The Web’s Next Act

Next Steps -The Truman Show Finale

Imagine for a moment your Internet connected life as you currently know it, exists as a series of pre-programmed events. A meticulously constructed digital reality where everything (and everyone) you interact with is almost perfect, governed by a universally agreed upon set of technological standards and best practices.
The grand architect sits high in the sky in awe of his thriving creation, trying to anticipate what should come next. All the while analyzing data, optimizing the experience and tweaking the patterns of design. Teams of technicians and engineers faithfully implement the architect’s master vision, placing products, pulling and prodding the algorithmic strings that ultimately dictate the nature of this constantly evolving system.

The vast majority of us on the Web are quite happy with the way things are. The cloud has everything we could ever possibly want or need, say the information technology pundits. Work in the cloud, play games in the cloud, stream music and movies from the cloud, socialize with your friends in the cloud.

But you’re wondering, and hoping, there’s more to the Web than just this over-hyped cloud nonsense. More than the detached silos of content surrounded by a massive walled garden that locks-in all the data generated by our online movements and activities, all without any discernible URIs.

A more optimistic outlook says the next dominant subtext of the Web will hinge on collaborative, (artificially) intelligent and socially semantic technologies. Of course, don’t forget open, transparent and decentralized. Scour the Web and you’ll find these are some of the popular memes gaining traction of late.

What about user-friendliness? Now there’s a cliché. Media theorist Norbert Bolz once aptly referred to user-friendliness as “the rhetoric of the technology which consecrates our ignorance”.
While the Web may or may not be getting any easier to use, ignorance and stupidity show no signs of slowing down online.

Louis Grey believes the next stage of the Web, or third wave, will be uniquely personal (the second wave we are currently in being Social). Indeed, it’s probably inevitable we’ll reach a point when popular conventions of the day: ‘liking’ things and ‘following’ people (and brands), eventually lose their appeal as people strive to inflect more meaning into their digital streams, rather than merely running around earning Foursquare badges and higher Klout scores. Louis Grey writes:

Now that the world’s information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension – one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual’s preferences – explicitly stated or otherwise.

Grey’s ideas sound almost utopian considering the characteristically impersonal nature of digital communications.

Jaron Lanier sees the Web as a moderately oppressive place for the creative class. Yes that’s right, he’s talking people like us—you, me, the struggling writer down the street. In his book, You Are Not A Gadget, Lanier suggests current forms of personal expression and the individual voicemuch more vibrant during the early days of the Internet—are now under threat by unscrupulous “cloud owners” intent on profiting from intellectual properties and creative works without adequately compensating content creators.

Questions of compensation and wealth distribution run deeper when you consider the Web’s growing commercialization as it rears its semi-ugly head in the form of media paywalls and centralized social networks.
Many high traffic digital properties encourage content contributors to produce original material in exchange for exposure rather than monetary compensation. The Huffington Post, most notably, has been highly criticized in the past in this regard for not paying their legions of bloggers (ehem, writers).

Application developers too, face challenges despite the lucrative growth of the mobile application market. Major host platforms in some cases take a 30% cut out of the developer’s pocket. And then of course there’s Mark Zuckerberg and company, charging a whopping 30% fee to developers on game transactions, also brilliantly devising a proprietary credit system rather than rely upon PayPal or major credit card companies.
Does this seem like a fair and equitable way to treat the very people who contribute to some of the best and brightest aspects of the new digital economy?