Delicious II

Yahoo sunset 2010

That image from last December.

And after the “decision” to sunset, what? Rumour and speculation. And … a service that began to seem like a ghost town, as far as my network went.

So a little while ago (15 March), I moved over to Pinboard, decoupling, at last, the feeds for my Delicious account and this blog. Maybe Delicious will gain a good new owner and there’ll be life after Yahoo!. But I’m not banking on it.

Pinboard is reliable, fast and lithe. It’s incredibly easy to use and responsive to search. I’m using it far more than I had been Delicious — because it’s so quick to come back at me with the goods. But I miss the social, the enhanced chance of discovery. In Sticking With Delicious, Paul covered well the reasons why one might stay: ‘what’s always made Delicious most useful to me is its network pages in general, and mine in particular … [Pinboard] has a network, but you can only see your own, and friend finding is basically impossible’. (You can always ‘enter someone’s nick and see if they exist’ — The Post-Delicious World, of course, and there’s the independent Delicious → Pinboard username mapper.) Or, as Matt Haughey put it, ‘my Pinboard feed is personally useful, but socially uninteresting. And therein lies the rub … As a personal archive tool, it’s pretty impressive, as a shared space to find interesting bookmarks, it’s problematic. In the end, I’ll likely continue using Delicious to track bookmarks with Pinboard as a backup/archive tool that I’ll gladly continue to pay for’.

Well, time came to move on. And in truth, my network had mostly migrated to a number of other scattered sites, services and feeds.

(Previously, as they say, in Delicious (I), I picked out this by Paulsnagged via my Tumblr:

This fracturing of the network is a huge loss, no matter whether all the people you’re following wind up on the same service you do or otherwise.


Pinboard support is also fast — and personal (Maciej is patient, even with my stumblings). And I really like the way it aspires to archive not just pages but dependencies (find the post, ‘Bookmark Archives That Don’t’, dated 25 Nov, 2010: ‘in 2010 I don't believe it makes any sense to try to archive bookmarks if you’re not willing to resolve dependencies’). It’s sometimes proved better at this than Evernote.

Moving over, importing all my data from Delicious, was straightforward.

You can find me on Pinboard, or subscribe to my Pinboard feed

Who's programming the TiVo?

Jimmy Wales

Last Wednesday, it was my great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Wales to talk at school: ‘Wikipedia and Wikia : Free Culture for a Free World’. About 300 students and staff came to hear him, filling our main hall. Feedback has been very warm and appreciative (‘the best talk I’ve been to in my five years here’, ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’, ‘the ethos of Wikipedia/Wikia is so inspiring’). We filmed the talk and Jimmy’s given us his slides and we’ll be posting these. I’m very grateful to him for coming, fitting us in during a short visit to London.

Early on in his hour with us, Jimmy asked how many of those there had ever edited Wikipedia. He reckoned about 80% of the students had. I wasn’t expecting that high a figure. As Chris said to me the next day, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, the fact that that is going on, with no-one knowing the extent of it until the question is asked, is really appropriate to the nature of the project and the software.

There was a moment at the Guardian event that I hadn’t been expecting, either: Jimmy asked the media crowd how many of them had edited Wikipedia — about 30%. He then told them about the previous day: ‘yesterday I spoke at St Paul’s and the percentage was about 80% — so you’re behind. But don’t feel too bad about it: my daughter programs our TiVo.’ :) I heard some gasps from his audience.

The best unexpected moment on Friday of last week came when I was teaching ICT to a class of 13 year-olds: I must have said in passing how some folks at the Guardian event had tweeted about what Jimmy had said and, without my prompting, two of the class immediately searched Twitter (on “st pauls school”; “#cms2010 pauls” is, unsurprisingly, my search — same results):

2010-03-18_22.48.39 Wikipedia.jpeg

Two savvy, fast 13 year-olds, an impressed teacher and an excited class.

Just before Jimmy Wales came to school, I found out that we have a young student likely to become a Wikipedia admin. If this happens, he’ll be the second student (to the best of my knowledge) to become an admin whilst still at school here. (Alex became one in his final year with us — 2007/8.)

