Machine Logic :

What is the Internet and what will it be?

If you were to ask yourself or someone next to you at your favorite coffee shop, with wireless of course, what is the internet? What would the answer be? Most would have not thought about it much. They like what it does and they like what can do while they are connected. Most users think the internet is the browser on their screen, that is, after all, where they spend most of their time experiencing the internet. But the browser is no more the internet than a door in the side of a building, it lets you enter and see what’s inside.

There are many browsers: some do this or that faster or better, adhere to standards or provide better security. But like many different doors in the metaphorical building with different door styles, the user is more interested in what is behind the doors and down the hallways, in other rooms, than the doors themselves. Browsers are designed to handle many types of content. The code that accompanies this data tells the browser how to ‘render’ the content, how to to present it. Is the presentation the internet?

If you listen to music on Pandora or watch video on YouTube, is that radio or TV or is that the internet? Is the way you access content, the type of content or the fact that it is or is not time scheduled or ‘on demand’ make something the internet? As television and radio transitions to all digital and most likely non scheduled does that make it the internet? Is it the hardware box, the browser or the content and its access that makes something the internet?

As we move, in name and description, from cell phone to mobile device and to hand held computer, we carry objects that allow us to browse a list of numbers and make a voice connection to someone. These were called ‘phone calls’. If we connect to the same number and use SMS text to communicate is this a phone call? Is the size of the device, its portability make it or not, the internet?

A user opens iTunes to browse a list of songs, pausing to listen to a 30 second clip, do they realize this is a browser with its own unique connections to the network? When the user opens the Second Life viewer to wander the virtual world as an avatar, do they realize that the sims they are traveling through are no different than websites on a network of servers? So is the internet a way of browsing, travel or connection?

To make a clear distinction of carrier and content, the internet is a physical network of networks, while the world wide web is a collection of interlinked documents and other resource content that use URLs. Invariably, the more common term is ‘the internet’, but that is neither a question or an answer. The internet of the past and future is a moving definition characterized by its use and it’s users. It is a converging and confusing force of build it and they will come and they came and they are building it.

The answer to the questions above, is yes and perhaps, on some occasions, no. Asking what the internet is, is like asking if a single word is an epic story or that a leaf moving through the air is the wind itself. These descriptions are a frozen frame in time, a captured moment. The risk, is seeing the future of human communication in a static fashion that only satisfies a technical definition.

The answers to the future are in the past, in how humans have communicated and transported themselves, their goods and ideas. Markings in soft clay led to the printed word, words on a wire led to voices in the air. In time, one broadcast to many, with the internet ‘any’ broadcast to many.

The current fashionable moment of social networking will be but a single stone of a trail of stepping stones towards the ability for humans to self organize and not the current system of corralling individuals into sellable groups of demographic prisons. Businesses that are not a students of human nature or technology that interferes with it, does so at its own peril. This is not to say that even the most transitory system or technology does not contribute to the ongoing definition of expectations. Each step helps define the next, making the difficult doable and the impossible plausible.

In the past, the great dream of the internet was to serve as many as possible with as little as possible to earn as much money as possible. The ultimate threshold definition of this concept is the so called ‘search engine’ and the best representation of this end game is Google. There is strong evidence that this type of internet business model is slowing significantly. Is this a sign of change?

The future may hold a greater promise that many more can dream, not of becoming a gigantic single source, faceless and having almost no contact with their social colleagues or consuming clients but a technology built on the ‘public square’. A place where the experience is more in common with what takes place in everyday life but with time and distance removed. A place where human contact is direct and without interference, that allows serendipity and synergy to manifest at will. A place where the tools and resources are at hand for the individual to create, distribute and transact at a cost that allows a true grass roots explosion of human activity that will dwarf the current concept of the internet.

For this to occur, the internet and the web that rests upon it will need to acquire another dimension. Users will travel and discover rather than browse and search, they will visit ‘places’ rather than view pages. As this ‘3D web’ takes hold developers will learn to not mimic or replace human activities but to augment and amplify them. In this environment the anonymous masks will be removed on both sides of a relationship and the incentives of a good reputation will grow. It will be slow and gradual and perhaps not even noticed, except in hindsight, but this will be the logical next step in human intercommunication leading to the ‘engagement web’.

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