Sounds like they were right, so now what?

Web 2.0 and The Cathedral and The Bazaar are relevant essays years after they were written.  I think they will be years from now as well.  Regardless of whether things do not continue to evolve as the essays suggest, it is clear many things are happening.   The Web 2.0 idea is that the web has moved from a one way, receive only network of goods and information to a more open, service oriented, and collaborative environment with its users.  Key changes are such things as user improved data management that helps target the long tail, services focus instead of software, and users as co-developers.  The users and their experiences are instrumental to creating and improving what is available. The Cathedral and the Bazaar touches similar chords in a more technical way as it addresses top down and bottom up design of software and programming, with the catchy line that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” to explain how open collaboration can quickly and greatly improve software instead of it being created by a small number of people.

This line encapsulates the idea that problems can be fixed and things can be improved with enough people working on it.  I think what is really interesting about the Web 2.0 and Cathedral essays is: Where does it lead us?  They appear to be correct in many of the ideas they put forth.  In this class I was part of a discussion about how the groundswell phenomenon could replace many institutions entirely and completely decentralize governance.  As it affects the US, you might look at it like 50 bazaars vs one giant cathedral. “Given enough eyeballs…” can be applied to many different things.  Can people organize, govern, conduct commerce, settle disputes, etc. through communications technologies well enough that they don’t need a large and intrusive apparatus?  It’s a very interesting idea, and one that pushes these refined layers of interaction and improvements in technology to its limits.  At least the limits we can see thus far. 

As Clay Shirky might say, the technology releases the power of collaboration enabled by the elimination or reduction of transaction cost.  This concept of layers of interaction and feedback among people across a myriad of arenas and topics from business to casually chatting has permeated technology today.    The focus on openness to create and improve software or such things as Wikipedia reminds me of a quote from Colin Powell.  “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.”  I think this really describes a lot of what has happened with the Internet and its move to open collaboration.  The essays and books don’t mention it like that explicitly, but it appears to me to be a critical aspect to how we’ve managed to come this far.  This doesn’t mean business isn’t important or that people won’t want accolades, intellectual property rights or anything like that.  It does mean that this new technology has begun to create a different kind of culture as Shirky has explained.  Old motivations are still there, but have shifted in fundamental areas.  How else to explain why Wikipedia doesn’t always get vandalized or why people would spend their time improving software that they won’t make money from? 

At the same time this is happening, old, fundamental questions remain to be answered.  Jeff Jarvis addresses this when discussing the Rutgers case of a student who killed himself after compromising video appeared of him on the Internet.  He concedes the Internet adds speed, reach, and permanence (reduction of transaction cost to pushing out information) but argues that the technology isn’t the story here.  It’s about the golden rules of morals and ethics.  The user has increasingly become the focus of technology, whether for creating it, improving it, or finding different ways for them to interact.  Whether a web 3.0, or a myriad of bazaars continues to cause a change in culture remains to be seen.

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