What does Tim think?

According to reports from BBC and The Guardian, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee thinks his baby’s in danger. BBC News:

He told the BBC: “If we don’t have the ability to understand the web as it’s now emerging, we will end up with things that are very bad.

“Certain undemocratic things could emerge and misinformation will start spreading over the web.

“Studying these forces and the way they’re affected by the underlying technology is one of the things that we think is really important,” he said.

And The Guardian:

The creator of the world wide web told the Guardian last night that the internet is in danger of being corrupted by fraudsters, liars and cheats. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Briton who founded the web in the early 1990s, says that if the internet is left to develop unchecked, “bad phenomena” will erode its usefulness.

His creation has transformed the way millions of people work, do business, and entertain themselves.

But he warns that “there is a great danger that it becomes a place where untruths start to spread more than truths, or it becomes a place which becomes increasingly unfair in some way”. He singles out the rise of blogging as one of the most difficult areas for the continuing development of the web, because of the risks associated with inaccurate, defamatory and uncheckable information.

But Tim says he was misquoted both times, and the web is really in fine shape:

A great example of course is the blogging world. Blogs provide a gently evolving network of pointers of interest. As do FOAF files. I’ve always thought that FOAF could be extended to provide a trust infrastructure for (e..g.) spam filtering and OpenID-style single sign-on and its good to see things happening in that space.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, alas, my attempt to explain this was turned upside down into a “blogging is one of the biggest perils” message. Sigh. I think they took their lead from an unfortunate BBC article, which for some reason stressed concerns about the web rather than excitement, failure modes rather than opportunities. (This happens, because when you launch a Web Science Research Initiative, people ask what the opportunities are and what the dangers are for the future. And some editors are tempted to just edit out the opportunities and headline the fears to get the eyeballs, which is old and boring newspaper practice. We expect better from the Guardian and BBC, generally very reputable sources)

So what’s going on here, was the venerable scientist misquoted by a sensationalist press? I think not, as both BBC and The Guardian are well known for the sobriety of their analysis of technical subjects. At this stage in his career, Berners-Lee is more a politician than a scientist, and he needs to learn the politician’s skill of talking to journalists so they can understand what, if anything, he thinks. He tends to speak out both sides of his mouth, as he’s done on network neutrality. He claims to support the principle while endorsing commercial arrangements that happen to be forbidden by proposed neutrality laws, and that’s hard to dance around.

The web, like any number of things, is a mixture of good and bad, and the challenge is always to maximize the one while minimizing the other. That’s not too hard to express, is it?

A system of exploitation

I wish I’d said what Nicholas Carr said about Web 2.0:

Web 2.0’s economic system has turned out to be, in effect if not intent, a system of exploitation rather than a system of emancipation. By putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, Web 2.0 provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very, very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very, very few.

Damn that’s good.

But what do I know? Professor Lessig says Carr is stuck in the 20th century, which sounds sort of painful.

One Web Day

So today all of us cyber-surfing netizen internauts are supposed to proclaim our love for on-line life and tell what it the web means to us. To me it means mediocrity and tedium, with lots of room for improvement.

Here’s to making the web worthwhile and not just a place to go shopping, distort reality, and pick up chicks.

Web 2.0: old Kool-Aid in new bottles

How silly is the thinking behind the Web 2.0 movement? Try We Are the Web by Wellbert Kevin Kelly:

There is only one time in the history of each planet when its inhabitants first wire up its innumerable parts to make one large Machine. Later that Machine may run faster, but there is only one time when it is born.

You and I are alive at this moment.

We should marvel, but people alive at such times usually don’t. Every few centuries, the steady march of change meets a discontinuity, and history hinges on that moment. We look back on those pivotal eras and wonder what it would have been like to be alive then. Confucius, Zoroaster, Buddha, and the latter Jewish patriarchs lived in the same historical era, an inflection point known as the axial age of religion. Few world religions were born after this time. Similarly, the great personalities converging upon the American Revolution and the geniuses who commingled during the invention of modern science in the 17th century mark additional axial phases in the short history of our civilization.

Three thousand years from now, when keen minds review the past, I believe that our ancient time, here at the cusp of the third millennium, will be seen as another such era. In the years roughly coincidental with the Netscape IPO, humans began animating inert objects with tiny slivers of intelligence, connecting them into a global field, and linking their own minds into a single thing. This will be recognized as the largest, most complex, and most surprising event on the planet. Weaving nerves out of glass and radio waves, our species began wiring up all regions, all processes, all facts and notions into a grand network. From this embryonic neural net was born a collaborative interface for our civilization, a sensing, cognitive device with power that exceeded any previous invention. The Machine provided a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall) and a new mind for an old species. It was the Beginning.

In retrospect, the Netscape IPO was a puny rocket to herald such a moment. The product and the company quickly withered into irrelevance, and the excessive exuberance of its IPO was downright tame compared with the dotcoms that followed. First moments are often like that. After the hysteria has died down, after the millions of dollars have been gained and lost, after the strands of mind, once achingly isolated, have started to come together – the only thing we can say is: Our Machine is born. It’s on.

Presumably, he speaks from experience about the wiring of all those other planets, having visited them while toking hash.

Nicholas Carr didn’t drink the Kool-Aid (or smoke the hash). See The Amorality of Web 2.0:

The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional. We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity. Perhaps nowhere, though, is their love of amateurism so apparent as in their promotion of blogging as an alternative to what they call “the mainstream media.” Here’s O’Reilly: “While mainstream media may see individual blogs as competitors, what is really unnerving is that the competition is with the blogosphere as a whole. This is not just a competition between sites, but a competition between business models. The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls ‘we, the media,’ a world in which ‘the former audience,’ not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.”