A parent wrote to me last week about his son editing Wikipedia: ‘in today’s interconnected way, this is the way to go and who knows what will happen then — expert status will allow him to develop other skills and is an asset in and of itself. It has also provided amazing learning for him.’

I find all this quite remarkable. We can grow so used to discussing change and the way young people now engage with the world, and we need experiences like those of last week to get us to look up and take stock again.

Wikipedia has played such a part in bringing about these new kinds of engagement.

Jimmy Wales


The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it.
Scott Bradner, former trustee of the Internet Society (quoted in Here Comes Everybody)

The communications tools broadly adopted in the last decade are the first to fit human social networks well,
and because they are easily modifiable they can be made to fit better over time.
— Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody, p 158) 

Clay Shirky at the ICABack before Easter, I was at the ICA for the Eno/Shirky evening. One of the books I then read over the break was Here Comes Everybody. I’ve been meaning for some time to put down a few notes about it here. This has grown to be a long post as I’ve added to it, wanting to get a few things out on the page and, so, clearer in my own mind.

It’s a great book to suggest to friends who are not familiar with the technologies Shirky discusses as it hides its knowledge well — but there are still leads to follow up. The modest ten or so pages of the Bibliography threw up a number of articles I'd either not heard of before or hadn’t visited in a long while. In the former camp, I recommend: Anderson: More Is Different (Science — 1972); R H Coase: The Nature of the Firm (pdf) — a 1937 economics paper; Richard P. Gabriel — Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big: worse is better (1991); Alan Page Fiske: Human Sociality. (There’s an online “webliography” here.) And chapters 8–11, covering so many big topics — social capital; three kinds of loss (some solve-a-hard-problem jobs; some social bargains; negative aspects to new freedoms); small world networks; more on social capital; failure (‘open source … is outfailing’ commercial efforts, 245); more on groups (‘every working system is a mix of social and technological factors’, 260) — hit my Amazon Prime account hard. (Incidentally, there’s a Kevin Kelly piece on “more is different”, Zillionics, that appeared earlier this year. See also Kevin Kelly’s The Google Way of Science and Wired’s The Petabyte Age: Because More Isn't Just More — More Is Different.)

Further reading to one side, a number of things discussed in the book particularly interested me straightaway. Firstly, sociality, privacy and exposure online. Leisa recently posted Ambient Exposure, an update (of sorts) to her post of last March, Ambient Intimacy. The titles tell their own story. Early on, Clay writes about ‘how dramatically connected we've become to one another … [how much] information we give off about our selves’. This took me back to Adam Greenfield’s recent talk at the Royal Society (I’ve also been re-reading Everyware). Our love of flocking is being fed handsomely by means of the new tools Clay Shirky discusses so well.

Privacy is always coming up in conversations at school about online life, and what I’m hearing suggests our students are beginning to look at privacy and exposure with growing circumspection. Facebook’s People You May Know functionality has made some sit up and wonder where social software might be taking us. We’re slowly acquiring a stronger sense of how seduction through imagined privacy works (alone in a room, save for screen and keyboard) and a more developed understanding of what it means to write for unseen audiences. Meanwhile, there are things to be unlearned: ‘those of us who grew up with a strong separation between communication and broadcast media … assume that if something is out where we can find it, it must have been written for us. … Now that the cost of posting things in a global medium has collapsed, much of what gets posted on any given day is in public but not for the public’ (90).  In the Bibliography, Clay refers to a post of Danny O’Brien’s — all about register — which is a longtime favourite of mine, too.

Then there was what the book had to say about media and journalism. Simon Waldman, well-placed to pass comment, on chapters 3 and 4:

The chapters most relevant to media/journalism - ‘Everyone is a media outlet’ and ‘Publish first, filter later’ should be required reading for pretty much everyone currently sitting in a newspaper/broadcaster. It’s certainly the best thought through thing I’ve read on this, and the comparison to the decline of the scribes when the printing press came in is really well drawn. 

