Social Web or Tempo Web?

Back in 2004, Tim O’Reilly observed that the Web had changed, and coined the term Web 2.0. This new Web is made of several layers which enable the Social Web. Wikipedia and Facebook are defining examples of the Social Web.

This sudden discovery of the Social Web feels wrong to me. In the early nineties, I was an active user of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). While it was not the Web, or even part of the Internet, BBSes were clearly a social media. You know the multi-user games people play on Facebook? We had that back in 1990. The graphics were poorer, obviously, but it was all about meeting people.

The barrier to entry keeps getting lower, to the point were even grand-fathers are now on Facebook. But the Web has hardly been limited to an elite. Even BBSes were quite democratic: retired teachers would chat with young hackers all the time. It is the extreme low cost of computers and their ubiquity which makes the Social Web so widespread.

A much more interesting change has received less notice: the tempo of the Web is changing. Geocities made it easy for anyone to create a home page. But updating your home page was a slow process. In effect, our mental model of the Web was that of a library, and Web sites were books that could be updated from time to time. Eventually, we gave up on this model and decided to view the Web as a data stream. This realization changed everything.

The pace used to range from static web pages to flaming on posting boards. We have now expanded our temporal range. We can now communicate with high frequency in short bursts. Twitter is one extreme: it is akin to techno music. Facebook is somewhat slower, and more elaborate, maybe  like rock. Posting research articles is no music at all: it is akin to the rhythm of the Earth around the Sun. These tools don’t just differ on the frequency of the updates, but also on their volume, and on the length of the pauses.

Maybe we should try to understand the Web by analogy with music. How does the Web sound to you, today?

Further reading: See my blog post Is Map-Reduce obsolete? Also, be sure to check Venkatesh Rao’s blog. Rao has a new book which I will review in the future.

Daniel Lemire, "Social Web or Tempo Web?," in Daniel Lemire's blog, March 30, 2011.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Social Web or Tempo Web?”

  1. That’s an excellent point. And even the Tempo Web seems to understate what was there first. I remember stumbling across popular chat rooms that were just a streaming wall of text. It was dozens of conversations overlaid on each other, where you could maybe catch every fifth message with concentration. It was beyond ‘techno’, it was the flapping of hummingbird wings.

    There does seem to be a tendency in technology to continually rediscover the same things. Virtualization – you mean multiple people can connect to the same computer and do there own thing? What a groundbreaking new idea!

    Ironically, we may have also just gotten the name backwards. It’s the individualized web now: we each get our own curated tweet or Facebook post streams. You could always talk to anyone in the world, now you can choose to just talk to your 10 best friends all across the web.

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