Friday, August 07, 2009

Clouds and the False Act of Watching

We want to feel as if we watch and scrutinize others, without risk of being caught and called voyeur. The honey allure of the web draws many this way. It isn't overstating the obvious to describe this as the primary appeal social networks; the ability to peek at peers anonymously through an electronic window is an irresistible component of the interwebs -or, as it will soon be called, interCLOUDS.

We are currently in the time of webs, strands and conduits woven over several decades and culminating in the last as a paradigmatic shift in human society. Recently we saw the launch of Web 2.0, an evolutionary leap forward for engines of connection. The organic blur between business and play typifies this new stage, but it doesn't represent an endpoint: we've got a long way to go before massing into what scifi author Vernor Vinge calls a "singularity"; often misattributed to Ray Kurzweil, who ratified and popularized the concept, a singularity is what we can look forward to when accelerating machine intelligence peaks.

There's another fancy phrase we should also remember: "user error". As many a programmer and techie remind us, machines are only as smart as the inputted data from users -in other words, us. Even in these heady days of social advancement vis a vis socnets and game consoles, with their increasingly sophisticated avatars, already the underlying shape of what's next can be discerned. It hinges on users.

Google calls it "cloud computing". Like a cloud precipitating wind and wet to grow, the intelligence of users gathers online. Look to and you can see a digital enclave of musicians and producers, engineers and promoters that is open to the public; it takes strength the more subscribers it can claim. This is nothing new, except inasmuch that user content is more central. In some ways, early mistakes by Myspace anticipated this shift toward users.

In the early days of socnets, Myspace distinguished itself with editable content on its profile pages. Subscribers could modify the HTML and personalize how they presented their online profile. This wasn't the original intent, and at a time when Friendster was the hub with the hits, it came over like gangbusters; a glacial shift took place attributable to users having greater interactivity with the flash appeal of their profiles. It may not have seemed so at the time, but Myspace planted the seeds of a revolutionary new approach. How revolutionary? When I look at Facebook and feel limited by the rigid structure of the newsfeed, it's as if the popular site has yet to achieve a milestone at the level of Myspace.

Editable content and deep avatar manipulation are harbingers. In short, Web 3.0 = WorldWideCloud. And what better place to be a watcher than from a cloud? You have the comforts of being in a social cluster that invites your input, even demands it, and fellow users are closer to hand and more accessible. It isn't a real act of watching when we log on, and it will not be any more real in the next phase, but it will provide the sensation that few can resist.

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