The future that won’t be distributed

Mike Arrington says Bloggers Lose the Plot Over Twitter Search:

  Wow. Loic Le Meur asks for a simple feature on Twitter search – the ability to filter results by the number of followers that a user has to make sense of thousands of messages – and the blogosphere calls for his head.
  For the record, I agree with Loic. Being able to filter search results, if you choose, by the number of followers a user has makes sense. Without it, you have no way of knowing which voices are louder and making a bigger impact. It’s a way to make sense of a query when thousands or tens of thousands of results are returned.
  Of course, I’m pretty sure I can live without this feature, too. I’m failing to get too worked up over it. But the outpouring of emotion from bloggers is surprising me, and I thought I’d seen just about everything when it comes to blogging.

Jeff Jarvis says Attention + Influence do not equal Authority, and sources a thoughtful John Naughton post, where John sources “Steven Lukes’s wonderful book in which he argues that power can take three forms: 1. the ability to force you to do what you don’t want to do; 2. the ability to stop you doing something that you want to do; and 3. the ability to shape the way you think.” My post below also visits that third point. Another old post, We are all authors of each other, expands on it. The gist:

  I don’t think of my what I do here as production of “information” that others “consume”. Nor do I think of it as “one-to-many” or “many-to-many”. I thnk of it as writing that will hopefully inform readers.
  Informing is not the same as delivering information. Inform is derived from the verb to form. When you inform me, you form me. You enlarge that which makes me most human: what I know. I am, to some degree, authored by you.
  What we call “authority” is the right we give others to author us, to enlarge us.
  The human need to increase what we know, and to help each other do the same, is what the Net at its best is all about. Yeah, it’s about other things. But it needs to be respected as an accessory to our humanity.

I think the reason we get upset about What Twitter is Doing, or What Google Is Doing, is that we are too dependent on them.

The Net and the Web are environments that encourage and support both our independence and our interdependence. Single-source one-to-many forms of dependence, such as we have on Google and Twitter are old-skool scaffolds of dependency, within and around which we will build forms of infrastructure where we become ever more fully independent and interdependent — without BigCo or HotCo intermediation. They may be involved, but not as Absolute Necessities. Not as silos. Not as walled gardens we can’t leave.

Data portability is part of it. So is service portability. We will always have BigCos like Google and HotCos like Twitter, to help us out. They are necessary but insufficient members of the future infrastructure where we are free to take or leave any of them — while also appreciating what they do.

We aren’t there yet. How fast we progress depends on how much we embrace our need for independence.

8 responses to “The future that won’t be distributed”

  1. If I understand you correctly, then a route out of this excess dependence is to push for tools that give us more control over how we ingest information. Today, that control is too concentrated in a mediator like Google, and the would be influencers compete intensely to win the attention of those they would influence. If we can decentralize that control, they we at least have some hope of making ourselves independent.

    Of course, that will require different technical approaches to information access. Full disclosure: my day job is to work on such approaches.

  2. […] his post entitled The future that won’t be distributed, Doc Searls writes: I think the reason we get upset about What Twitter is Doing, or What Google Is […]

  3. Tosses a mind bomb over the fence: I’ve been working up a theory that the internet encourages a very small number of games and almost everyone who’s remotely active spends most of their time playing them.
    1. Hey, look at this!
    2. I did this.
    3. How do I do this?
    4. This is how to do this.
    5. This is wrong!

    It might be worthwhile thinking about how good the various systems are at enabling these games. And how to recognise people who play each one well.

  4. Daniel, it’s not just tools that control how we consume information, but tools that give us better ways to produce it — in our own ways, on our own terms — and how we can interact with many vendors in the same standard ways, rather than in dozens of different ways, each proprietary to each vendor’s silo.

    So it’s not about decentralizing from the Googles and Amazons of the world. It’s about centralizing on each of our own selves.

    A free market should not be “your choice of silo.” The only silo on which you depend completely should be your own.

    We need one way, or one set of ways, under our own control, for dealing with multiple vendors, with data portability and service substitutability.

    ProjectVRM is where we’re working on that. Is your project similar or related?

  5. Julian, those five are a good rundown, and they map well to VRM. What we need to do is think beyond how “various systems” controlled by vendors help us achieve this. We need independence from those things, and dependence on ourselves, and our own tools, our own ways of doing things.

  6. At the risk of sounding like a broken record… the reason that silos like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Blogger, etc. are so successful is that we need them, we depend on them, for one very important thing…


    Because we don’t have security on our own PCs, we can’t open the random file from the internet. We need to have all of our content filtered somewhere… by an aggregator, mostly because it then makes it safe.

    If we tackled PC security, we’d all be able to have servers on the net without worry. We don’t have it, and we’re not likely to in 2009 either.

    We need to fix security… a lot of the problems with the net would pretty much get resolved if we did it. It’s easy to recognize a secure system… the leader of the project is willing to run ANYTHING from ANYBODY on their system on stage at Defcon.

    Until then, things aren’t going to get much better.

  7. hey, there’s an API.

    1. do the search
    2. for each person in the search set, fetch their user info
    3. filter as you will based on attributes of their user info

    this is well within the realm of what you could do with greasemonkey in the browser, or a small number of relatively simple API calls in your favorite implementation language.

    i don’t see what the fuss is.

  8. Doc, I believe that what my colleagues and I are doing at Endeca bears some philosophical similarity to your work, but it’s in a somewhat different sphere. You can get an idea of what we do here:

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