I’m all for blogs and blogging. (I’m writing this, ain’t I?) But I’m not blind to the limitations and the flaws of the blogosphere – its superficiality, its emphasis on opinion over reporting, its echolalia, its tendency to reinforce rather than challenge ideological extremism and segregation. Now, all the same criticisms can (and should) be hurled at segments of the mainstream media. And yet, at its best, the mainstream media is able to do things that are different from – and, yes, more important than – what bloggers can do. Those despised “people in a back room” can fund in-depth reporting and research. They can underwrite projects that can take months or years to reach fruition – or that may fail altogether. They can hire and pay talented people who would not be able to survive as sole proprietors on the Internet. They can employ editors and proofreaders and other unsung protectors of quality work. They can place, with equal weight, opposing ideologies on the same page. Forced to choose between reading blogs and subscribing to, say, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Atlantic, and the Economist, I will choose the latter. I will take the professionals over the amateurs.

But I don’t want to be forced to make that choice.

Carr has already got the 2-fers hoppin’ mad, of course.

h/t Jeff Jarvis, who’s very upset with Mr. Carr:

So Carr is really saying two things: He is saying that the professionals are better than the amateurs because they are paid. I don’t buy that. And he distrusts the amateurs, which is saying that he distrusts the public those professionals supposedly serve. Which is to say that he distrusts us. Well, distrust begets distrust. So the feeling is mutual.

It’s quite simple, really: It’s all about supply and demand. When distribution was scare and made content scarce, it promoted the creation of a professional media class. Now that neither is scarce, the economics are changed. The market is free. Lots of content is free. There is more content. I believe that there is thus more good content. So media must rethink their business models, their value, their relationships to the marketplace. And I believe that is good. Carr believes disruption is amoral. I believe stagnation is unnatural.

There is at least one good thing about Web 2.0: it’s taking part of Jeff’s mind off Howard Stern, at least for a while.

I have a somewhat cynical view of all this: the people I see beating the drum for Web 2.0 are exploiting it economically; Tim O’Reilly chiefly. This guy always manages to turn a handsome profit bashing capitalism, and more power to him for that:

More immediately, Web 2.0 is the era when people have come to realize that it’s not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web. Web 1.0 was the era when people could think that Netscape (a software company) was the contender for the computer industry crown; Web 2.0 is the era when people are recognizing that leadership in the computer industry has passed from traditional software companies to a new kind of internet service company. The net has replaced the PC as the platform that matters, just as the PC replaced the mainframe and minicomputer.

But that doesn’t mean we have to buy the largely fanciful vision he uses to con his customers out of their lunch money.

More to come after we’ve read O’Reilly’s essay on his current meme, What is Web 2.0?

Vint Cerf on the future of the Internet

I don’t know about this stuff:

A couple of things are pretty clear: One of is that what we call broadband today isn’t going to be broadband tomorrow. It’s not just a matter of speed; it’s a matter of symmetry. A lot of the broadband services are asymmetric, which means you can’t do things you might want to do. If you look at BitTorrent, which is one of today’s most popular and demanding applications for exchanging large files, you’ll see that it’s symmetric in its use of the network.

BitTorrent is mainly used for theft of copyright material, so I’m not completely convinced that it legitimately demands a re-wiring of America.

Google throws a hissy fit

Everybody in the world has to deal with Google-stalkers, except Google’s CEO, of course:

CNETNews.com, a technology news Web site, said last week that Google had told it that the company would not answer any questions from CNET’s reporters until July 2006. The move came after CNET published an article last month that discussed how the Google search engine can uncover personal information and that raised questions about what information Google collects about its users.

The article, by Elinor Mills, a CNET staff writer, gave several examples of information about Google’s chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, that could be gleaned from the search engine. These included that his shares in the company were worth $1.5 billion, that he lived in Atherton, Calif., that he was the host of a $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Al Gore’s presidential campaign and that he was a pilot.

After the article appeared, David Krane, Google’s director of public relations, called CNET editors to complain, said Jai Singh, the editor in chief of CNETNews.com. “They were unhappy about the fact we used Schmidt’s private information in our story,” Mr. Singh said. “Our view is what we published was all public information, and we actually used their own product to find it.”

Google was supposed to be committed to not being evil, but this act of childish malice belies that claim.

Gee, I wonder if they’re going to demote my site again for saying this. Oh well.

Latest in WLAN Switch Protocol wars

So Aruba and Trapeze have decided not to roll over and play dead while Cisco tramples the wireless switch industry:

Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks Inc. submitted SLAPP (Secure Light Access Point Protocol) to a group in the Internet Engineering Task Force known as CAPWAP (Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points). The group has worked on a switch-to-access-point protocol for more than a year. The deadline for submitting drafts to CAPWAP was March 31, and the companies barely made the deadline.

This was sort of a desperate move, but what the hell.

Google Ad Sense

I’m trying out Google Ad Sense to see if can generate a little more revenue from this blog, and my first impression is that it’s pretty weird. For openers, the e-mail that Google sent me saying I was approved for the program was classified by Gmail as spam. This is what they mean by “the left hand not knowing whose nose the right hand is picking.”

And for another, Google selects a completely different set of ads for this blog depending on whether it’s accessed from mossback.org or from bennett.com/blog; same blog, different URLs; one thinks I’m a liberal and the other a conservative. They’re both half right.

Apparently we’re seeing some of the fruits of machine “intelligence” at work.