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6. The Rise of the Anti-Social Software Movement

You'll have noticed that some of the most utopian technology advocates here are also the biggest control freaks. That's no coincidence. For example, one reason that many (but not all) of the earliest weblog evangelists liked the tool so much was because they could turn off criticism. Some have gone onto new technologies, and tried to control what's said there, too.

It's a good job they didn't invent, say, the water cooler.

So over to Charles Eicher, who has the following suggestion: Don't fight it - Embrace it!

"Any Anti-Social Software application is defined not by what it includes, but by what it excludes. Anti-Social Software users want control over what they exclude, they want to filter out the noise from the signal, and most of the signal too. Until Memeorandum can clearly demonstrate how content is excluded from its pages, under what criterion, and until users have control over who and what is excluded, it will be unsuccessful in the new Anti-Social Web," he writes.

Single digit growth? John Battelle illustrates his 'database of intentions'

Single digit growth? Web 2.0 organizer and Google hagiographer John Battelle illustrates his 'database of intentions' pic: John C Dvorak

"I would invite people to discuss these principles at my upcoming conference on Anti-Social Software," continues Charles, "however I cannot since nobody is invited."

Wonderful stuff. Surely some new Honor Tags must be minted for the burgeoning Anti-Social Software movement?

This we might call "User Level Balkanization" - the fact that people use computer communications to be anti-social. And if you think we're making this up - look at the first use that Google's NOFOLLOW tag was put to. In fact, er ... look at Google itself.

The future isn't what it used to be

So fine, you say. But why the relentless emphasis on infrastructure issues? Won't all this messy economics go away? Please?

Not if you want to be taken seriously.

Let's acknowledge what the Web has been successful at: as a presentation layer. But the Web 2.0 kids desperately want to write system apps on their "global operating system" - only they don't have the cojones to do system level thinking. Real engineers look at where systems (and humans) fail - their priority isn't a cool demo. They're pessimistic. And there's no place for pessimism at a Web 2.0 conference.

For example, look at how many of these new services will depend on Flickr. Flickr is a joy indeed, but it spends more time in a paralytic state than a Tenderloin wino. If as much effort went into keeping the Flickr system running as goes into writing cute messages explaining why it's not working , we'd feel a lot more confident in trusting it.

Flickr - we're sorry again

"Let me just lean against this angle bracket" - a web service takes a breather

Just as you can't build a house on sand, you can't build "a global operating system" based on a presentation layer and a few scripting kludges. Or maybe you can, but you'll need a different kind of engineer to build it, one with a different set of values. The Bubble 2.0 crew have some nice ideas, but by that yardstick, they don't measure up.

In addition, technology types are often in such a hurry to replace one evil overlord, they simply usher in another.

The future isn't too hard to guess, so long as you don't ignore the things that made the past and the present so crap. Utopians are notoriously bad at this, but I guess that's the starting point for defining a utopian.

So why be so optimistic, then? Partly because of the composition of Web 2.0 itself. With keynote speakers such as dotcom analyst Mary Meeker, it fits Disraeli's description of the Whig opposition as a "range of exhausted volcanos". And what else would you expect from presentation layer people Thinking Big but the superficial and pretentious? Cascading Style Sheets as a transmission protocol. Really?

The same tune has been heard before, from the same place, and it was found wanting the first time round. Without even articulating the feeling explicitly much of the time (although it's often expressed as inchoate computer rage) - people want different problems to be solved. We no longer look to presentation layer people to fix infrastructure problems.

Even more refreshingly, people don't even look to technology to fix problems that don't exist.

So how good and bad do you think it will get? ®

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