More On Web 2.0
May10

More On Web 2.0

[Update 5/11/10: Azmanam posted a thoughtful response to this editorial here.] A few weeks ago, I wrote an editorial on the limits of Web 2.0. The editorial focused on criticisms of Web 2.0 culture by Jaron Lanier in his book "You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto." The editorial generated an interesting post on "The Chemistry Blog" by Azmanam, "Is Chemistry Incompatible with Web 2.0?" Azmanam pointed out that C&EN and ACS are actively experimenting with many Web 2.0 innovations. C&EN, for example, transformed its "CENtral Science" blog into a portal for a number of focused blogs; the magazine has a Facebook page and regularly tweets about its articles. ACS has introduced the ACS Network. Azmanam also cited numerous other chemistry-oriented Web 2.0 applications. However, he conceded: "So all of these prove that Web 2.0 has been talked about many times in the context of science. Has it worked? With the exception of blogs, sadly I'm inclined to say no. At least not yet. And even with blogs ... not a lot of academic or industry leaders are prone to blogging." Azmanam also wrote: "Especially if there are people at the position of editor-in-chief for arguably the top chemistry magazine denouncing the Web 2.0 movement, clearly it has a ways to go before it will be appreciated by all to the point where Web 2.0 is 'taken for granted,' where we don't even realize what we're doing when we post results and opinions via Web 2.0 technologies." One comment to Azmanam's post from Mat Todd read: "Unsure of the point of the editorial. I don't think anyone who supports the notion of the wisdom of the crowds ever touts it as a panacea, merely a very effective complement to traditional ways of doing things." First of all, in no place in my original editorial do I "denounce the Web 2.0 movement." As Azmanam correctly noted, C&EN, the ACS Publications Division, and ACS have embraced many elements of Web 2.0. I enjoy reading some blogs (although I have to admit I have no idea how some people find the time to pour as much onto the Web as they do) and have found useful and unique information on them. I did, however, call into question some aspects of the culture fostered by the Web 2.0 movement. In that, I disagree entirely with Todd's contention. Many Web 2.0 proponents do, indeed, tout it as a "panacea." In fact, they do so in the most adamant terms possible. Traditional journalism is becoming irrelevant, some Web 2.0 proponents suggest, because citizen bloggers are faster on their feet and fundamentally more honest than the...

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The Limits Of Web 2.0
Apr19

The Limits Of Web 2.0

I have stated in this space before that I think the notion that “information wants to be free” is one of the most pernicious ideas perpetrated in the age of the Internet. First of all, the phrase, attributed to author Stewart Brand, is completely out of context. What Brand said in 1984 was, “On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” More important, I think, is the silliness of attributing motive to something—information—that is inanimate and, absent humans to process it, perhaps nonexistent. The reason I bring this up is that I just finished reading a remarkable book, “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto” by Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author who currently holds the titles scholar-at-large for Microsoft and scholar-in-residence at the Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, University of California, Berkeley. Lanier has been involved in computer science since the early 1980s and is associated with research on virtual reality, a term he coined. Turns out this Silicon Valley veteran agrees with me. Far more important, “You Are Not A Gadget” is a powerful meditation on what Lanier views as the dangers posed by some of the popular trends in Internet culture. Lanier writes: “Something started to go wrong with the digital revolution around the turn of the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web was flooded by a torrent of petty designs sometimes called web 2.0. This ideology promotes radical freedom on the surface of the web, but that freedom, ironically, is more for machines than people. Nevertheless, it is sometimes referred to as ‘open culture.’ ” The majority of “You Are Not A Gadget” is a highly critical examination of the ruling ethos of the Internet. “So, in this book,” Lanier writes, “I have spun a long tale of belief in the opposites of computationalism, the noosphere, the Singularity, web 2.0, the long tail, and all the rest.” The essence of what Lanier is saying is that individuals are important and that we’re losing sight of that at our own peril in elevating the wisdom of the crowd to a higher plane than the creativity of a single person. “The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush,” Lanier writes. “You then start to care about the abstraction...

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