Web 2.0 Hive Mind Not So Smart?
By pmonday on Aug 23, 2006
First, let's get this out of the way since the article is about Web 2.0:
Lanier's article discusses one aspect of Web 2.0, the participation and collectivism that Web 2.0 is largely known for. Keep in mind O'Reilly's definition of Web 2.0 was much broader and looked at the technical foundations of Web 2.0, many of which I agree with (Web as a platform, Data is the next Intel Inside, yadda yadda yadda). So, let's talk a minute about Lanier's idea that the hive mind can actually be a bad thing. Personally, I think he's right in many ways, but I also think the hive mind has developed because of very simple reasons, online search has failed us and email has failed us.
Lanier's article is long and he does a great job of airing his concerns in great examples. There are a few that I find particularly interesting (to paraphrase as best I can):
- Loss of individuality (as blogs blog more blogs and meta-blogs link other blogs, somewhere along the way, the individual is lost in the layers of meta blogs)
- The dumbing down of ourselves to address the lowest common denominator (the perfect example is people becoming bumbling fools as they interact with the Microsoft paper clip).
- The "belief" that with participation, things will be self-correcting (and this is often the case, but the timeline is often not reasonable for the participants (how long will a new Wikipedia entry take to stabilize into being correct when so many people have access to it and what if I need a correct entry RIGHT NOW)).
I don't want to rehash Jason Lanier, the film director's, essay (its a joke you won't get unless you read the article). It is thoughful and wonderfully written.
I believe the elements that Web 2.0 is typically known for (participation, collaboration, interactivity) are actually addressing a more insidious problem, at least to some degree. I believe that search and email have largely failed us. Seriously. It is rare that I quickly find the knowledge I'm looking for in a search without paging through Google results. And I am using Google less and less. Instead, I throw in the towel very early in my search and go to local sites. There is just too much junk (read "junk" as "stuff other than what I'm looking for at the time") for search engines. Further, 9 times out of 10, I am looking for something local to the Denver area, Google is nothing short of abysmal for this locality and all of the "local" search engines do not have 100% coverage, so they are not useful either.
Email has failed me as well. My personal email is 90% trash. It is not efficient, it drives me nuts to even open it some days.
I believe our culture is adapting to this. Blogs and social group sites allow us to build networks of trusted links and information that the search engines fail to locate now. Instant messaging, collaboration and texting allow us to bypass our email clients and get straight to the point...and quickly, in a more natural way than email allows.
Unfortunately, with more and more blogs appearing, even this mechanism is becoming less and less useful. Groups of social sites, ratings, participation and more are creating even more junk to sift through. Consider the Amazon ratings that folks always point out as Web 2.0. Do you REALLY trust them? Here, let me give you a hint folks...one author to all of you trusting souls, many of the ratings are from friends and acquaitenances that may have not even read the book! At some point, the comments are arbitrary, though often funny. In the end, if a book has mixed reviews, I toss them all out and go to the local bookstore.
So, let me get a jump on Web 3.0. It needs to fix this mess that Web 2.0 is bringing to a head (don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Web 2.0 fan, especially on the technical side):
- Locality of search (I live in DENVER, give me sites for DENVER FIRST without having me go to special places)
- Individuality and uniqueness (let my words be my words, and everyone should stop having blog entries with one line that say "here's a great article: link"). Better search would help this and alleviate the need for everyone to link to bring the gems up to the top of the ocean. Now here's a pet peeve, instead of writing a new blog entry that says "great article", why not post a comment to the article and the author that says "great article", give the originator some credit.
- Context of search (I'm a SOFTWARE ARCHITECT, when I type in "pattern", give me design patterns first, not tile patterns)
- Trust (give me results from people I trust first, not from who paid the most money)
There, that's a good start. Oh, and to make those things a reality, you are going to want to collect an awful lot of information on ME. Figure out how to do it without taking my identity. I'm fine if you store the information on my Java Card, but keep it there, and don't collect my identity in your database...we've seen what happens when Search Engines have too much information.
Also, when you start doing this, you are going to have store an awful lot of information...you won't be collecting information on the web of documents, you'll be collecting it on the web of identities. So, be sure to buy your new storage from us, one of the leaders in storage needs...Sun Microsystems.