It’s been 30 years since the World Wide Web transformed our lives and allowed us to connect, communicate and create on an unprecedented level, reminds us a report by the Web Foundation called The Case for the Web.
Among the many interesting things the report contains, the part about blogging, content and ultimately the unrealized potential of the Web impressed me most:
Ten years ago, like today, content was distributed across millions of personal blogs. Whereas back then, users would find this content through searches or links on other blogs; today, a small group of companies are estimated to have influence over more than 70% of online traffic, meaning that many only know the web delivered to them as defined by those large platforms.17 These companies are increasingly empowered to act like information brokers, determining what content is prioritised and seen at the top of search results or in social media feeds. Today, a blogger’s ability to optimise content for these companies determines their success, and whether or not we see their blog. These narrow paths to success limit the types of content we see online, and threaten to quell ideas and creative exchange online.
I read that as a call for a mindful presence on the web. An ecology of digital being of sorts. An ecology that starts with the individual, with me, with you.
How do we perceive the Web? Are we willing to take care of it, to be good netizens?
Leaving the beautiful and alluringly hard topic about good in the context of a Web existence, let me get back to what I perceive as the center of such ecology of digital being. That is to our own digital footprint.
Towards a Mindful Web Presence
Each and every interaction and action on the Web leaves digital footprints, scattered across platforms, systems and websites online. A comment, a shared photo, a sent email, a scheduled meeting – they all add up to what we call personal data. There is also other data that we leave behind us navigating the Web – these are the footprints we leave when searching on Google, visiting websites or scrolling down the Facebook stream. And these data, partially anonymized, partially personal is what makes for some kind of distorted image of what we are and what we do on the Web, created by different companies in their attempt to, out it very mildly, understand us, the users better.
But that is not how the Web is meant to be. This is not the Open Web, Drupal’s founder very well blogged about in The Open Open Web. We need to take ownership of our digital belongings and the data around us. And we need to be able to do whatever we want with that data and to link anything to anything without restrictions that are beyond our control.
Instead, we are have become threads of a Web where fragmented pieces of our activities, archives and annotations (sorry couldn’t resist the alliteration, actually wanted to write comments :)) got scattered across platforms, very very unlikely to one day become one uniform whole of a personally owned Web log.
It is time these footprints become our own, personal archives. Archives and knowledge we can take care of, curate and share at our own pace and will.
One way to do that is Solid and I wrote about it in The Web of Data Is Far From Done: The Project Solid . In brief, the vision behind Solid’s is to get myriads of “small pieces loosely joined” and make them travel freely across the Web. Meaning, whatever we do – like, share, give access to, reuse or modify a photo for example, the data around these interactions will be a. Interoperable b. Stored in our own place.
But before Solid, which is still a steep road ahead, there’s something even more important. To brace ourselves with the an understanding of the central part of the decentralized Web: You (and your data).
An Ecology of Digital Being of Sorts
Reading Ruben Verborgh’s Re-decentralizing the Web, for good this time and the stumbling upon a piece by Blake West – Why Consumers Will Love the Decentralized Web, I started contemplating the idea of centering from a personal data perspective. Weird as a first thought, but then again could it be that the way out of centralization is centralisation?
And then the above diagram emerged as a structure in my mind. It is up to us to weave the Web, as a technology and a medium, being an extension of ourselves, to intertextualize Marshall Mcluhan, which is a Web of Trust. A Web where we control our data and the way it connects with other people’s data.
In the words of the report, I began this article with:
For the web to realise [its] potential, it must be shaped by its billions of individual users, and not by the vested interests or limited experiences of a select few.
Cit. The Case for the Web
And then, came the 4 surrounding concepts/ideas are big topics in themselves. I will not discuss theme here but only put links to some rabbit holes related to them. The reason I see them as an inseparable part of a digital ecology is because understanding them helps using the Web and (our) data the fullest:
- Knowledge Soup for the Soul
- Linked Data and The Open World Assumption or Sometimes its nice to know what we don’t know
- Mesh of systems =Re-decentralizing the Web, for good this time
- We are all threads = The Intertextual Animal
I understand the above are quite abstract. And thankfully, the report has more actionable advice than my, from time to time, too conceptulized way of seeing the way we are to be on the Web. Here it is:
Epilogue: Public Spheres Built of Individual Will and … PODs
“What alternative ways of being together in public have evolved over the centuries since the Greek agora?”
— Sha Xin Wei & Maja Kuzmanovic
“What in fact is this stuff of which cyberspace and public sphere are made?”
— Sha Xin Wei & Maja Kuzmanovic
Citations from Representation to Performance: Responsive Public Space
Could it be that the answer to the above questions is a hyperlocal, open ecosystem, parallel to other systems? And control, lots of control by each and every individual.
Could it be that our public spheres will be made of individual will, personal data well-stored and PODs.
Translated into the language of Solid (the concept and the place I am exploring) the above are about:
1) Personal data space
2) Enabling the personal decisions and choice about what to share and have control over their data
3) Scaling diversity and connections. Integrating individual pieces of realities and world views integrated talking to each other.
The answers are yet to come. And we are part of their dynamics, of a special sort of ecology of existence on the Web. Existence in which we are taking good care of the Web we want by taking care of one its elemental forces – our digital us.