Sunday, May 1, 2011

It Is Time To Help the Web Be All It Can

May 1st seemed the perfect day to just take a few moments to pause and take stock. This is going to be the only year of my life (I hope!!) involving an escape from death, and in those circumstances it is difficult to prevent oneself from wondering how best to use the gift that has been handed to me: nothing less than the remainder of my life.

So let me report on the results...

First, a brief historical preamble. Eighteen years ago - on April 30, 1993 - CERN released the source code of the world's first Web browser and editor into the public domain. It was called WorldWideWeb, all joined together just like that, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee has some screen shots of it at his CERN page.

It would be very difficult to argue anything other than that, in the eighteen subsequent years, the technological trajectory that CERN's browser heralded has resulted in tumultuous changes in business, education, government, entertainment, and society. Did it cause them? Maybe not. Did it accelerate them? Hell, yes!!

"CERN's intention in this is to further compatibility, common practices and standards in networking and computer supported collaboration," wrote CERN in its accompanying note to the release of the code (pictured above). It was a phrase that resonated with me then, and it is one that resonates with me still today. "Computer supported collaboration" - on which I published a pioneering book in 1994 edited by the late Peter Lloyd - is, in my view, the philosopher's stone of the World Wide Web. Like that imaginary substance that people in the past believed could change any other metal into gold, "eCollaboration" has been touted throughout every one of those eighteen years as the real payoff from the Web....if only companies, organizations, governments and indeed society at large could figure out how to harness it.

Email is the world's most widespread form of computer supported collaboration. Facebook is another, far more recent one - as is YouTube and eBay and Skype and of course Twitter. Yet it is my view, and has been for many years, that none of these technologies or applications or sites unleashes the true potential of co-intelligence - the shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration (and competition) of many individuals.

So how can we get from TBL's browser to a truly co-intelligent world?

That, as I reflected on May Day in my book-lined, technology-rich work studio, is the crucial and most significant question of our time. It is also a question to the exploration and answering of which I am intending to devote a significant proportion of my efforts, moving forward.

"There is a quantitative element to human affairs," as H.G. Wells once famously wrote. "Doing something does not amount to very much if we do not do enough." [my emphasis]

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