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My online information life is easily complicated enough for me to be sure that our current tools and models for how a person relates to information connectivity are still wildly immature. "Web 2.0" is a hopelessly inadequate vision of the future because the separation of "Web" as its own world is exactly part of the problem. My email, chat, feed-reading and web-browsing software perform intently interrelated (to me) communication and monitoring functions with a magnificent (to them) disregard for each other, and often for me. Only slightly less glaringly, but of increasing significance, my information publishing activities (both conventional and micro-) go on in a similarly near-complete isolation from my information consumption.  

What I need, and what everyone will need before the net can be considered an inclusive participatory extension of human social communication, is a much simpler, more straightforward and more agile mapping of system tools onto the four fundamental components of information interaction:  

- My information.  

- Distribution of my information to others.  

- Monitoring the flow of other people's information.  

- Consumption of other people's information (including connecting it back to my information).  

At the moment, this whole cycle is a mess.  


At the moment there are marginally acceptable tools only for the most tightly constrained special-case forms of information creation. I think person-to-person email is now mature enough, for example, that the nature of the tool set isn't excluding anybody who would otherwise be eligible, although obviously economics, technology and literacy still post significant obstacles to many people getting to use those tools in the first place. As soon as you try to raise the level of function and abstraction above the individual message to or from a known correspondent, though, the tools begin to show their limitations. Communicating with groups is cumbersome. Communicating with strangers is almost systemically incapacitating. Carrying on extended or episodic conversations is difficult, and relating the accumulating bodies of correspondence to the personal relationships they nominally express and inform is so poorly supported by the tools that I suspect most users effectively do not retain any value from their electronic interpersonal correspondence outside of their own heads.  

Nothing beyond email is even remotely comparable in developmental maturity. There are individually decent tools for extremely rudimentary self-publishing in the forms of simple streams of text and photos, and anything beyond that falls off into the usable domain of a vanishingly tiny minority of participants.  

Of course, arguably the only mature pre-connectivity computer function was ever unstructured word-processing, anyway, and if creating and managing structured information for their own purposes is beyond most users, then it hardly matters that there are no easy publishing methods awaiting that information. And thus any new concepts of syndicating a user's own information out to external forums, or re-consolidating distributed contributions back into central management and retention, don't even have a foundation on which to build.  

Thus it seems to me that the first thing we really need, underneath all of these tools and before we really start talking about communication at all, is an underlying data system, as opposed to (but just as native and optimized and standardized as) a file system. All our information creation tools should be manufacturing data, not files, and always with the bias towards representing that data in the most application-neutral, self-describing, reusable and standardized way (like Elemental XML, for example, or some isomorph). It should not only be effortless to exchange information between, for a crashingly trivial example, iTunes and Excel and your blog sidebar, but more than that, the way everyone (people and systems alike) should be thinking about the process is that the data exists independent of all the applications that merely happen to manipulate it and give it back.  


Possibly this is just a function of my own egotism and information-retentitive nature, but I continue to think that my information system should remember my information first, and send it elsewhere second. Moreover, I think that ultimately we will understand that email is merely a historically earlier-understood instance of the same general distribution problem as blog publishing, photo sharing, restaurant-review syndication, collaborative filtering and everything else. Put another way, general information publishing/sharing tools must mature to the point that they accomplish the personal-correspondence special-case as easily as (and preferably more easily than) our current single-purpose email tools.  

The large conceptual shift that needs to take place in the rest of the information world, as the new storage model makes it possible, is away from the assumption that a sharing format is necessarily an authoring environment. Collaborative tagging, for example, would be much more effective if annotation was a native function whose results could also be shared. Sharing (including full privacy control) should be an elemental function of the underlying data system, so that (for example) you don't "export" or "upload" a photograph to Flickr and then assign it tags and descriptions and sets, you tag and describe and group photos for your own purposes, and then choose some of them to share via a particular online medium.  


Although several different ideas commingle in the current state of RSS/Atom feeds, the two most-central innovations are the provision of an automatic monitoring framework for the otherwise manually-browsed web, and the creation of a parallel lowest-common-denominator content format to go with the style- and context-heavily publishing forms used on the web.  

These will need to be disentangled, because the monitoring function properly belongs to a higher level. A conversation should not be constrained to different monitoring tools because it happens to take place in email, or on a mailing list, or in a group real-time conference or in the comment thread of a blog. Just as all the forms of content sharing should arise from a common creation and storage framework, we need a general form of monitoring that subsumes the current functions (and far exceeds the current usability) of email inboxes and filtering, IM buddy lists and presence, on-screen bezel/pop-up notification, RSS updates, menubar/Dashboard/system-tray widgets, SMS alerts and even web-browsing history and general read/unread flagging. For the new monitoring system we must figure out significantly better ways of understanding a user's dynamic segmentation of their monitoring needs along the continuum between urgent active notification and ongoing passive tracking. Ultimately I want a single console to watch, or more precisely a single logical console that can take multiple particular forms tailored to my different mental and physical modes, and adjust its common reporting to the subtly and radically differing natures of particular information sources.  


The corresponding evolution in information consumption, as is almost implicit in the other parts of the system, is that consumption is not really separate at all. What you read can be as much a part of your information flow as what you write, and the nature of your relationship to what you read should not change based on the incidental mechanics of the medium. The same human conversation could take place on IM, in email or on a web site; the same options for retaining and correlating and re-using should be available in all those cases. At the moment the tools for bookmarking web pages are only narrowly adequate, and the tools for usably retaining web information are nearly non-existent. We email ourselves web pages; this should prove that there's something very important missing.  

And, too, as we are only barely starting to understand with tagging and blogging, what I read flows into what I write, and into all kinds of information that I create implicitly and may or may not want to use and share. Conversations and connections flow through all this information, or try to. The new information world will understand and encourage and benefit from this flow.  

The new information world will be formed of this flow.
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