Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Model Army on the March

This addendum to my earlier thoughts on the rejection of the Internet in favor of reality is based around the ideas and theories on information management. Essentially, this is a defense of the Web 2.0 mindset and the nascent Web 3.0 that has yet to take any firm shape. What the Web 2.o mindset brings to the interweb is self-sustainment; user-generated content becomes the primary content on the web as does the management of that content. Blogs, social networking sites, microblogs, tagging (whether of online content or of physical space as Google Maps has taken to doing) and the rise of tag clouds all point to an interwibble that further blurs the line between online and offline.
There's a part of William Gibson's latest book Spook Country where the main character is taken into a house and told to don a VR headset. What she sees is a room filled with tags attached to every object and even the space of the room itself. While I don't think the VR goggles are quite practical, I do think the idea of spatial tagging is the culmination of four centuries of philosophical efforts to determine meaning and reference. It does so by radically redefining meaning as being exclusively perceptual. It also confirms Wittgenstein's theory on meaning-as-use as spatial tagging will lead to a spatial tag cloud where the most common meanings of an object will rise to the surface without sacraficing the lesser known meanings.
Blogs and microblogs function in a similar way as individual perspectives are both maintained and then joined by tags and tag clouds that expose mass consensus. Microblogs in particular are one of the most contextual forms of communication yet devised. They can be so contextual that inversely they become completely context-free. Such a paradoxical event is evidence of a new way of thinking scratching at the edges of our minds. Those who wish to avoid it would do well to stay off the intertubes permanently.
Tags and tag clouds are the best means at the moment to manage this deluge of opinions, notes and information. Bloggers that provide tags for each of their posts give their readers a sort of index by which they can search for posts more to the reader's liking. Readers can also add tags to a particular blog through sites like Technorati and Digg, thus taking the information management partially out of the hands of the individual. The tag cloud is perhaps the most critical of information management systems as it is entirely user-run. By placing the definition of online content in the hands of users it allows other users to add to, subtract from or simple learn by looking at the cloud.
What Web 2.0 provides is a self-generating, self-regulating internet. Rather than leave it in the hands of so-called experts, it allows the users, those who are there on the ground, to define and catalog what they see. By doing so, the users make the internet more useful as a tool to perceive the world all while redefining that world. Such paradoxical results are the most exciting part of the Web 2.0 shift and only portend the revolution coming.

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