The future of media 2011 – the social web

Our identity crisis

Kevin Kelly @Wired made an interesting point during a keynote speech at a Web 2.0 expo, (I paraphrase) “We put so much of ourselves into the web, our status, shares, location, correspondence. Are we approaching an identity crisis? Where do ‘we’ stop and where does the ‘internet’ start?”

It’s a interesting point, perhaps a little too provocative for everyday consideration, but it hints at a future vision, a vision that might very well be the future social web. To tackle this further, it’s worth back tracking a little, down the evolutionary path of the Internet and exploring our access to some of the corresponding technology that has been powering it. It’s worth doing, because it’s interesting to observe our relation to the web and technology and how that’s changed. How it all seems to be getting closer, as if it’s being pulled together by a kind of cyber gravity.

Let’s begin the back track at Web 1.0

Web 1.0 was all about accessibility of information. The boom of the global library and the rise of email as the modern communication alternative to the telephone. We could log on through our dial up connections for a look around, accompanied by modem sounds akin to loading a ZX spectrum game through the tape recorder (for those of you who remember Jet set Willy ;). We could even Yahoo!

But any form of interaction with the technology and the data on the internet at this stage was seriously limited. It was a read only era. The content of the web was contributed by the few (comparatively) and managed by few developers, who held all the responsibility for content contribution. Back in those days if you mentioned open source, most people probably thought you were referring to new product development for Ketchup.

Then Web 2.0 arrived

Web 2.0 was and still is mainly about interaction and connection with the network. The Wiki model, the contribution of the crowd toward collective intelligence. Co creation begins and starts to lead to crowd sourced models for business and for fun. Dell turn their business round with IdeaStorm and consumer power. Threadless and Spread Shirt start to create a demand and supply model for T-shirt production, completely created, voted and powered by the crowd.

The rise of the social web

It was also the rise of the social web and the billowing of public content contribution. This trend of social sharing brings many more of us into an active connection with the web, a social and more personal relationship with the technology. Bringing us closer to our own data and closer to our friends and our associated tribes data and content.

Blogging and social network activity on social platforms or integrated onto websites was starting to fill the network. It still is on an increasing trend to become the majority share of web content. As of 16 February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence [Wikipedia].

As we all start to populate the Internet more, the network starts to become our repository for everything. Calendars and scheduling ahead of what we will do. Logging, organising, conversing, inviting and attending. Then capturing our locations, our moments through comments, tagging, photos and sharing, both while we do it and afterwards. TechWatch have recently published a report which reveals that sites like Facebook and Twitter accounted for 12.46% of all web traffic in January. But with 1 million links being shared through Facebook every 20 minutes, social media is becoming a huge traffic driver for the rest of the Internet.

Technology became more flexible

The technology has also brought us closer by becoming more flexible, more useful to us. We saw open API’s start to arrive on the scene, allowing developers to tap into existing functionality and data, rather than re creating it. Google allowed developer access to their maps application, creating a phase of map mash ups. Flickr open an API on their photo streams, leading to a big social boom in sharing photo moments and many more APIs open up.

A project was launched from Mozilla labs called Ubiquity, talking of an intelligent application layer at our fingertips. Based on a common command layer principal, whereby you have an intelligent layer of access to all your applications. This was a project predicting a future where you no longer needed a developer to create bespoke functionality, linking applications – like linking your calendar to your map, to plan an event for instance. Ubiquity meant you could do it yourself, when you needed to. All your applications and data pulled together, calendars, friends, places, maps. it’s a project that has been shelved by Mozilla for now. Certainly many applications are now built with this kind of socially linked support.

Technology now enters our reality

But the command layer ethos, is something that has re surfaced in the form of Augmented reality. The Yelp iPhone app had a hidden ‘easter egg’ application. If you shook it 3 times, it revealed a layer of location aware ratings through your iPhone camera view. It was one of the first experiments into a live overlay of technology on our view of the world. Many more have followed.

An intelligent layer of support from the network. Connecting our actual view and experience with reality and influencing our decision making. So the cyber gravity increases as we are pulled closer and closer into contact with technology and our relevant social data.

The network not the website

The social web and the ‘cloud’ that we are moving toward now, is not so much about the Internet any more. Well what I should say, is that it’s not so much about ‘websites’, the front face if you like – the reception area of the network. It’s now more about the network that sits behind the Internet. Because thats where the data and content sits, the website is merely one of many ways to access that data. Your TV, mobile, games console, cash registers, your various Apps, your Sat nav, even your fridge and domestic appliances. All accessing and linking to YOU through your social profiles.

Open id connects us further to the social web

The rise of Open id platforms has also had a dramatic effect on the social connection on the network. Facebook connect, Twitter connect and others have meant an exponential growth of social connections with any new internet application, site or device. Everything is plugging into the network. YOU are plugging into the network, but your connection to the network only brings you into closer contact with YOU, your data, your socially connected data, friends, likes, recommendations. And so the pull of this cyber gravity between YOU and the network increases.

The social web and YOU

This social web and YOU are now starting to become almost inseparable. Try this… have a little think about your past, some, if not many of your past experiences reside on the network, on a server somewhere, in some shape or form, even though you may well have forgotten about many of them. They have now become part of your digital subconscious. You may well have found old pictures on Facebook in someone else’s gallery and had a little chuckle, remembering that day. You realise that your life has left a trail through the social web, a series of memories and digital foot prints, living on, on the network.

Ok, so thats the past, but what about your digital future. Let’s take another example – Your next cultural fad – The drumming group you haven’t found yet. But you will, you will find it on next week. In the future you will attend that event, but that event is already set up and waiting for you, that exists already, on the network.

Semantic – bringing meaning to data

And the interesting thing about the network, full of all our data, is that it’s getting more and more intelligent. The semantic web is about intelligent data, where data and the technical structure that supports it starts to understand it’s own meaning. This means that the network structure starts to make some decisions for us, to help us find more relevance and even bring relevance to us – without us going to find it. With this our reliance and connection to the social web deepens further.

iArnie, the 400 pound cyborg

This is not an apocalyptic prediction. This is not a scary prediction of technological destruction from iArnie the 400 pound cyborg, wearing his all seeing pair of Augmented Reality Googles 😉

It’s just evolution, a series of facts. Evolution is purely our successful ability to survive and adapt with or against our circumstances. Well surely technology deserves to take it’s place in that bracket of evolution with us. It’s amazing, just waking up and being able to find, meet and discover new ideas, people and places, that fit you, that you will love. All before you’ve reached your front door to leave your house and find them. Assisting our ability to heal, learn and improve – that’s evolution alright.

A glimpse at a social web future

In my opinion the social web is giving us a very clear glimpse into the future. A future where technology will converge further with human behaviour and human reliance. Where the social web will become more and more an important and treasured part of our lives. Where our relationship with the social web can only get closer together.

Sure it will have it’s faults and flaws that will be exposed from time to time. But is that not just displaying the human characteristic of error? Evolution learns just as much from mistake, as it does from success. So maybe the social web is pointing us to a place where the line of identity between us and technology does get a little blurred.


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