William H. Dailey (whdailey) Sat 15 Mar 03 14:06
What are computers for? Solving problems easily. What is the internet for? Solving even more problems easily. Neither is confined to any particular type of problem.
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sat 15 Mar 03 16:16
David, one thing that seems fundamental to the Internet is the need to go get things. Stuff isn't delivered to me, like say with my TV. Or even with one of my new favorite services, Netflix. Will the Internet ever evolve into something that is more delivery oriented?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 05:21
Andrew (#25), the Web _is_ like a dream in that nothing (well, little) in it is brute. That also means it's like a work of literature (where "literature" doesn't imply that it's well written). But, what "Small Pieces" really wants to say is that that means that it's like the world, the real world. It's _not_ like what our default philosophy says the RW is like: unspeaking, indifferent, essentially without meaning. It _is_ like the way we live in the RW, seeing each thing within a context of meaning. As others have said, to see is to read. In the RW, we can make the mistake (IMO) of giving precedence to the brute nature of the world; that's what we reserve the word "real" for. On the Web, there is no brute nature, so we can't make that mistake.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 05:26
William (#26), you're either using "problem" far more widely than I do, or I disagree with you. And even if we do view both computers and the Net as solving problems, there are some types of problems they're not good for (e.g., changing a flat tire) and others that they're better at, and it would be interesting to move up (or drill down, if you prefer) from your attempt to find a lowest common denominator.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 05:46
Eleanor (#26), Your question can be taken two ways, and I'll give not very satisfying answers to both. In terms of delivering material goods -- DVDs from Netflix, pants from LL Bean -- the market will decide what it wants delivered via truck. In terms of my having to go to sites instead of having content "pushed" to me, first, a lot of Internet content is already pushed. most notably email, instant messages and, of course, popup ads. Push has become an option in more and more places over the past few years, including many discussion boards and weblogs to which you can "subscribe." And then there's the middle case of aggregation services that pull in exactly the content you want. (I just downloaded newzcrawler last night and so far I've been enjoying it.) I think the Net will continue to tend towards offering more choices in how stuff is delivered. Have I entirely missed your point? If so, sorry!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Mar 03 06:19
The material goods thing depends on both market and logisitics - delivering individual items directly to consumers is more costly than delivering volume of products to stores and letting individual consumers buy there. So I always figured we should see ecommerce, not as some radically new thing, but an extension of direct marketing, a way of making catalogs more dynamic. (Just my $.02) David, on an email list we both follow, someone noted a specific problem yesterday - how in groups of people where group members have their different tools and venues for posting stuff (emails, blogs, wikis, etc.), there can be a fragmentation of discussion and it can be hard to follow what everybody's saying. How do we open the web to as many voices as possible, in a democratic sense, and still keep track of the conversations that are specifically relevant to us?
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sun 16 Mar 03 07:01
David, you answered my question just fine. I was in a why doesn't the Web make my life easier mode, with a very narrow defintion of easy. Sometimes it just seems like a lot of work to get to places I didn't even know existed, even though I'm often glad when I arrive. The Web has plenty of tools and pathways to help when you know what you want, but sometimes I wish it could just read my mind! You ask "Is the Web making us more or less social?" I think the question needs to be refined. "Who is the Web making more social, and who is the Web making less social?" It's easy to look at "us", in this case Wellperns, and see the effects. But what of the people who have no use for the Well, or the Web in general? Any thoughts?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 08:09
Jon, I think you're pointing to a big problem. It's surprising to me that we don't have a standard way to handle/express two of the most important elements of the Net: groups and threads. E.g., it should be easy to export a thread from one discussion site to another, and to move it to and from email and IM and chat, etc. But it's not. In fact, it's so hard that if a discussion site goes out of business (heaven forfend!), there's no standard way to move the archive onto another board. A couple of years ago, a few of us proposed a standard for any type of threaded discussion, but nothing happened with it; we called it "ThreadsML" and the now-moribund discussion of it is here: http://www.quicktopic.com/7/H/rhSrjkWgjnvRq On the other hand, the fragmentation of discussion is inevitable in a medium as open and large as the Net. The best we can hope is that we'll develop better tools for making _some_ sense of it.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 08:17
Eleanor (#32), good point. I certainly meet people -- frequently long-time users of the Net, and occasionally creators of it -- who think of it primarily as a research tool. I think of it as generally social. But... Generalizations about the Net are easy to make and hard to confirm. For example, I was at a forum at MIT this Fall where one panelist referred to the Internet as "professional wrestling" and a debased form of sociality because he was thinking about some of the most raucous and thoughtless forums. So, I pointed to places like The Well. He and I could go on all night citing stupid and smart Net conversations and the discussion would do _nothing_ to settle the question of whether the Net is making us more or less social, or better or worse socially. How could one even do systematic research on this? There aren't enough grad students in the universe! A big problem with "Small Pieces" is that the book doesn't rest on research so it may in fact only be relevant to me and a relative handful of people like me. I knew that when writing it but couldn't see how to avoid it.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 08:57
<scribbled by jonl Sun 16 Mar 03 13:25>
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sun 16 Mar 03 09:51
what it is. I suppose it was about ten years ago that I wrote an article somewhere that mentioned the use of phone, email and FTP to replace travel, face to face selling and onsite support. I got phone calls and emails asking me questions about this idea that we now think of as cyberspace. Add the browser and now we can represent our business on a website, dress it up the way we want it others to see it while working in our jeans and t-shirts. We've got someone coming in next week for a few days and he sent an email asking if we wore suits or dressed business casual. What's the term for jeans and t-shirts? I guess people who know us by our website, our cyberspace interactions and our reputation, Cory Doctorow's "whuffle", are dressing their mental model of 'us' up in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Back in the early days of the web, the younger people in our customer base, mostly the techies, had used email and the internet while they were in school, so found it more comfortable than face to face meetings and snail mail. As they've advanced in their careers, these people become the influentials and decision makers, and they are more likely to pay attention to what google says about you than what you say about yourself. Whuffle trumps trade show marketing. That's a big change in the cost structure for businesses that can play the game. Amazon is one of those, but so are all the sellers on EBay. Taking this same idea into world politics, isn't George Bush's problem a lack of whuffle among the jeans and t-shirts people? He's pushing is message over the trade show model (CNN and Fox), but he can't use those to set his own whuffle score, so he tries to use the courts to keep the suits in control. Seems like a losing game to me, but how would he know?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 09:59
GWB: The Anti-Whuffie.
