Friday, October 08, 2004

Who's Zoomin' Who: Web 2.0 Pundits and the Next Big Thing

Web 2.0 will likely be touted as where the advanced thinkers talked to the advanced business types who have made some pretty advanced fortunes using the Internet platforms. Discussions of the inevitability of open source, the evil Empire (we know the name, look up the number), FireFox over IE, REST vs web services, and all the usual cause de jours of the conspiracy-hungry zeitgeist will be debated in the hallways. The 'next big thing' will be featured on slides, and the Life of O'Reilly as pundit and prognosticator will be on display to up the ticket sales.

And the attendees will, as they usually do, miss the important developments in the evolution of the web.

Don't get me wrong. I've no prejudice against these events as technical theatre. They are fun to go to, one gets to rub elbows with the people whose cults of personality mean they are quoted more often in web circles than Karl Rove is in political circles, but one expecting to come away from an event like this with inside information, late breaking insights, etc., will leave with the same feeling as one who has eaten a two pound bag of pork rinds: full but unnourished. Why? Because these people came to promote a business: making money off the Internet. This is a cool thing, but it isn't a new thing and any conference that circles that topic will fall into the usual not-so-strange attractors of improving the user experience, network effects, power laws of sales, and the dot-bomb bust and how to avoid it. Developments, emergent and otherwise, that make for bad press don't amplify the feedback effects these folks are after at these events, so some urgent topics won't get discussed.

How about this: identity management systems for business transactions will not protect the individual or group from the application of wide-area sensor systems that aquire identity biometrically and pass it along the sensor web. The only protection will be built-in policy enforcement and these policies are as yet, non-existent.

Sensor webs ARE the 'next big thing' and I doubt that came up at Web 2.0. Even the developers of these systems recognize their implications for privacy and fundamental liberties, but say as the inventors usually do, that subject is beyond the scope of their work. It is political and even if it worries them, they aren't about to compromise funding or their careers worrying about that.

"Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun" - Tom Lehrer

People who do care will now have to pay very good attention to elections because political agendas do determine policy, not just as it is written, but as it is implemented. When the current reform bills for U.S. national intelligence are finally passed, under the Senate version, the National Intelligence Director has 90 days to provide a plan, and 270 days after that to begin implementing it.

It may be time to quit listening to O'Reilly and Company and start paying attention to what is being debated in the American Halls of Congress. The next big thing will be developed there, not in San Francisco.

5 comments:

Joshua Allen said...

I think this conference was much better than others in the past, though, in the sense that it was less about "revolutionary" pie-in-the-sky ideas that are exciting only to the incestuous group and destined to flop in the marketplace. It had a much better ratio of things that actually will see practical use, IMO.

I agree that identity/trust management and sensor networks are huge topics. Certainly sensor networks overlap with "ubiquitous computing" theme of the conference, and trust management overlaps with "social computing" theme. But I doubt they discussed your angle much.

Michael Champion said...

I generally agree that "attendees will, as they usually do, miss the important developments in the evolution of the web". Judging from the comments from the REST/semantic web echo chamber I've seen, the message being conveyed here is "more of the same" to implement the guiding vision of our strong decisive president ... whoops, I mean Sir Tim.

Maybe where I disagree is the conclusion about the "next big thing will be developed" in Congress, or in industry, or wherever. I think the next big thing is that there is no Next Big Thing; the "web revolution" has had whatever initial effect it is going to have, and now they are moving in their own directions. They don't WANT more of the same, they want platform neutrality but not at the price of reliability, they want interoperability but they need security, and so on. They may steal ideas from Web 2.0, e.g. specific semantic technologies or all sorts of open source code, but they are certainly not going to hitch their wagons to its star. Actually, I don't think Len disagrees with that general sentiment :-)

On another point, "As far as the web is concerned, the WS-* work is about sprinkling XML pixie dust on a failing idea." (the quote is from Edd Dumbill). Note the qualifier "as far as the web is concerned" ... if we are talking about freely available information on the public internet accessed by 'bots, spiders, etc. that just automate human drudgery, I agree. If we are talking about confidential information using in mission critical automated business processes, I don't. Secure and more tightly coupled systems might be a failing idea for the web as a whole, but it's a necessary requirement in certain lucrative and politically critical sectors.

I suspect that Len's sense of the "evolution of the web" is more the evolution of small corners of it to make it more secure. Of course, whether that is a "small corner" in terms of actual business and human value is another question :-)

len said...

I have the same feeling about Web2.0 that I had watching the musical "Cabaret". There is a kind of playful ignorance that emphasizes the moment and the fun but overlooks events in the background. Ubiquitous sensor webs and all of the HLS technologies must have built-in policy enforcement. All three of us work for global companies. What we build will be sold to the world. Do either of you know how to create "immutable auditing" technology? Can you insure that it cannot be tampered with?

Autos were designed and sold that were unsafe from the beginning and only as the accident statistics began to rise did our governments step in and mandate safety standards. Companies like Volvo began to work on these without mandates. Yet autos are largely matters of personal choice, so traffic safety was never a concern until the government made those mandates. The next big thing will be decided in the Beltway and quite soon. Which side of history do you want to be on?

For those who think this is just an American thing, here is something forwarded to me that originates in Belgium. I'm not so sure how small the corner will be.

"Like most of you know Indymedia is one of the few independant media voices out there, active in lots of countries, thursday the FBI ordered Rackspace ( Provider of some important Indymedia servers, US company ) to give them the hardware ( disks ) of the servers in London. Without any known reason as up to know this has been done, and Indymedia is down, you can find the list of indymedia sites that is down at the end of this mail, which is quite impressive.

I consider this a serious thing, The FBI has nothing to do outside the US, the act of shutting down Indymedia is straight illegal.

And even more important, this is not the first action undertaken by the US government to silence 'detuned' media voices. Hey folx this is a serious limitation of our freedom, and more specific a limitation to a broad view presented to us by the media.

This is more than enough reason why it matters to all of us, US citizen or not, who will win the upcoming elections in the USA.
It is our business.

regards,
Jurgen"

Maybe it is time to quit spending so much effort on the sillyfests these pundit-ridden conferences for the web have become and start debating the serious current issues of how technology can be developed and applied to make it less of a World Wild Web where feisty forceful individuals with power are able to use it to remake the world according to their own ideology. The systems will be built according to the requirements of the buyers.

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