In the beginning, the world was offline. The past was just what we could remember. Conversations faded. Introductions to others slipped into the realm of unnamed faces and disconnected anecdotes. Jokes were heard and forgotten. Photos bleached out and negative film turned to dust. News clippings crumbled. Documents misplaced were unfindable. Address books lost were irreplaceable. What happened in Las Vegas really did stay in Las Vegas.
Then there was the Internet and all that began to change. The World-Wide Web came to be, and we all became potential publishers. With few exceptions in the larger-business realm, the first websites were no more than billboards. Then they were brochures. Then in the late '90s blogging began. In the '00s, walled-off chatrooms siloed off within services like AOL and Compuserve were replaced by more open communities ... and then social networks. (Walled-off social networks like Facebook opened up into full-blown social networks.) Before we knew it, we were emailing, chatting, shopping, researching, bookmarking, socializing, podcasting, showing videos, sharing, advising, asking, boasting, laughing, crying, raging, raving online.
And as far as we knew, what happened online stayed online ... where we could find it. (And if not, there was always the Wayback Machine.)
In recent weeks, that widespread confidence — complacency? — has been shaken. Maybe it started when it was announced that Facebook was buying Friendfeed.
Robert Scoble himself made noises about quitting Friendfeed. But what to do with all the content he had shared, all the connections he had made there?
I responded thusly:
If you don't control it, is it really yours?
When we talk about where the "web" is going, we're asking the wrong question. It's not just about the web, it's about our connections with the people and information in our lives. The rapidly evolving web is but one part of that. We also have to consider things like the ongoing exponential increase in computer power, evolving applications and new apps that leverage that power and the power of the web in new ways, changing social mores, increasing expectations about access, privacy and control of information — not to mention the shifting economic tides and business agendas pursuing what investors are finding the most appealing financially.
The last part is where we find ourselves being led through affordance into new behaviors. Our connections are what marketers are after, because presumably our attention in that context is more valuable to advertisers. And of course there's always the data mining.
We do it gladly because we enjoy the benefits. And because we love experiencing new things that don't seem to be immediately threatening. The payoffs can be enriching, transformative. Thus: Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Gmail, LinkedIn, Google docs, and so on.
So the Facebook/Friendfeed deal got people's attention. Did they really want to leave their conversations, their connections, in the hands of the fickle, unpredictable hands of Facebook?
Then tr.im, the url shortening service, announced that they were shutting down. What would happen to all those link references people had created in tr.im to tweet, plurk, etc.?