Thursday, January 25, 2007

Web4 - the Creepy Web?

I'm still not happy about the "Web 2.0" buzzword, and Seth Godin is talking about Web4! No matter, I've always been buzzword-resistant.

So what is Web4? Here are some of Seth's examples.

I'm typing an email to someone, and we're brainstorming about doing a business development deal with Apple. A little window pops up and lets me know that David over in our Tucscon office is already having a similar conversation with Apple and perhaps we should coordinate.

I'm booked on a flight from Toledo to Seattle. It's cancelled. My phone knows that I'm on the flight, knows that it's cancelled and knows what flights I should consider instead. It uses semantic data but it also has permission to interrupt me and tell me about it. Much more important, it knows what my colleagues are doing in response to this event and tells me. 'Follow me' gets a lot easier.

Google watches what I search. It watches what other people like me search. Every day, it shows me things I ought to be searching for that I'm not. And it introduces me to people who are searching for what I'm searching for.

As a project manager, my computer knows my flow chart and dependencies for what we're working on. And so does the computer of every person on the project, inside my team and out. As soon as something goes wrong (or right) the entire chart updates.

I'm late for a dinner. My GPS phone knows this (because it has my calendar, my location, and the traffic status). So, it tells me, and then it alerts the people who are waiting for me.

This sounds like a very depressing world to live in.

The best web technologies are those that have increased social contact. I like that my partner and I can, despite being horribly busy all day long, exchange IMs during free moments. I like reading the blogs of people I know and hearing about things on their mind that we might never have gotten to in ordinary conversation. I appreciate being able to use tools like LinkedIn to find people I ought to know. This is all good stuff.

But here's what I don't like: technologies that tell me what I should be interested in. Not just because they rarely work well, but because I like to actually manage and experience my own life. I would love to be able to ask Google, "What do people like me look for?" I don't want it to tell me.

I like human contact. If I'm running late, I call or text someone. Is it a chore? Maybe. But you know what, I don't believe that more than handful of people in this world don't have time to call and say, "I'm late, be there in 15!" or text "stuck in traffc on 10 c u soon".

At least those things come from human beings. Somebody's cell phone telling me its master is late is just... cold. Web4 could make us even more isolated and atomized, with our personal interactions becoming even more shallow that today's "Where are you? I'm at Starbucks!" mobile phone calls.

And my email client peering over my shoulder as I'm writing a message - and then comparing it to other people's messages? Goodbye. I'm doing everything important by voice from that point on.

Seth points out that privacy is largely an illusion, and he's not wrong, but I think he misses something: it may be illusory, but there's a social contract between us and the people who can see all that data to pretend that it's there - to not obviously remind us that someone could be watching.

Personally, I think a likely reaction to this Web4 would be a push toward stronger data privacy laws - the US moving in the direction of the EU (which would be welcome right now, frankly) and the EU charting new territory.

There's another whole aspect of this: while the examples Seth gives show technology being helpful, let's be realistic: someone needs to make money. Dumb interruption marketers will transform the helpful possibilities into irritations and worse, as they have already with email and are rapidly doing with blog spam.

Maybe I'm a hopeless 40+ person who just doesn't get it. But I don't believe most people want that kind of intrusive "help." I hope I'm right.

Otherwise down the road I'll be blogging from a tiny village somewhere in Spain, where I can escape it all.

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Someone below 30 :) said...

Ditto - from from the first sentence to the last.

Cahill said...

There are some rather apparent issues with Seth's premise. In trying to semantically present data to us, I fear we'll fall prey to the what we used to see with Loran devices when navigating. They can literally keep correcting the course to such a degree that you never actually get to your target.

So if I'm an idiot, then I guess Google will semantically start showing me the stuff other idiots are searching for. Kind of reminds me of the TIVO line from the Sopranos...

Since we're talking identity, of course we should probably mention this bit for anyone that hasn't seen it...

I blogged on the Future of Search earlier this month.

Don't worry John, I think you'll have plenty of company in Spain.

Mary Schmidt said...

Well, I'll be in the mountains of New Mexico - but I'll be sure and keep in touch with you in Spain!

I believe Web 4.0 will be like all the other technology generations. We must all use technology not let it use us.

Yihong Ding said...

I agree to your comments. Recently, I am also writing a web article about web evolution. It has not finished yet. But you may like to watch it.