Last week an online friend of mine, Nils Geylen of NDNL, asked a question:
2005 was the year of the blog, 2006 that of social networking and 2007 that of microblogging. 2008 will be that of?
My answer was knowledge networking while Nils’ was videos. Consequently, we decided to write our own separate posts on the matter, explaining in a bit more detail our visions of what the web of 2008 will bring (read Nils’ predictions). We also decided that the winner gets the internet.
Now before I begin rambling on, I better explain further what I mean by ‘knowledge networking’. The term has been around for some time, but has been gradually forged over the years as information technology advances. In essence, if social networking involves connecting people — knowledge networking is connecting people’s information. Not just any information, but the knowledge of those people: the publishing and accessing of knowledge collaboratively built and discovered by the crowd. I discuss this in more detail below, but first let’s take a closer look at the web timeline Nils mentioned in his question. We’ll notice a certain trend.
The Web of ’05
2005 brought new and simpler means for people to publish information. Hordes of people ranging from 12 year old girls to billion dollar companies started using this method to regularly publish information.
The Web of ’06
2006 then blasted our ‘Family and friends’ bookmarks folder by introducing more powerful means for people to find and connect; where the social cloud was given shape, you could browse, explore and even get to know new people. Moreover, this made it easier for people to find new content, new information. The bookmarks saved by someone’s favorite blogger became up for grabs, so did his pictures and videos. In another part of the jungle, people began finding users on Digg/Reddit/9rules who continuously posted articles they liked. The overall trend here: Social collaboration became increasingly important for information discovery and distribution.
The Web of ’07
Here’s where I stop stating the obvious and start hypothesizing a bit. I agree with Nils that microblogging is an incredibly prominent aspect of the 2007 web (Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr, …). Of course, we must also note that startups continue to milk the social networking cow — especially in terms of social sharing sites like Digg and Del.icio.us (seriously, how many clones are there by now?).
But what is it that made microblogging so appealing? What’s our drive for publishing ever shorter blurbs of info? Well. Here’s where I hypothesize a bit: Over the years, flow of information has been increasing. It has become easier to find (read: in your face), and is all over the place — fragmented: It’s the blog memes, the viral videos, it’s the hot Photoshop tutorial your web buddy just bookmarked. It’s having many of these delivered via RSS to the point that there are constantly 1000 items unread and you’re reminiscing the good old days when RSS actually was a timesaver. We’re swamped. There’s more for us to read and more for us to comment on than ever; moreover our longer posts often get submerged in the Big Blue of information anyway!
Thus, instantly publishing what’s on our minds in mini-blurbs is a tempting idea. It’s likely that people read it (it’s short) and you don’t feel ignored if a few of your blurbs go unnoticed because you didn’t put much into them anyway. This is certainly not the only reason microblogging exists but it definitely plays a role in its popularity.
The Web of ’08!
And now we’re at 2008; what can we deduce from what we’ve discussed here? A few key points:
- Publishing information has become incredibly easy
- Social collaboration has humans regulating the flow of information
- Collaborative platforms fragment the flow of information. If I want to see your collection of stuff on the Planet Mars, I have to check your Flickr page, Del.icio.us feed, 9rules notes, Twitter blurbs, YouTube favorites and Dugg bookmarks (and all clone variations thereof).
- Social collaboration is helping us find and flesh out information, but can’t keep up. We’re drowning.
So this is why I say knowledge networking will be the focus of the Web 2008: Better means of organizing and accessing information. What does this mean, exactly? Well, hopefully it will mean that we’ll get applications that can combine all our sources and information collections (to limit the fragmentation). For example, using one online application to search for “recent stuff me and Betty like” could bring up pictures, music, RSS feeds, other people, etc. An important factor here is that machines must play an increasing role in helping us categorize and collect relevant information. We don’t have the time to categorize all of this stuff ourselves. And even if we had the manpower, grouping together bookmarks, pictures and videos about the Planet Mars is not the ideal task to be spending our time on.
So to really take information sharing — knowledge networking — to the next level, we need integration of information, plus better ways of categorizing and distributing information. We can and have started to do that by adding machine processable metadata and employing artificial intelligence to help manage stuff. I’ve talked about Twine before, a mainstream semantic web application that Radar Networks recently disclosed. Twine basically does what I’m describing; allows users to pull in data from various sources on the web and uses a combination of AI technologies to analyze and connect them (I explain the concept of semantic web in this article). Another example is Powerlabs — a natural language based search engine that can answer direct questions like “What did Beethoven compose?” by reading Wikipedia articles. (Read/Write Web recently published an article on 10 semantic web companies to keep an eye on.) Note that none of this is instead of social networking, this is an extension of social networking.
These additions to the web will bring us closer to being able to access different kinds of relevant information on Mars the planet through a single interface instead of searching different, fragmented sources of information (Flickr, Del.icio.us, Digg, 9rules, etc). Increased AI and/or more powerful means of categorizing information will then prevent Mars the chocolate bar popping up constantly amongst the results, as well as help connect different types of data together.
To sum up: The 2008 web’s knowledge networking will help us put together the Humpty Dumpty that is our collective data, in addition to giving us better means of browsing it, adding to it and sharing it.