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Jeremy Geelan's Social Computing Blog: From "Charlotte's Web" to Web 2.0

An i-Technology Anthropologist's Journey

 "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who can't teach become publishers & editors-in-chief."

It wasn't Aristotle who said this, but it may just as well have been. For, as I write this inaugural editorial for Social Computing Magazine, I am forced to admit that there's more than a degree of truth in the formulation.

To put this into perspective, you need to cast your mind back to an age before blogs and wikis, before RSS, before DHTML even; to an age when Netscape had not yet developed the browser, let alone JavaScript, back to a time when telephones still had wires and the only thing people put on their lap was a TV dinner not a portable computer. 

Into this idyllic, long-gone past walks a child; let us call him - for the sake of argument - well, Jeremy.

Jeremy is an inquisitive child, of average intelligence (at best!) but perhaps above-average in the range and depth of his curiosity. He views the adult world in much the same way as early anthropologists and ethnologists viewed the Andaman Islanders or the people of the Tyukyu archipelago: to the Jeremy-child, adults are a constant source of datapoints for the better understanding of human life.

One aspect of this bygone age cannot be stressed enough. The influencers of the day are not bloggers, citizen journalists, or keynoting i-Technologists; they are children's authors, BBC-TV presenters, and schoolteachers. This was the age not so much of "Web 2.0" as Charlotte's Web.1

Spool forward forty-plus years and where are we? We're in a world where Berners-Lee's World Wide Web is already fifteen years old, where his follow-up Semantic Web doesn't yet exist except in tantalizing niche areas...but where, thanks to the "AJAX wildfire," a different kind of Web is now center stage. And still the anthropologist continues to find datapoints for the better understanding of human life!

So for example, "Web 2.0" is almost a Case Study in the full gamut of human virtues and vices. Skepticism, Triumphalism; Greed, Altruism; Complexity, Simplicity; to each and every aspect of the Next-Generation Internet there's a counter-aspect. "To every flip side, there's a flip side."

It is in this New World, a brave new world of social software and networking, that I now find myself reminded of the days of E. B. White. Because Web 2.0 is putting me back in touch with all that was good about those pre-Web days: putting me back in control, if you like. Instead of webmasters, let alone media moguls.

That is why it is so fascinating to watch the players act out their parts. For example that of "The Money-Mad Media Mogul" (let's use, for want of any better example, Mr Rupert Murdoch as our avatar here) swaggers onto the Web 2.0 stage and buys MySpace (and now even Jamster)...without any real sense of how his $580M will be recouped, let alone the $187.5M he just okayed to get a controlling interest in the Crazy Frog ringtone.

Better still perhaps we have "The Imperial Overreachers" - such as the management of Facebook who turned down a $750 million because they believed that $2BN would be a fairer price, only to run into huge user pushback in response to its two new "cool" new features: News Feed and Mini-Feed. 

All the world is here in Web 2.0's signature activity, Social Computing. I confess unashamedly that it is every i-Technology anthropologist's dream!

1 Charlotte's Web, E. B. White's beguiling story of story of a spider named Charlotte and her friendship with a pre-Web 1.0 and 2.0 pig named Wilbur. Rumored to be the best-selling children's book of all time.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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