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March 16, 2007

web 1-2-3

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Posted by danah boyd

I’m often asked what “Web 3.0” will be about. Lately, i have found myself talking about two critical stages of web sociality in order to explain where we’re going. I realized that i never succinctly described this here so i thought i should.

In early networked publics, there were two primary organizing principles for group sociability: interests and activities. People came together on rec.motorcylcles because they shared an interest in motorcycles. People also came together in work groups to discuss activities. Usenet, mailing lists, chatrooms, etc. were organized around these principles.

By and large, these were strangers meeting. Early net adopters were often engaging with people like them who were not geographically proximate. Then the boom hit and everyone got online, often to email with their friends (and consume). With everyone online, the organizing principles of sociality shifted.

As blogging began to take hold, people started arranging themselves around pre-existing friend groups. In this way, the organizing principle was about ego-centric networks. People’s “communities” began being defined by their friends. This model is quite different than group-driven structures where there are defined network boundaries. Ego-centric system are a (mostly) continuous graph. There are certainly clusters, but rarely bounded groups. This is precisely how we get the notion of “6 degrees of separation.” While blogging (and to a lesser degree homepages) were key to this shift, it was really social network sites that took the ball to the endzone. They made the networks visible, allowing people to put themselves at the center of their world. We finally have a world wide WEB of people, not just documents.

When i think about what’s next, i don’t think it’s going more virtual, more removed from everyday life. Actually, i think it’s even more connected to everyday life. We moved from ideas to people. What’s next? Place.

I believe that geographic-dependent context will be the next key shift. GPS, mesh networks, articulated presence, etc. People want to go mobile and they want to use technology to help them engage in the mobile world. Unfortunately, i think we have huge structural barriers in front of us. It’s not that we can’t do this on a technological level, it’s that there are old-skool institutions that want to get in the way. And they want to do it by plugging the market and shaping the law to their advantage. Primarily, i’m talking about carriers. And the handset makers who help keep the carriers alive. Let me explain.

The internet was not made for social communities. It was not made for social network sites. This grew because some creative folks decided to build on the open platform that was made available. Until recently, network neutrality was never a debate in the internet world because it was assumed. Given a connection (and time and literacy), anyone could contribute. Gotta love libertarian idealism.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for the mobile network. There’s never been neutrality and it’s the last thing that the carriers want. They want to control every byte and every application that can be put on the handsets that they adopt (and control through locking). In short, they want to control everything. It’s near impossible to develop networked social applications for mobiles. If it works on one carrier, it’s bound to be ignored by others. Even worse, the carriers have a disincentive to allow you to spread bytes over the network. (I can’t imagine how much those with all-you-can-eat plans detest Twittr.) Culturally, this is the step that’s next. Too bad i think that inane corporate bullshit is going to get in the way.

Of course, while i think that people want to move in this direction, i also think that privacy confusion has only just begun.

(Conversation at Apophenia)

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