Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The TSA, Digg and the future of the Internet(s)

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. -- Thomas Jefferson

I often waste time reading many articles on the social media site, Digg. Recently the user base has greatly increased as more and more people have found the site. Since I joined a couple of years ago the content that makes the front page has changed significantly. Many "old school" Digg users come from a techy/gamer background much like myself, often converts from the even older Slashdot. Recently many of these users have begun to become frustrated with Digg and its common to see comments about how they are "leaving" Digg.

I've also run into an increasing number of interesting and down right scary articles about the TSA. From a woman who was forced to remove her nipple rings with agents snickering to denial of air marshals from being allowed to board, the TSA seems to be in real trouble. Did I mention the man who returned to report he'd accidentally brought a gun through security and was then charged for it? These increasing failures are not dissimilar to the issues being suffered by Digg.

In fact these all seem to be failings of most any system. I watched a fascinating video by Jonathan Zittrain the other day about the Future of the Internet. The basic premise of this eighty-three minute(60 minutes + Q&A) long video was about how the internet (and many systems like it) began as a generative system and how it is now becoming a restrictive system. Examples were how in the beginning when you connected to the internet you were presented with a blank prompt and then how companies like CompuServ began to decide what options you should see and provided pretty buttons with which to guide you. We can see this same sort of progression in nearly any social system. In the beginning the system functions great but as it gains momentum and "users" the system has to put in place more and more structure. Just like in the beginning when there was no such thing as airport security. Another thought that is brought up in the video is how cosmologists are required to have a license...why shouldn't programmers with whom we trust far more valuable things to have a license? I don't exactly have a lot of reasons for or against this idea!

All in all where do we find the balance in our systems being restrictive and controlled and "generative" or open? How do we balance the inevitable problems that come with having a growing system and maintaining that pioneering spirit that creates the greatness of what we all enjoy? Are you happy with having your options controlled for you? Perhaps you can see what I see in all of this, how we progressed from the Wild West to the Wilds of the Internet to where we are today...the days of hacking and phreaking to the days of spam and adware. Do we need to reboot the system like the Matrix? are we living in the Matrix? Is it better to live in the Wild West where everyone needs a gun but everyone has a more equal chance or are we better off in a world where we are spoon fed everything and have become docile sheep? What will be the next "Wild West"? This is the question that will make us all rich if we can spot it...not unlike the gold rush of the wild west, or the dot com age recently past, where will the next hot spot be?

1 comment:

Freddy Nager said...

Funny that you should write an article about this question, because I've been working on a similar topic. I think we're going to see more walled-off websites targeting a certain sector of consumers, rather than the open-to-all-comers mega-sites like Digg. (Or sites like Digg might splinter into smaller sites, like Digg-Tech or Digg-Sports.) Once I get a chance to watch that video on the future of the Internet, I'll post my thoughts.