Posts about Internet

Once and for all

As threatened, in my Guardian column this week, I try to catalogue the yes-but contrariness I hear about the internet’s opportunities–and my responses:

It never fails. I’ll be talking with a group about the amazing opportunities of the internet age and inevitably someone will pipe up and say, “Yes, but there are inaccuracies on the internet.” And: “There are no standards there.” Or: “Most people just watch junk.” There the conversation stalls. I take it as personal failure, not keeping everyone’s eyes focused on the future. Suddenly, we’re spinning our wheels in the present or sliding back to the past, missing the chance to explore and exploit our new reality. Once and for all, I’d like to respond to these fears and complaints. They won’t go away. But at least I could, as the prime minister does in question time, refer the honourable curmudgeon to the replies I give here.

There’s junk on the internet. True. There’s junk everywhere (even on bookshop shelves). The mistake is to think that the internet should be packaged and perfected, like media. It’s not media. Blogger Doc Searls, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, says the web is instead a place where we talk and connect. In his 1996 Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow called it “the new home of the mind.” The internet is life. Life is messy. Get used to it.

Most people watch junk. True. But “most” is a measurement that mattered only in the mass media economy, which is over. In our new mass of niches, we each may seek out and support what we like. Yes, we’ve all watched our silly flaming cat videos (not to mention Big Brother). But we’ve also watched moments of genius made possible by the internet. Why concentrate on the crap when brilliance is only a click away?

Anyone can say anything on the internet. True. And God bless it for that. That cacophony you hear is democracy and the free marketplace of ideas.

There are inaccuracies on the internet. True. But the web enables us to correct our mistakes – because nothing is finished there. With a link or a comment, we can also correct others. And thanks to Google, we can look up facts from many sources in an instant. I’d say the internet has given us a greater respect and facility for facts and has made us as a society more accurate.

Wikipedia has mistakes. True. So does this newspaper. Both are better at making corrections than books and encyclopedias. Wikipedia, like the web, has enabled an unprecedented collection of knowledge, passion, creation, and collaboration.

We need a seal of approval for internet content. False. The last thing we need is a system for certification. For who should have the authority to do it? Who would wield that shield in China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia? The web is not one-size-fits-all. Neither is knowledge.

Bloggers aren’t journalists. True and false. The Pew Internet & American Life survey says only a third of bloggers consider what they do journalism. But today any witness can perform an act of journalism, giving us more eyes on society – which journalists should celebrate.

People are rude on the internet. True. They’re rude in life, but perhaps more so online, thanks to anonymity. But we all know who the idiots are. The smart response is to ignore the stupid.

The internet has no ethics. True. It no more has a moral code than a telephone wire, a car, or a knife. We who use it bring the ethics and laws we live under already.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s please return to the full half of the glass and examine the many new opportunities the net presents from these challenges. When you see nothing but junk, create quality. Where quality is hard to find, curate it, adding your own seal of approval with a link. When you read inaccuracies and misunderstandings, add facts, corrections, context and journalism. If people on the internet get things wrong, educate them. When you hear the noise of people talking online, listen. I know I come across as the internet triumphalist. Somebody has to. Somebody needs to be the contrarian’s contrarian.

.rose

Identity just got more complicated. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to open up top-level domains to most any suffix we can imagine — from .com, .net, .org, .co.uk, etc. to .anything. So there will be an explosion in what we nerdily called the internet namespace.

On the one hand, this means we don’t have to all fight and scrape to grab any brand followed by a .com. But it also means there’ll be a land rush to create and sell every possible combination of words — amazon.store, amazon.book, amazon.everything (and Amazon will be faced with having to buy them all to protect its brand).
We users trying to find things could end up with an exponential rise in confusion as we try to remember more combinations of names: Where is that guy who drones on about media — jarvis.com, jarvis.pundit, jarvis.blather, jarvis.blahblahblah?

Who could win in this? Who always wins these days: Google, of course. I know many people who never bother to type in internet addresses; they find it quicker to just enter a Google search and click from there. All roads lead from Google.

Well, with more confusion in names, we’ll all end up having to search Google more often. That makes search-engine optimization even more critical as sites strive to make sure they are on the top page of search results for any relevant term. I, for example, am proud to be the seventh “jeff” on Google and I’m plotting ways to eliminate the other six. I believe that companies and brands will soon be valued not just on their cash flow and EBITDA but also on their Googlejuice.

The real limitation in namespace has been language. We have taken just about every word and pronounceable syllable in every tongue and already glued them together and tacked them onto a .com. That is why new web 2.0 companies inevitably end up with silly, made-up names these days: Dopplr, Zivity, Flickr. The internet has been killing vowels, syllables, and spaces in our languages. So it would stand to reason that this need no longer happen: Flicker.com can live peaceably beside Flicker.photo, Flicker.snapshots, even Flicker.yahoo.

But no. The truth is that when we depend on search, we will depend more heavily on unique names so those names don’t get lost in searches for common — commodity — words. So we’ll still mangle the language to create names.