The summary to Chapter 4 (‘Publish, Then Filter’) runs, ‘The media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact’. ‘Filter-then-publish … rested on a scarcity of media that is a thing of the past. The expansion of social media means the only working system is publish-then-filter’ (98). (Language like this can sound an utopian note that rings on in the head long after the book’s been closed, as if we’d entered a world beyond old constraints. And look!: the Praetorian Guard of elite gatekeepers is no more.)

I was interested, too, to read Shirky’s thoughts about the impact of new technologies on institutions. His application of Ronald Coase’s 1937 paper and, in particular, the idea of the Coasean floor (‘activities … [that] are valuable to someone but too expensive to be taken on in any institutional way’), was very striking: the new tools allow ‘serious, complex work [to be] taken on without institutional direction’ and things can now be achieved by ‘loosely coordinated groups’ which previously ‘lay under the Coasean floor’.

We didn't notice how many things were under that floor because, prior to the current era, the alternative to institutional action was usually no action. (47)

Later in the book (107), he comes back to institutions, taking what is happening to media businesses as not unique but prophetic — for ‘All businesses are media businesses … [as] all businesses rely on the managing of information for two audiences — employees and the world’:

The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. The linking of symmetrical participation and amateur production makes this period of change remarkable. Symmetrical participation means that once people have the capacity to receive information, they have the capability to send it as well. Owning a television does not give you the ability to make TV shows, but owning a computer means that you can create as well as receive many kinds of content, from the written word through sound and images. Amateur production, the result of all this new capability, means that the category of "consumer" is now a temporary behaviour rather than a permanent identity.

‘Every new user is a potential creator and consumer’ (106) is reminiscent of Bradley Horowitz in Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers (2006).


Continue reading "Kayaking" »

3 x 3 = 9x

The diagram comes from John Gourville’s paper, Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers (2006), and is one iteration of what he calls the 9x problem. I’d not come across Gourville’s work until yesterday, when I read Andrew McAfee’s 2006 post, The 9X Email Problem. Andrew’s post is so good, I hope I may be forgiven for reblogging a substantial part of it here:   

A while back I heard John Gourville, a colleague in HBS's Marketing department, talk about his research investigating why so many new consumer products fail to catch on with their intended audiences despite the clear advantages they offer over what's currently on the market.

His explanation was fascinating, and very insightful.  He said that we need to stop thinking about consumers as highly rational evaluators of the old vs. the new products, lining up pros and cons of each in mental tables and then selecting the winner.  Instead, we need to keep in mind three well-documented features of our cognitive 'equipment' for making evaluations.    

  • We make relative evaluations, not absolute ones.  When I'm at a poker table deciding whether to call a bet, I don't think of what my total net worth will be if I win the hand vs. if I lose it.  Instead, I think in relative terms --  whether I'll be 'up' or 'down.'

  • Our reference point is the status quo.  My poker table comparisons are made with respect to where I am at that point in time.  "If I win this hand I'll be up $40; if I lose it I'll be down $10 compared to my current bankroll."  It's only at the end of the night that my horizon broadens enough to see if I'm up or down for the whole game.

  • We are loss averse.  A $50 loss looms larger than a $50 gain.  Loss aversion is virtually universal across people and contexts, and is not much affected by how much wealth one already has.  Ample research has demonstrated that people find that a prospective loss of $x is about two to three times as painful as a prospective gain of $x is pleasurable.   

When combined, these three lead to what the behavioral economist Richard Thaler has called the "endowment effect:"  We value items in our possession more than prospective items that could be in our possession, especially if the prospective item is a proposed substitute.  We mentally compare having the prospective item to giving up what we already have (our 'endowment'), but because we're loss averse giving up what we already have (our reference point) looms large.   

And Gourville points out three factors that make the situation worse for product developers who want their offerings to succeed.  First is timing:  adopters have to give up their endowment immediately, and only get benefits sometime in the future.  Second, these benefits are not certain; the new product might not work as promised.  Third, benefits are usually qualitative, making them difficult to enumerate and compare.   

As if all this weren't enough, Gourville also highlights that the people developing new products are very dissimilar from the products' prospective consumers.  You don't go work for TiVo (to use his example) if you don't 'get' the potential of digital video recorders and think they're a really good idea.  And after working for the company for a while, having TiVo becomes part of your endowment; you think of things in comparison to TiVo, instead of in comparison to a VCR.  Both of these factors make it harder for developers to see things as their target customers do.   

