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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tim Berners-Lee: We no longer fully understand the web

We are not in control of the internet because it has taken on a life of its own. It is now so part of world society that its user trends force quick and real change.

You can create a new social phenomenon that changes how people operate. Take designing an online market for second-hand goods: if you get the website's balance of social and technical wrong, or mess up its trust and reputation model, it won't work. But if you get it right, you create a market for used goods internationally that can affect the price of products around the world because it provides the price of the second-hand alternative. It is a web phenomenon that changed the way society works.
Tim Berners Lee quote - new scientist june 5th

The main problem we face right now is that we are using the web without any attempt at foresight.
Information is being shared by everyone and is being collected and sorted all the time. Ask yourself, "how many websites you use a day"? I'll bet most of you only use up to 20 on a regular basis but each person (or group) will use a different set of favorite websites for a different set of purposes. If you collect each users choice of websites and measure the data you get a rank of popularity. The 100 top sites are in their place because they are used the most.
see for example.

Your information is being collected by Google etc and allows them to get really detailed studies of human behaviour on the web. All this information that can be used and sorted in many useful and creative ways. The can be used by converting the data into graphs and statistical information sometimes called trending (See google zeitgeist)

People also leave a trail of other information across the web, daily you leave passwords, search phrases, user names, email addresses and collect trackers everywhere you go. So you get the point but what if you don't want to share your information or you have reason to be anonymous.

It is very difficult to make a foolproof anonymiser. Frankly, it's a bit hairy to be in that game.
Anonymised data about people is deceptive and is rather dangerous because the more datasets you can compare one set of data with, the more likely you are to be able to identify the people in it.
Tim Berners Lee quote - new scientist June 5th

There seems to be a trend with internet users to not care or understand what information is being collected. We are moving our data around the web in the way fish move in a shoal in an apparently random fashion. But it is possible to predict why fish move the way they do, so there may be predictable forces current in the movement of data that can be measured and even predicted. If so then we need to find out and take a very good look at the way information is used. Care about your freedom to use the web as you do now because everyone, everywhere needs to understand its implications.

One more positive quote from sir tbl though:
Nobody has thought to look at how people and the web combine as a whole and we need a science to understand it.