Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Content and Context

My friend has a brief post up about html, and the very concept of hypertext is no longer central to the way we use the web.

I think this has been part of the democratization of the web. Back when everything was hand-made html pages, there weren't that many sites (relative to today, I mean, which I suppose is an absurd comparison, but there it is).

But it's not so much that there are fewer html pages as that the rate at which other kinds of web content has grown has been explosive - content creation tools have been the real cornerstone of Web 2.0, and as the barrier to entry for content creation has dropped, the amount being created has skyrocketed.

Now the obvious part is over and it's time for me to start firing off into the dark. In my opinion, twitter represents the climax of the push toward content creation. The content itself is so simple that users are able to constantly post more of it, and no one can possibly keep up with the flood of information. The reason I call it a climax is because it's hard to imagine the content getting much weaker. The internet has been trending toward more, weaker content for a long time now, but it's not a sustainable trend.

I don't think that web technology will continue trending towards "more content" for long. Once the network is inundated with information, which it is, the push for context is going to become stronger and stronger. People will increasingly want rules - something against which to define themselves and their information. This is where virtual worlds can potentially be very powerful, but right now they're too removed from the rest of our internet activities to be really big.

So the list of contextual elements that I think are becoming increasingly important include:

Identity - This is probably something that would greatly surprise people 5-10 years ago, and which members of certain chan-related websites would like to deny, but the idea of being anonymous on the internet is rapidly going out of fashion. This is primarily the result of the internet becoming an increasingly relevant part of our society and our daily lives.

Space/Location - It looks like the main candidate to tackle this right now is augmented reality (AR). The basic idea behind AR is to associate virtual content or information with real-world locations and objects, instead of keeping them in a completely artificial space.

Legitimacy by association - This is something that happens to a large extent already, but I don't hear discussed much. The flexibility of html has also been a huge weakness - since one can create literally anything, you have no idea what to expect from a webpage. Contrast that with, say, a page on Wikipedia - sure, the content changes from one page to the next, but there is an inherent structure to the wiki page and it has built in controls (other people editing the page). When I search for something I'm suddenly curious about on google, and a Wikipedia page pops up, I'm more likely to click on it than another page, not because I believe it has the most informed or unbiased writers behind it, but because I know what the expect from the page. This is a direction that the web has been headed in for a while and will continue in.

That's about it for now. You have my official prediction that Web 3.0, whatever it is, won't be about yet even more content than we can produce now.

-Silent Ellipsis

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