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sun 16 Mar 03 10:24
He's a gamer. Time to revert to the backup.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 16 Mar 03 10:35
David -- another book in the works, I hope?
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 10:51
Howard, nope, I'm not working on a book. For about a year I've been kicking around an idea, but I can't figure out how to turn it into a book that anyone would want to read. It has to do with the rejection of digital perfectionism and the embracing of ambiguity. Ironically, I can't get it into clear enough focus, though. But we all hope _you're_ working on your next. "Smart Mobs" was terrific.
Ari Davidow (ari) Sun 16 Mar 03 11:37
>embracing ambiguity There was a lovely article in the early years of what was then called CoEvolution Quarterly on learning to live with ambiguity, by Stephanie Mills.
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sun 16 Mar 03 11:41
Ambiguity is so contrary to The Scientific Method which we've had drummed into our heads from the earliest of memories! Thats's a daring subject, and I'd love to have you tackle it, because you'd bring the right balance of philosophy and humor.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Sun 16 Mar 03 12:45
Ari (#41), thank you for the reference. Eleanor (#42), thank you for the encouragement. My problem is finding a way to talk about it that isn't tired and is engaging. And I haven't figured it out. But it's what I keep coming back to. The world is messy. Enjoy it! The Web is messy. Go forth and muss it up more! It's a good thing that the Semantic Web will never work :)
Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Sun 16 Mar 03 17:56
Speaking of messy, that segues right into my next question. One thing I've noticed is there's lots of litter on the Web.By litter I mean broken links, sites that haven't been updated since '96, a gazillion sites that require registration that never get visited again, just general debris. Is it worth cleaning up the litter? Will the litter ever get so prevalent that it impedes the natural flow of the Web? Or is litter on the Web sort of like theold time predictions about our roads being buried in horse manure: something that will never come to pass?
man with no pseudonym (cchoffme) Sun 16 Mar 03 18:13
I'd like to add on to (wellelp)'s question and ask the same thing in regards to spam and porn.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Mar 03 18:33
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Mar 03 07:06
Yes, excellent questions! They get right at the heart of the issue. The messiness of the Web isn't extrinsic. It's part of its nature and appeal (IMO). I have no more interest in making the Web orderly than I do in filing off the rough edges of the Alps. RW libraries are clean and orderly because every book that gets shelved has gone through a central committee, has been classified, is signed out and in. Forms, controls and workflows are great for a library, but a better metaphor for the Web is: everything everyone's talking about. Conversations are messy. They contain all sorts of rumors and wrong information. They're inefficient. They're digressive. Many use highly offensive language. But would you want to pay the price for cleaning them up? Nah. Now, obviously there are times when the messiness of the Web makes it an unpleasant place to be. Spam stinks. Unwittingly stumbling on porn sites that shows you (or your children) stuff you don't want to see stinks. Spammed porns stinks squared. So, we need solutions. As per World of Ends (www.worldofends.com), I prefer solutions that work on the edges of the Net rather than imposing them on the center, but that's a preference, not an absolute. E.g., I use an excellent spam filter that runs on my own desktop (http://popfile.sourceforge.net), but perhaps a better solution would run one step closer to the center, on a corporate or ISP's server. In any case, all solutions are necessarily going to be imperfect because so much of the strength of the Web comes from the fact that it and we are fallible.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Mar 03 10:12
<scribbled by jonl Mon 17 Mar 03 11:36>
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Mon 17 Mar 03 18:55
Keep pushing on that idea, David. As you know, sometimes the container for these ideas doesn't arrive until you work at it. I love the philosopher's touch you bring.
David Weinberger (dweinberger) Mon 17 Mar 03 21:06
Howard, you are a nice man. I've been through soooo many containers in the past year, trying to find a way to talk about the importance of ambiguity. I'll tell you the one I've been thinking about lately: I'm fascinated by how we ever got ourselves to the point where very smart people take seriously the idea that the universe is a computer and all that's in it is information. I can see how one could get to that point thoughtlessly, but this theory is being entertained by geniuses. It needs to be taken seriously. But I don't know enough to take it seriously. It'd be fun to learn why it's plausible.
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