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.

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