention has revolutionized the way we live our lives.