One of the first books I read about the web which really helped me understand the culture of the web and the concept of the web as a social network was the Cluetrain Manifesto. In it, David Weinberger stated "hyperlinks subvert hierarchies," a concept that helps explain a lot of the chaos in the current world.
- We see how poorly our leaders act (or sometimes don't act, even when they should) and it lowers our confidence in leaders.
- Our memories are extended by linking together recent events with the not-so-distant past, done by millions of reporters (and recorders) around the world. Seemingly unrelated pieces are stitched together by our shared experiences.
- The financial industry collapsed quicker than experts expected. The mainstream media is collapsing quicker. And they can't help but out-gloom and doom each other. Job losses accelerate.
The staggering rate of change and seeing cracks in imperfect structures makes us more likely to question authority. Fear slows down economic activity but it also creates the conditions to help speed up change through creative destruction, as insolvent structures crumble and are replaced by thousands and millions of online experiments ran in parallel due to forced entrepreneurship. As Clay Shriky puts it:
That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.
Each link creates a new opportunity, which in turn creates new opportunities, giving our social nervous system many senses. And the web is just getting started. Watch this Tim Berners-Lee video and try to predict the future of the web. You can't do it.
As the web grows (and grows smarter) two of the biggest risks are machines learning too much about us (through spying on our browsing habits) and proprietary databases that lock away pieces of our culture while surfacing other favorable pieces (the divisions could be nationalistic, idealistic, or commercially driven - like "brands" that we are apparently "hard wired" to). For both of those reasons, Google's market dominance scares me.
On the above video by Tim Berners-Lee, Ralph Tegtmeier wrote the following
As long as we don't seriously do something about protecting people from the very abuse of their personal data (more often than not linked without their express acquiescence), we're merrily lighting the fuse to a humungous collective powder keg. (And it's really not helpful at all shrugging such concerns off with pejorative epitheta such as "tin foil hat", "conspiracy theories" etc. as is so common across the board.
Let's never forget that all the major atrocities committed in "civilized" countries ever since the 19th century, ranging from genocide to mass destruction, ethnic cleansings, wars, the holocaust etc. were only as scalable as they eventually proved to be because of just that: "linked data" ruthlessly leveraged and deployed by those who could get their hands on it.
Think about how distributed (and targeted) ad based business models work in a republic / quasi-democracy. Buy ads that change the opinion of couple percent of people and you change the course of a country, and perhaps the course of civilization. Think about how well Google intends to know your flaws, and sell them off to the highest bidder in any medium they can:
users that spend a long time bartering instead of stealing in a game may suggests that they are interested in the best deals rather than the flashiest items so the system may show ads reflecting value. As another example, users that spend a lot of time exploring suggest that they maybe interested in vacations, so the system may show ads for vacations. As another example, users that spend a lot of time chatting instead of fighting or performing other activities in online games suggest that they like to chat, so the system may show ads for cell phones, ads for long distance plans, chat messengers, etc.
The dialogue could indicate that the player is aggressive, profane, polite, literate, illiterate, influenced by current culture or subculture, etc. Also decisions made by the players may provide more information such as whether the player is a risk taker, risk averse, aggressive, passive, intelligent, follower, leader, etc. This information may be used and analyzed in order to help select and deliver more relevant ads to users.
And while we are being profiled, pieces of our culture are being locked up via anti-competitive agreements. Richard Sarnoff, the chairman of the Association of American Publishers, noted how they were hoodwinked in a deal with the devil:
Sarnoff also speculated that … [l]egal hurdles may make it infeasible for any other firms to build a search engine comparable to Google Book Search.
Many power structures that are being killed off by the web are the walking wounded, making deals that are rational only when paired against death. And we are stuck living with the consequences of those decisions.
With Google being so profit driven they are leaving room for a pure search play, if only someone that got branding, marketing, and the web would step up. I hope Rich Skrenta (or anyone) provides real competition to Google soon, before spying is seen as respectable and too much of our culture gets locked up in exclusive deals.
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