Because of all of the above, Gourville talks about the '9X problem' --  "a mismatch of 9 to 1 between what innovators think consumers want and what consumers actually want."1  The 9X problem goes a long way to explaining the tech industry folk wisdom that to spread like wildfire a new product has to offer a tenfold improvement over what's currently out there.2  …   

Email is virtually everyone's current endowment of collaboration software.  Gourville's research suggests that the average person will underweight the prospective benefits of a replacement technology for it by about a factor of three, and overweight by the same factor everything they're being asked to give up by not using email.   This is the 9X problem developers of new collaboration technologies will have to overcome.   

1Gourville, J. T. (2004). Why consumers don't buy: The psychology of new product adoption, Harvard Business School Note #504-056   

2Andy Grove, Churning things up,  Fortune, July 21, 2003


Amongst poets

Adam Foulds came in to school on Thursday and read from The Broken Word (Sunday Times review here, Guardian here). Earlier this term, I read the poem in one sitting: it’s not difficult to do this, but it was, in any case, simply not a poem I wanted to break off from reading. It is very disturbing, not least because of the contrast between the quality of the telling and what it has to tell. Hearing so much of it read affected me greatly and, in winding up the reading, I slipped and called Adam ‘Robin’ — as his reading had melded in my mind with Robin Robertson’s also dark reading from earlier in the term.

Adam talked afterwards about the LRB review which lies behind the poem. You need a subscription, but the review, Bernard Porter: How did they get away with it?, discussed two books, David Anderson’s Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire and Caroline Elkins’ Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. Adam spoke about how Porter’s review, and then the two books themselves, shook the sense he had grown up with that, on the whole, and despite some shortcomings, British colonial rule had been a good thing. He had, he said, shared the ambient complacency about British rule. Porter’s review put it like this: “The accepted view of Britain’s decolonisation hitherto has been that it was done in a more dignified, enlightened and consensual way than by other countries – meaning, of course, France. It will be difficult now to argue this so glibly.”

Ambient complacency is a potent phrase, is it not?

Something else — unrelated — that Adam said after the reading also struck me: novels ‘take a group effort’. (His previous book is a novel, The Truth About These Strange Times.) They are so long — they can grow so ‘thin and wispy’ — a writer needs the collaboration of others to bring a novel into the world.

Of course, every author is different. Writing in The Observer’s Book of Books (a slim volume, given away free with the paper in May this year) about how he works as an editor (and drawing on his lengthy experience in publishing), Robin made just this point. His short piece should be read in full, but I can’t find it online. Here are some excerpts:

… an editor’s eye shouldn’t pass over a text too often for fear of losing the very objectivity the writer lacks. During a first read … I’m always watching myself for the first signs of inattention; any time that I’m stopped or distracted means there’s probably a problem in the text … If any changes do need to be made, I’d always ask the author to make them. After all, it is their book, and at this stage it’s still a thing in flux … You have to encourage the writer to see the problem, not just tell them there is one. Editing is about reading and listening attentively … I’ve always considered editing to involve quite a large degree of pastoral care.

What we're teaching this year

I thought I'd post here some links to stuff we've developed and are using with our first year students (13 year-olds). The material is in the public domain, on JotSpot.

So, here's the syllabus. (It's open to revision this year, as we teach it, and, of course, before we teach it again next year.)

Autumn Term

ICT at school, home ... mobile
Internet & web: key figures and events
Reading the social web: browsers, RSS and search
Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line I: Office(s)

Spring Term

Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line II: webmail, IM, chat, VoIP; blogs & wikis; video- and photo-sharing; social bookmarking and tagging; maps

Summer Term

Responsibility and Identity: Wikipedia (critical reading, responsible writing); social software (privacy, safety, digital identity)
The Law: copyright (links, permissions, problems); music (file-sharing, DRM); defamation and abuse (rights and responsibilities)
Virtual Worlds   

Then there's a wealth of linked-to background material that served earlier this year as stuff for the department to immerse itself in as it readied itself. (We're very fortunate in the quality and commitment of the team which teaches this course.) I update this material from time to time so it can remain useful. 

