The semantic web is a powerful thing but it’s… well… semantic. Trying to imagine the net in the future, it becomes obvious that we’re going to need a temporal web too. Living, as we do, in the first moments of the web’s existence, we haven’t needed to think much about time. It’s as if everything that’s taken place so far all happened in a single, cataclysmic moment.
Once the web’s lifespan starts to stretch – across generations and centuries – we’re going to need an accessible historic record. Something that’s ‘online’ (as in ‘not offline in a tape library’) and preferably ‘inline’ (continuous with the current content). In this article for The Guardian I visualise this as a ‘giant rewind knob for the web’.
My example is the war in Iraq. Imagine the benefits to humanity in the future of being able to rewind to any point in the rolling popular history we call blogging and take a snapshot of the state of the war and opinion about it. More to the point, with so much information, conversation and collaboration moving onto the net, imagine a future without it.
In the article I also wonder if we, in the UK, shouldn’t be pressing the BBC to take on this task. Lots of people think the BBC’s proper role on the net should be to boost connection and participation (and there is some ambitious work going on already). Perhaps, as well as promoting communication, the Beeb ought also to be promoting recollection.
(Maybe the techies out there can tell me if this kind of work is already going on. I’m pretty sure Kahle’s Way Back Machine is going in the right direction but it’s a long way from being fine-grained enough and it certainly can’t present historic content ‘inline’)
A lot of the debate about the Best British Blog comp seems to centre on this word ‘elite’. Maybe I should have said ‘vanguard’ or ‘enlightened’ or ‘pioneers’ or something. Whatever, something unites the first wave of webloggers and it’s probably their general sort of twitchiness and irony and unease about being tagged ‘elite’. This I can understand. It can make you itch, being pointed at, and vanguard-status brings with it obligations.
The way I see it, elites of this sort are useful, important, probably essential. I reckon TBL is a good role model here. He invented the damn thing after all but his chief function now is as conscience or super-ego or ‘dad’. His moral ‘ownership’ of the web keeps those of us who grub around making a living from it humble. There will be someone like this for weblogs. Maybe it will be Tom Coates.
It’s always difficult to persuade an elite that the great unwashed might have something useful to contribute. Looks like bloggers are no different. How many weblogs are there in the UK? 100,000? 200,000? While adoption hovers at less than 1% of the online audience, the promise of the form cannot be realised, even if the other 29,800,000 are all reading them. Weblogging (like the web itself, only more so) is important – it empowers people, makes voices heard, creates dialogue, produces new ideas. It should be popular. Lots of articulate people from the blogging community argue that it’s already important (see comments to posts below) and that ‘going mainstream’ will be harmful. Elites always say this. They are almost always wrong. Weblogging is a social and creative laboratory of extraordinary power and scope. It would be a dreadful pity if it remained the hermetic domain of its founders and innovators. It’s time to let go.
Thanks to The Guardian for two consecutive sleepless nights scoring dozens of Great British Weblogs. I’m in awe. Not a turkey among them. I’ve over-dosed on clever, useful, ironic, sometimes geeky and very often inspirational writing, lots of big-hearted link sharing (natch) and some fascinating new thinking on the web, user interfaces and computers. I was worried, to begin with, that the anti-competition might siphon off all the cool entries but there was no danger of that. I think the competition will prove to be a real validation for the new form and, I hope, a springboard for the weblog’s leap into the mainstream. Now, to bed…