The wonder of the web

Paul Boag

A few thoughts on why I think the web is truly amazing.

I am now officially on holiday for a week. However before I leave the web behind to enjoy the sun and culture of southern France, I wanted to write a quick self indulgent post.

Its easy to become jaded in our industry. We work with the web day in and day out. Its easy to take it for granted or even see it as a burden. We complain about always being connected and the challenges of a 24/7 world. However, from time to time we need to stop and remember what an amazing thing the web is.

The web is a truly remarkable innovation. As significant as the printing press and as culture changing as the renaissance. It is scary to think that most of those in the youth group I run have grown up with the web. They cannot remember life before it. Soon the time will come when we will all take this amazing achievement for granted.

Before that happens I want to catalogue why I think the web is so wonderful…

It is accessible by all

Yes, we can argue that it could be more accessible. Yes, there is a digital divide between those with connectivity and those without. Yes, it is not perfect. But remember it is a hell of a lot better than we have known in most of human history.

Back in 1995 I used to run a virtual community. It was the early days of the web and this community was small and very close. What struck me most about that community is the large number of house bound individuals who were apart of it. For them it was the only regular human interaction they got. I remember one lady in particular called Chrystal. She was extremely ill and dying of Cancer. However, the web gave her an opportunity to have a social life. Even when she could not get out of bed, we still chatted regularly and she became a valuable member of the group. In fact she was able to dedicate far more time to the community because of her condition.

The web sweeps away many traditional areas of discrimination. On the web you don’t know if somebody is deaf, wheel chair bound or even of a different race. It equalises and although not perfect, it points to a better world.

Anybody can contribute

Web designers complain about the horrible quality of many website. You may have even looked at the link above to my youth group and tutted at the terrible code. However, for me that is the glory of the web.

I built that youth group website using iweb in under 1 hour. Anybody could have done it. No technical skill was required. For me that is amazing.

We now live in a world where anybody can publish and be heard. A world where the barrier to entry is near zero and you no longer need a printing press, TV broadcast network or radio station.

Again, the web equalises. The fact that the boagworld podcast can beat a BBC podcast in the .net awards, shows that the world has changed. The fact that two guys with a couple of mics and dodgy audio can put out content of value is a good thing. Power shifts from the few to the many.

It has the sum of all knowledge

How did we survive before the Internet? Remember the days when you went to the library and looked in a massive set of encyclopedias when you wanted to know a certain fact. Much information you simply couldn’t get at all.

Now we live in a world where almost any piece of information is available to us. The web is effectively the sum of all knowledge. Admittedly finding that knowledge can be challenging and maybe the semantic web will help with that. However even as things stand, it is mind-blowing.

It brings people together

I have friends in every corner of the globe. Some I have met, some I probably never will. I also read blogs from people in an even greater selection of countries. The web connects us. The web turns those in other countries into real people.

Its hard to demonize a nation when you know some of its people. The web does that. It wipes away prejudice and creates a global community. To be honest I don’t feel British anymore. Sure, I live in England but I am part of a bigger community. One that ignores national barriers and political squabbles over geographical territory. Somehow borders feel pointless when you are on the web.

It caters for the long tail

There was a time when if you wanted to be a professional musician you had to sign with a major record label like Marcus did. There was no way you could support yourself financially without that machine behind you. Not so anymore. Now we have artists like Jonathan Coulton who not only makes a living as a professional musician but do so within one tiny niche (Jonathan writes music for geeks!)

The biggest benefit this brings is one of choice. In the past the only way a record label could recover the cost of marketing an artist was to go mainstream. You had to appeal to everyone, or at least a sizable audience. This limited choice. However, we now live in a world with a low cost of production and sizable niche audiences. This means the market can support near infinite choice. If you have an interest, the chances are thousands of other people online do too.

Obviously this does not just apply to music but to pretty much anything that can be delivered electronically. There are specialist blogs, software, video or indeed pretty much anything else. We live in a world of ultimate consumer choice.

It is transforming entertainment

I have already talked about podcasting and the music industry but the transformation does not stop there. Increasingly young people are turning their back on the TV as a form of entertainment and turning instead of social websites including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

What I love about this is that we are becoming both consumers and producers of entertainment. People are no longer being passively spoon fed by mainstream media, eating whatever we are given. Instead we are generating our own content, our own entertainment.

In my opinion that leads to a more creative, proactive culture and that has to be a good thing.

It provides the ultimate freedom of speech

Many complain about some of the content on the web. Many of my fellow Christians tut disapprovingly at the pornography, while others campaign against the hate filled messages of white supremacists and fanatical groups.

However, for me these things are just the unfortunate consequences of a greater good the web provides – freedom of speech.

The recent coverage of the Iranian elections on Twitter prove the power of the web to ensure freedom of speech. Despite Iran’s best efforts dissidents found a way to get their message out.

Equally we in the west no longer need to rely on a small number of mainstream media outlets for our news. We can be connected directly to events as they happen. Our news no longer has to be filtered by the analysis of the news outlets. We can draw our own opinions and choose to listen to or reject less mainstream views.

Conclusions

I am very aware this post has been written with rose tinted glasses. However, that is intentionally so. I am fed up with the constant criticism the web receives. Whether it is as a hide out for child molesters or a communication network for terrorists, the publicity around the web is so often negative. For once I wanted to read something positive and as I couldn’t find anything so I wrote it myself!

Boagworks

Boagworld