Finally, the lessons to date: 

1  Introduction

2  Home & mobile technologies

3  The internet

4  Internet pioneers

5  The web

6  The web

7  Browsers

8  Personalisation and home pages

9  RSS and Aggregators

10  Search

11  RSS & Search: improving the signal to noise ratio

12  Office: I

We've had fun delivering these within the constraints of time (one 40-minute lesson a week!) and the engagement of the pupils has been inspiring. 

In doing what we've been doing, my concern has been to leave behind what John Naughton called (in the Observer) the Old Person's ICT Curriculum. I also found inspiration along the way in Dave Snowden's blog post, Huginn and Muginn. Not everything there meshes with what we're doing (we're not delivering touch-typing and, yes, we should be) and we are teaching something of a body of knowledge (eg, about web history —€” Eliot: 'A people without history Is not redeemed from time' — but that's not what he was referring to: see 'don't teach ICT as if it was a "body of knowledge"'). Such things apart, I'm entirely at one with the spirit of remarks like these:

make computers and broadband a universal right, like water … most computing skills and all social computing capability is learnt by doing and by regular practice rather than classroom lessons.

what really matters is that children experience and contribute to the evolution of technology, and to see that evolution as a symbiotic relationship with human kind. That requires us … [to be] thoughtful and mindful. We don't need to sacrifice an eye to gain wisdom … but we do need to sacrifice an over explicit non-experiential approach to ICT teaching.

I also like his fifth point:

Let things emerge, don't plan … It's not so much about repeating a success as repeating the conditions which led to that success. In any complex system you can never replicate outcome, but you can replicate starting conditions. … you want multiple diverse initiatives to emerge, and you want to measure their impact on the social and educational fabric … not a series of pre-determined targeted outcomes.

There's been a surprising amount of room for things to emerge: pupils experiment in their own time, bring a lot to the table, anyway, and are excited by discovering more about the powers given them by contemporary computing.

I'd add to all this a word about the re-appraisal of Prensky's influential digital natives meme — a re-appraisal that has been going on for some time now. Here's Henry Jenkins (writing earlier this month):

Talk of "digital natives" helps us to recognize and respect the new kinds of learning and cultural expression which have emerged from a generation that has come of age alongside the personal and networked computer. Yet, talk of "digital natives" may also mask the different degrees [of] access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Teaching this course this year, we have had it confirmed that being born in 1994 doesn't mean that online life, for all that it may be familiar, is well understood: where it's come from, what it can do and what your options are —€” these are all things that unite adults and teens as we seek to develop and mature in this new and changing world.

Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World

— the title of a very long report by Harris Interactive on behalf of the OCLC, available for download (pdf) here. (You can also download sections of the report from here.) In its conclusion it poses the question, 'what are the services and incentives that online libraries could offer users to entice them to come back or to visit more often or even devote some of their own time to help create a social library site?'.

This OCLC membership report explores this web of social participation and cooperation on the Internet and how it may impact the library’s role, including:

  • The use of social networking, social media, commercial and library services on the Web
  • How and what users and librarians share on the Web and their attitudes toward related privacy issues
  • Opinions on privacy online
  • Libraries’ current and future roles in social networking

Any report this long is going to take time to read and digest, but a look at some of the conclusions should whet the appetite:

The drive to participate, to build, to seek out communities is certainly nothing new. “Connect with friends,” “be part of group,” “have fun” and “express myself” are the top motives for using social networks according to our research. We could as easily be describing the motives behind the rise of the telephone, civic associations or, more recently, the cell phone, or the motivations that drew e-mail from the office into the home. The motives that are driving the rise of social networking are not unique. And yet, this particular Internet innovation, the social networking craze, feels different. It doesn’t seem to be playing out like the digital revolutions that preceded it. Social networking is doing something more than advancing communications between individuals, driving commerce or speeding connectivity. It is redefining roles, muddying the waters between audience and creator, rules and relationships, trust and security, private and public. And the roles are changing, not just for a few but for everyone, and every service, on the Web. Whether one views this new social landscape as a great opportunity for improved information creation and exchange or as a messy playground to be tidied up to restore order, depends on one’s point of view. …

