Caught in Web 2.0

So another over-long lapse in Leon’s blogging.

You may have noticed that I’ve added a little “bookshelf” widget to the sidebar of the blog page. This is something being run through a book based social networking site called “Shelfari”. I don’t know a lot about them but I’m messing around with it.

I’ve been doing this a lot; messing around with so-called “Web 2.0” stuff. It’s all very interesting, but like everything else about computers, feels embryonic. There is a critical issue of critical mass that seems to play in. With some sites, you go and sign up and literally nothing happens. With others you get deluged by so much cruff that you wonder why you’re bothering. The balance between seeming pointless because there isn’t enough going on and seeming pointless because there’s too much, seems to be the really tricky thing.

Something that I’m not the first to notice is the fact that the early days of interconnectivity with computers featured List-serves and bulletin boards and it was all about community. Now granted it was a community of people who knew how to use the machines, but it was a community. When the web and web commerce became practical, the internet became very much about individual action, but now with Web 2.0 its swinging back towards interconnectivity of people, and now there are a lot more of them. Many of them are not even nerds. So this is interesting.

I intend to continue “messing around” with these sites, if only out of intellectual curiosity. So lets take a look at some of what I’m doing:

Flickr: This was the first site that I really started using. It’s a photo based social networking site. my id on it is “leoningul”. Lame. I know. Anyway, I occasionally upload pictures that I’ve taken. I have a small group of “friends” on it. People I’ve never heard of come by and look at my pictures. It’s all good. What I try not to do, it use it as the proverbial digital shoebox. I don’t throw snapshots up there. I think about it more as a low stakes public gallery. A place where I can put up pictures that I’ve taken (or made) that I think even someone who doesn’t know me would be interested in. In other words, there is a degree to which I see it as a public artistic activity. This may be pretentious but that’s how I feel.

Facebook: This is the big, scary monster of social networking sites. What gets me about Facebook is that I had a dozen “friends” on it, almost before I was done signing up. I continue to add a couple people a week. It’s silly. In many ways it’s just plain stupid, but what it ties into is the totally irrational way in which people relate. It provides for a level of casual contact amongst a large group of people which has already lead to some really interesting things. In the short time that I’ve been on it, it has already put me in touch with long-lost contacts and is starting to actually get me work. It’s not that throwing a fish at someone is something I would miss if I couldn’t do it, but there are plenty of people in my life who I wouldn’t relate to much at all if I didn’t have a context in which to “throw a fish” at them. I’ve also started playing chess on Facebook which is really cool.

Second Life: I’ve just started on this. It seriously freaks me out. Second Life is a virtual environment in which you have an avatar that you move around and interact with people and stuff through. I haven’t spent a lot of time in it yet, but I’m still yet to meet anyone. I don’t even know how to look for a person. Frankly it feels like death. I don’t know how to explain this, but it feels more like some sort of weird after-life, than a parallel life. We’ll see how it goes. A while back, I had some time and I did a ten day free trial of World Of Warcraft, which is similar to Second Life except that there’s a lot more structure and you’re basically in a Tolkein-esque world fighting monsters. After ten days they wanted me to start paying money and I realized that it’s one thing to find something engaging and even engrossing, but paying someone to steal time out of my life was not something I was interested in. The weird thing was that I could spend hours in WOW doing something utterly mundane, while letting the mundanity of my actual life slip by, unnoticed. I think there’s something going on here that is deeply interesting. Why are we willing to do as “entertainment” the very things we are seeking entertainment as a relief from? Anyway, I decided to see how far I can go with these things for free, and Second Life says that there’s a lot available without paying any “real” money. We’ll see.

Netvibes: This is interesting. Netvibes is essentially a web aggregator. A place where you can pull all the various content that you access regularly on the web together. I’ve been using Netvibes as my home-page for awhile now. I get my news and check in with blogs and other stuff through it’s widgets. However, they’ve just upgraded it and part of the new design is moving Netvibes towards a kind of social networking site. In addition to my own private Netvibes page, I now have a “Leon’s Netvibe Universe” that allows anyone to access an aggregate of web content that I, essentially curate. This is kind of interesting. You can check it out at www.netvibes.com/leoningulsrud

SEE: Part of the reason that I’ve been exploring this stuff is that we have a project at SITI Company that is an implementation of some of this technology. If this stuff is designed to allow contacts and networking across large groups of people, then there are certain things that we can do with our supporters and students, using this stuff. We’re calling it SITI Extended Ensemble (SEE), and it’s the brainchild of Brad Carlin. In some ways SEE is more like the old school BBS sites, but already in it’s embryonic stages we’re finding out a lot of interesting things about how these things work. In just over of month of being public we already have 200+ members and some lively discussions. An interesting thing that keeps coming up is that we want to define SEE as “Not a SITI version of Facebook.” You can check out SEE at: http://siti.collectivex.com

There are also things like del.icio.us, Digg and Stumble that I’ve been doing in terms of finding and tagging websites. There are also a whole raft of things from Google that are completely changing the way the web is accessed. These are so integrated into how I use Firefox (my current browser of choice) that I don’t even think of them as websites. Perhaps this is the kind of ubiquitous invisibility that Web 2.0 will eventually evolve into, overall. I mean as cool as something like Second Life or Facebook might be, they will never be a part of how I go about my day in the way that something like Stumble or the various Google tools that I use are. In Second Life and Facebook, I guess I’m being asked to extend my imagination into them (which is fine I guess), but the more evolved tools are already acting as extensions and modifications to how my imagination and curiosity works. Eg: when I wonder where something is, my mind reaches for Google Maps. Luckily it’s on my iPhone so it’s only a pocket away.

Whether any of this is good or bad I think is yet to be discovered. We’re in the stone-age. What I do know is that, like Marshall Mcluhan said: The new technologies are not bridges between us and our environment. They ARE the environment.

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One Response to “Caught in Web 2.0”

  1. Mike James says:

    GoodReads is my favorite.