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I’m yet to be convinced that the internet can’t look after itself. We may need some forms of organisation to help make sure we’ve thought through the risks and continue to do the next right thing but that organisation isn’t anything that should be modelled on governments or corporations. It needs to be native to the net and it will emerge in the same way that organisations have emerged on the net before. That’s how the net looks after itself, it adapts.
In 1997 or so, I remember talking to my then boss about what an intranet might look like for our team and how it differed from the internet and how it might be useful to us. If you were around in those days, you’ll be familiar with that conversation with someone who kind of got some elements of what the web was about it but wasn’t rooted in the culture like us. It’s pretty much the same one that people have been having about social media for the last few years.
We then drifted onto the idea of .com and what commerical entities on the web (we were part of government and so could sit and theorize about such things) might do with this new thing and how they might behave. I was very bullish about this. I’d just come from the Computing Department of the University of Surrey where I’d been immersed (probably to the detriment of my degree class, but hugely to my personal benefit) in usenet and the nascent web-culture.
I was quite sure that there’d be a fight. A fight between the cold commercial forces of capitalism and the warm, fuzzy, hippy-dippy types committed to openness and co-operation and collaboration for the greater good. And naturally “we” would win.
And how did it turn out? What actually happened? Well I don’t think there was a big battle – both sides lost something, both won something – we all adapted and the web became something that had a more commercial heart, but wasn’t just another channel for business as usual.
Is the web now full of people wanting to make a quick buck, pushing advertisements and 20th Century mass production business models in our faces? Well yes and no. Is the web full of anarcho-hippies, knitting their own yoghurt and urging us all to wear sandals? Well yes and no. Both extremes exist but can be ignored if you wish. Where the really interesting stuff is, is in the middle where social entrepreneurs are creating new value in many forms, giving stuff away, being open about their processes, sharing but still making enough money to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. More than that we’re finding new ways of working together, organising and making stuff happens that benefits us and the whole community.
My personal experience with Tuttle has been that the network is much stronger and more robust than we imagine. Whenever it get’s a push against it, it either repels invaders or morphs into something similar enough to still be Tuttle, but different enough to survive.
So yes, I remain to be convinced that the accelarant properties of the cloud are any more of a risk to the cultural effects that we value than any other infrastructure changes we’ve seen.
Counterpoint will publish Charles Leadbeater’s report Cloud Culture on 8th February with a debate and conversations at the ICA featuring Catherine Fieschi, Charles Leadbeater, Ekow Eshun, Paul Hilder and me. If you haven’t booked a ticket yet, there are still some left here
We like to talk, don’t we? At least some of the time. Chatting, telling stories over and over in different ways and with different embellishments, all the while helping us to work out who we are and who we’re not, what we might choose to be or do next. But also who we’ve been, who did what, what’s been done (or tried) what’s been talked about before and so what’s fun to talk about again.
I’ve found this history bit interesting in online communities. It’s not as important to some people as it is to others but I often find myself playing the role of reminding groups of what was said before and why, as a reminder of where we’ve been together, why we took certain decisions together or else to help out a newcomer who’s repeating the mistakes of the past, going down a real blind alley.
I was reminded of it when coming into contact with some of the “old-time” seesmicers at LeWeb. It’s only a year since the peak of seesmic for me, but a lot of what we were talking about is lost. And I noticed this at the time that as the community grew quickly there were a set of first behaviours or topics that were obvious when yu were new. But because seesmic didn’t have an inherent way of recording what we’d learned, the understanding and the rituals and traditions that came about could only stay alive as lng as the people there were willing to keep talking about them and reminding each other of them. The traditions were loosely held, it only took a few people to make up a new tradition and for a few people to leave for a once fiercely guarded tradition to be discarded.
There were many reasons why my seesmic activity tailed off, but one of them was that a greater proportion of my time was spent on watching new people go through the initial phases and I was left either waiting for them to catch up or spending my time helping them to catch up more quickly. Less time for me to be creative and just enjoy the flow.
There sees to be a difference for example between talking to people at Tuttle about how it all started and what I think of it all, between that and the tangible stuff on the web that you might find if you were bothered to research it. Does that mean I need to write down more of what I say to new people every week? Or has the saying f it been enough, are there enough people who know the story in rder for it survive without any other effort? Or might that lead to a distorted story? Is it important? Is it valuable? What would be lost if it were forgotten? And what is the definitive story anyway? Is there one? Or is it that my version is dominant because of my role and repeated attendance?