Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

CERN, WWW, and Web 2.0

By Dennis D. McDonald

There's an interesting discussion thread over at the Freedom to Tinker blog titled Interoperability, and the Birth of the Web. The kick-off is a discussion with Tim Berners-Lee about the conditions at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) that gave birth to the World Wide Web. For what it's worth, here is an excerpt of my comment:

What we see emerging today with such wide availability of web based communications and applications is that the physical location of creative people in a single institution such as CERN is less important than it once was. Add to that the fact that “virtual” communities can form, regroup, and re-form at the drop of a hat. You now have a situation where creative solutions can much more easily emerge unencumbered by traditional institutional boundaries and be adopted by large numbers of people. Look at the rapid adoption of tools such as Facebook.

Fear not, I'm not suggesting that Facebook is necessarily as technically significant as what emerged from CERN. I even quote Sturgeon's Law because the limiting factors to true innovation are -- as they always have been -- innovation and  creativity.

Perhaps what we are seeing with the collaborative and interactive aspects of Web 2.0 applications and services is a reminder of two things:

  1. Making it easier for innovative and creative people to discover each other and interact is, generally speaking, A Good Thing.
  2. Not everybody who gets together via Web 2.0 and social networking technologies is creative or innovative (i.e., see Sturgeon's Law).

As I and others have been pointing out some traditional institutions are resistant to such changes.  While it's possible to  argue whether such resistance is good or bad, I am inclined to believe that, in many cases, such resistance is a rational response to a fear of losing control. This fear of losing control has both personal and organizational roots and it won't disappear without a struggle. A significant question is the shape that coexistence will take between "web 1.0" and "web 2.0" communities given the different types of assumptions they make about openness, collaboration, interactivity, and the role of technology.  I think the issues are more complex than emerging -- and simplistic -- themes such as "Young people will enter the corporate world expecting more openness in communication" or "Web 2.0 will eat Microsoft's lunch." Reality has a way of surprising us.

For all I know, the Next Big Thing might be a backlash against the World Wide Web because, increasingly, it is seen as threatening existing  institutions and relationship paradigms. We already see such controls in totalitarian countries and growing fears in other countries of the use of the World Wide Web to monitor communications in the interest if "national security." After all, one way to avoid snooping is to "go underground,"  and a mass exodus of creative people from the Web would have significant consequences for individuals and institutions alike.


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