Kevin Kelly has written a long “I was right and you weren’t” piece in this months Wired on the ten years of the web. To be honest, the veteran Wired editor, founder of the Well, and one of the people to coin the phrase; “the new economy”, he mostly was. He charmingly talks of “TV dodos” and those that didn’t “get it” in an entertaining race through the web in 1995, 2005, and 2015. The clear thread that runs through all of his analysis is the role of er, us. What he unfortunately dubs the “bottom up takeover”
What we all failed to see was how much of this new world would be manufactured by users, not corporate interests. Amazon.com customers rushed with surprising speed and intelligence to write the reviews that made the site’s long-tail selection usable. Owners of Adobe, Apple, and most major software products offer help and advice on the developer’s forum Web pages, serving as high-quality customer support for new buyers. And in the greatest leverage of the common user, Google turns traffic and link patterns generated by 2 billion searches a month into the organizing intelligence for a new economy. This bottom-up takeover was not in anyone’s 10-year vision.
He’s also, despite a few references to security and privacy full of quite reassuring utopian visions of 2015 also controlled by er, you and me.
And who will write the software that makes this contraption useful and productive? We will. In fact, we’re already doing it, each of us, every day. When we post and then tag pictures on the community photo album Flickr, we are teaching the Machine to give names to images. The thickening links between caption and picture form a neural net that can learn. Think of the 100 billion times per day humans click on a Web page as a way of teaching the Machine what we think is important. Each time we forge a link between words, we teach it an idea. Wikipedia encourages its citizen authors to link each fact in an article to a reference citation. Over time, a Wikipedia article becomes totally underlined in blue as ideas are cross-referenced. That massive cross-referencing is how brains think and remember. It is how neural nets answer questions. It is how our global skin of neurons will adapt autonomously and acquire a higher level of knowledge.
Yes Kelly has concluded that the futureweb is some sort of a glorious vision of a vast human brain. “Its on” is how he concludes the piece and stresses we are witnessing the birth of some new throbbing thing or other. Are we ? Blimey. That might be nonsense but in identifying the user at the centre of this activity and realising that its the power of the network, and the power of collaboration (distributed or otherwise) is where its at and it won’t be the smallness of files, the ease of distribution (however improved) that will dictate web2.0 proves the old bugger has still got it.