Indeed, I predict that we’ll do this not just for our companies but also for our kids. For everybody needs a little SEO these days. If the internet had been around when my children were born, I shouldn’t have given them common names — Jake and Julia — but would have followed legendary rebel-rocker Frank Zappa’s example — he named his children Dwezil and Moon Unit. That way, there’d be no fight over owning DwezilJarvis.com and anyone searching for Dwezils would, I hope, find my offspring at least second on the list. Yes, in world where unique names are valued, Icelanders are screwed.

In the early days of telephones, it was assumed that we’d be bad at remembering numbers, so phone companies in some countries used words to help us recall the first few digits. KNickerbocker 5 500 became 565 500. That quaint system was dropped as phones stopped having letters printed on them and as phone numbers exploded to absurd lengths with the number of devices.

Well now imagine a world in a few weeks when you own a score of devices connected to the internet — phone, computer, TV, refrigerator, car, heating system, security system, game — each with its own unique address. Namespace will implode again. So perhaps we’ll return to the earliest system of names when John who made horseshoes in the blacksmith shop down on the high street became John Smith and that will be the Google search that finds him.

[Commissioned by and crossposted at Comment is Free; discussion underway there.]

F the FCC: The internet as interstate

At PDF, I ask Vint Cerf — who said the FCC should die — to zero-base what government should or must do: regulation, incentive, investment. He launches onto a nice riff on roads and whether we should consider the internet to be a road — on which we chose what vehicles to drive — and so it becomes a government utility. Andrew Rasiej (playing Oprah in the audience) says that in the 1800s, people were dying from bad water in New York and so the city government spent billions buying a government-run aquaduct system and New York became the industrial and financial capital of the world. In the analogy, water trucks bear the logos of Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon and they stop the pipes from being laid. Andrew wonders what would happen if internet access were declared a civil right.

The internet is the social network

Google has released a social-graph API, which in theory — though, unfortunately, not in practice — is what the internet is all about: relationships and connections.

I’ve said it before:

The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

So with its social-graph API, is Google trying to become the Google of people (or beat Facebook to it)? Yes, but the problem is that this relies on explicit, semantic links we just don’t use. It wants us to include rel= links when we link to someone defining the relationship. I just don’t see that happening. Sometime ago, the semantic folks wanted us to put vote links in (marking them as positive or negative); it never took off.

Here’s Brad Fitzpatrick of Google explaining the API:

I believe the killer social graph app will be the one that sniffs and understands our relationships without our having to take explicit action or by exploiting the actions we take for different reasons. Facebook exists to help us organize our friendships and in the process of doing that, it knows who are friends are (unless you’re one of those who befriends everyone). When I take pictures of people on Flickr or Facebook and they get tagged, it must mean I was there with them. When I tag them, it must mean I know them. When people follow me on Twitter — and vice versa — a relationship of mutual interest is defined. When I join a group at Facebook or Yahoo, another relationship of interest is there. When I go to a MeetUp with someone, both interest and physical meeting are established. When I link to someone’s blog, that, too, defines a relationship and the definition becomes only more explicit if we know who writes that blog and whether they have any other relationship with me. On my blog, I want to link you to the other things I do online, my other identities, and I can do that through ClaimID. Witness:

My claimID jeff jarvis

When you put all those relationships together with my identity and the actions among us, you start to draw the real social graph, the true social network that is the internet.

OK, so what? What benefit is that to me or anyone else? Well, it’s another way to visualize and manage my relationships. We can layer on this content and memes and see where they start and how they spread and that starts to define leadership and curiosity and credibility.

The internet is less about content than relationships and teh true social graph will show us those relationships.

The metered internet

I’m getting a preview of Time Warner’s doomed idea to charge internet access based on usage.

At the hotel here in Munich, I’m getting criminally overcharged for internet access by the hotel and Swiss: They’re charging me 27 euros for 24 hours to get supposedly unlimited speed (ha! I tested and it’s slow; I can’t even watch a YouTube video worth a damn and it almost took longer to download On the Media than to listen to it) and downloading. They’d charge me a bit less if I agreed to getting lower priority for my packets — the hint is that at the slower speed, I couldn’t be able to use Skype or watch videos — and an unspecified limit on my bandwidth. Being forced to pay a premium to get acceptable service makes me mad enough; not getting acceptable service makes me resent them even more.

It’s not as if cable and telephone companies care about being resented, but this is sure to make us hate them even more. And it moves in exact opposition to the history of internet usage since the mid-90s. That’s when I say that Tom Evslin, then head of AT&T Worldnet, made the internet explode when he set flat-rate pricing of $19.95 a month. Then the peole didn’t care about the ticking clock; they became addicted to the internet; the internet exploded; and we have Tom to thank for that. And since then, whenever we have had more bandwidth, we have found more good reasons to use the internet more and bring more value to it. On the internet, more is more.

Now we have Time Warner and Swiss to thank for trying to put a meter back on the internet. It only makes us hate them more.