We see a social Web developing in an environment where users and librarians have dissimilar, perhaps conflicting, views on sharing and privacy. There is an imbalance. Librarians view their role as protectors of privacy; it is their professional obligation. They believe their users expect this of them. Users want privacy protection, but not for all services. They want the ability to control the protection, but not at the expense of participation. …

… librarians have pioneered many of the digital services we now see in broad use on the Web: intranets to share resources, electronic information databases and “ask-an-expert” services. And although it took some librarians a while to embrace the use of search engines as hubs for information access, librarians are now Googling more frequently than their users and teaching users how to maximize the potential of this powerful tool. But, unfortunately, librarians are not pioneering the social Web.

And from the final section of the conclusion, 'Open the Doors':

Our perceptions become our realities, and often, also our limitations. This was clearly the case for the authors of this report when we began our research on social networks a year ago. There is no doubt that our initial perceptions of social networks influenced our approach to this study. Handicapped by only limited personal experiences with sites, we began our study as we had every study before it—by looking at social networks as a service or set of services to be studied, learned and implemented. We conceived of a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools—wikis, blogs, mashups and podcasts. Integrated services, of course, user-friendly for sure and offering superior self-service. We were wrong. Our view, after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to experts and creating our own social spaces, is quite different. Becoming engaged in the social Web is not about learning new services or mastering new technologies. To create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a “top ten” list of services to implement on the current library Web site would be shortsighted. Such lists exist. Resist the urge to use them.

The social Web is not being built by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools. And a social library will not be created by implementing a list of social software features on our current sites. The social Web is being created by opening the doors to the production of the Web, dismantling the current structures and inviting users in to create their content and establish new rules. Open the library doors, invite mass participation by users and relax the rules of privacy. It will be messy. The rules of the new social Web are messy. The rules of the new social library will be equally messy. But mass participation and a little chaos often create the most exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building—and transformation.

Life, the web — all a tangle

The interview Tim Berners-Lee gave last year (IBM developerWorks) was widely reported. I blogged it, Web 2.0: 'what the Web was supposed to be all along', in August 2006, shortly after it was posted. What most struck me about it was expressed, pithily and succinctly, by Sir Tim in a remark about the web made on an earlier occasion — the MIT Technology Review Emerging Technologies conference in 2005, as reported by Andy Carvin in Tim Berners-Lee: Weaving a Semantic Web:

The original thing I wanted to do was to make it a collaborative medium, a place where we (could) all meet and read and write.

At the MIT conference, Sir Tim talked about Marc Andreessen and the emergence of a commercial web browser. In the IBM developerWorks interview he said of his web browser,

… the original World Wide Web browser of course was also an editor. … I really wanted it to be a collaborative authoring tool. And for some reason it didn't really take off that way.  And we could discuss for ages why it didn't. … I've always felt frustrated that most people don't...didn't have write access.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I came across a 1997 Time magazine piece about Tim Berners-Lee by Robert Wright, The Man Who Invented The Web:

Berners-Lee considers the Web an example of how early, random forces are amplified through time. "It was an accident of fate that all the first [commercially successful] programs were browsers and not editors," he says. To see how different things might have been, you have to watch him gleefully wield his original browser--a browser and editor--at his desk. He's working on one document and--flash--in a few user-friendly keystrokes, it is linked to another document. One document can be on his computer "desktop"--for his eyes only--another can be accessible to his colleagues or his family, and another can be public. A seamless neural connection between his brain and the social brain. … he is grateful that Andreessen co-authored a user-friendly browser and thus brought the Web to the public, even if in non-ideal form. Yet it can't have been easy watching Andreessen become the darling of the media after writing a third-generation browser that lacked basic editing capabilities.

Now the web is 'finally starting' to follow 'the technological lines he envisioned (… as software evolves)':

Berners-Lee, standing at a blackboard, draws a graph, as he's prone to do. It arrays social groups by size. Families, workplace groups, schools, towns, companies, the nation, the planet. The Web could in theory make things work smoothly at all of these levels, as well as between them. That, indeed, was the original idea--an organic expanse of collaboration. … "At the end of the day, it's up to us: how we actually react, and how we teach our children, and the values we instill." He points back to the graph. "I believe we and our children should be active at all points along this."

So, a fundamental deviation from Tim Berners-Lee's vision for the web occurred in the form taken by popular, commercially viable web browsers. In Dave Winer's view, this early deviation was heavily reinforced by Microsoft:

Since the re-rollout of Office in 1996, it's been really clear why Microsoft was so hell-bent at first owning and then suffocating the web browser, along with the web. … Because for them, writing was not something that would be done in a web browser, if they improved their browser as a writing tool, that would be the end of Word, and with it, a big reason for using Office. … If instead, Microsoft had embraced the web, and with it the shift in their product line and economics, in 1995, we'd have a much richer writing environment today. Blogging would have happened sooner, in a bigger way. It's hard to imagine how much the sins of Microsoft cost all of us.

What a tangled thing technology is (Berners-Lee — 'The Web is a tangle, your life is a tangle – get used to it'). I hope very much that Ted Nelson has brought Geeks Bearing Gifts nearer to publication. Meanwhile, with the Time 1997 piece a little bit more of the road map of the web's evolution became clearer to me. The read-only nature of the successful web browsers that came after Sir Tim's explains a great deal about how many an adult of a certain age perceives the web. I think of John Naughton's sketch of how today's 22 year-old conceives of the web, and of Andrew McAfee's comment,

Evidence is mounting that younger people don’t think of the Internet as a collection of content that other people produce for them to consume. Instead, they think about it as a dynamic, emergent, and peer-produced repository to which they’re eager to contribute.

And I think back to Bradley Horowitz's talk at the London March 2007 FOWA meeting, which I wrote about here — and Twittered at the time: 'from a hierarchy of creator(s)/synthesisers/consumers (1:10:100) towards a web world of participation (100)'.

If the history of the web browser had itself been different, would we have suffered the misalignment of perceptions about the essentially social, creative nature of the web ('I believe we and our children should be active at all points along this') that often exists now between today's different generations of users?

Well, and in any case, 'The Web is no longer the future of computing, computing is now about the Web' (Dare Obasanjo).


Footnote. Two other things from the Time piece (I pass them on as given there): ' … contrary to the mythology surrounding Netscape, it was he [Berners-Lee], not Andreessen, who wrote the first "graphical user interface" Web browser. (Nor was Andreessen's browser the first to feature pictures; but it was the first to put pictures and text in the same window, a key innovation.)'

Wikipedia's timeline of web browsers is available here.

Web Work

I got this from Anne Zelenka, who "got it" 'from Web Worker Daily’s upcoming book “Connect! Web Worker Daily’s Guide to a New Way of Working” ' — [update] which I now realise, thanks to Stowe (who has an interesting commentary on Anne's post), is her upcoming book. I'll certainly be buying that when it comes out in January '08.


I didn't go to this latest get-together (I did make the March 07 meet: see here), but we sprung five final year students from school for the day ... and I think they had a ball.

Flickr: Microsoft Expression's bags (cvander's photo - click through)

Flickr: Adam with Kevin Rose & Alex Albrecht (Alex's photo - click through)

Flickr: Alex and Michael with Kevin Rose & Alex Albrecht (Alex's photo - click through)

Alex's FOWA photoset is here — and Michael's, here, was picked up on (quite independently) by Marc Eisenstadt, here.

Chatting with Marc by email, he commented on what great role models FOWA gives up-and-coming teenagers. Tom Coates said the same thing to me about Kevin Rose (when we met last month at a dinner held for Howard Rheingold). I think that's all spot on.

Alex has a preliminary write-up here, Michael has posted twice — Future of Web Apps, The Future of Web Apps, and Diggnation: A Round-up, and (update!, 7/10) Adam has just posted an excellent piece on his blog, Future Of Web Apps & Diggnation.