What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? | Ideas & Innovations | Smithsonian Magazine

What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web? | Ideas & Innovations | Smithsonian Magazine.

And so it is with Jaron Lanier and the ideology he helped create, Web 2.0 futurism, digital utopianism, which he now calls “digital Maoism,” indicting “internet intellectuals,” accusing giants like Facebook and Google of being “spy agencies.” Lanier was one of the creators of our current digital reality and now he wants to subvert the “hive mind,” as the web world’s been called, before it engulfs us all, destroys political discourse, economic stability, the dignity of personhood and leads to “social catastrophe.” Jaron Lanier is the spy who came in from the cold 2.0.

To understand what an important defector Lanier is, you have to know his dossier. As a pioneer and publicizer of virtual-reality technology (computer-simulated experiences) in the ’80s, he became a Silicon Valley digital-guru rock star, later renowned for his giant bushel-basket-size headful of dreadlocks and Falstaffian belly, his obsession with exotic Asian musical instruments, and even a big-label recording contract for his modernist classical music. (As he later told me, he once “opened for Dylan.” )

The colorful, prodigy-like persona of Jaron Lanier—he was in his early 20s when he helped make virtual reality a reality—was born among a small circle of first-generation Silicon Valley utopians and artificial-intelligence visionaries. Many of them gathered in, as Lanier recalls, “some run-down bungalows [I rented] by a stream in Palo Alto” in the mid-’80s, where, using capital he made from inventing the early video game hit Moondust, he’d started building virtual-reality machines. In his often provocative and astute dissenting book You Are Not a Gadget, he recalls one of the participants in those early mind-melds describing it as like being “in the most interesting room in the world.” Together, these digital futurists helped develop the intellectual concepts that would shape what is now known as Web 2.0—“information wants to be free,” “the wisdom of the crowd” and the like.

And then, shortly after the turn of the century, just when the rest of the world was turning on to Web 2.0, Lanier turned against it. With a broadside in Wired called “One-Half of a Manifesto,” he attacked the idea that “the wisdom of the crowd” would result in ever-upward enlightenment. It was just as likely, he argued, that the crowd would devolve into an online lynch mob.

Lanier became the fiercest and weightiest critic of the new digital world precisely because he came from the Inside. He was a heretic, an apostate rebelling against the ideology, the culture (and the cult) he helped found, and in effect, turning against himself.

Info Churn

via Info churn.

The graph represents a “Semantic Network Visualization” composed of individual concepts aggregated from streaming social media content. The size of the nodes (spheres) indicates the frequency of a concept in the data, while the thickness of the links indicates the frequency of connections between two concepts, and the color indicates that the concept is on a custom Watchlist.

The Prototype (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Prototype (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Prototype is an upcoming American science fiction film directed by Andrew Will. It stars Neal McDonoughJoseph Mawle and Anna Anissimova. The film is about how a thesis written by Dr. Maxwell (Joseph Mawle) about how human will evolve into machines became a reality…and Dr. Maxwell himself becoming a machine first…and the first Prototype.

In the Beginning… Was the Command Line – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the Beginning… Was the Command Line – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In the Beginning… Was the Command Line is an essay by Neal Stephenson which was originally published online in 1999 and later made available in book form (November 1999, ISBN 0-380-81593-1). The essay is a commentary on why the proprietary operating systems business is unlikely to remain profitable in the future because of competition from free software. It also analyzes the corporate/collective culture of the MicrosoftMacintosh, and free software communities.

Stephenson explores the GUI as a metaphor in terms of the increasing interposition of abstractions between humans and the actual workings of devices (in a similar manner to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)[citation needed] and explains the beauty hackers feel in good-quality tools.

He does this with a car analogy. He compares four operating systems, Mac OS by Apple Computer to a luxury European car, Windows by Microsoft to a station wagonLinux to a free tank, and BeOS to a batmobile. Stephenson argues that people continue to buy the station wagon despite free tanks being given away, because people do not want to learn how to operate a tank; they know that the station wagon dealership has a machine shop that they can take their car to when it breaks down.

Because of this attitude, Stephenson argues that Microsoft is not really a monopoly, as evidenced by the free availability of other choice OSes, but rather has simply accrued enough mindshare among the people to have them coming back. He compares Microsoft to Disney, in that both are selling a vision to their customers, who in turn “want to believe” in that vision.

Stephenson relays his experience with the Debian bug tracking system (#6518). He then contrasts it with Microsoft’s approach. Debian developers responded from around the world within a day. He was completely frustrated with his initial attempt to achieve the same response from Microsoft, but he concedes that his subsequent experience was satisfactory. The difference he notes is that Debian developers are personally accessible and transparently own up to defects in their OS distribution, while Microsoft “makes no bones about the existence of errors.”

Adactio: Journal—By any other name

Adactio: Journal—By any other name.

I’m not a fan of false dichotomies. Chief among them on the web is the dichotomy between documents and applications, or more broadly, “websites vs. web apps”:

Remember when we were all publishing documents on the web, but then there was that all-changing event and then we all started making web apps instead? No? Me neither. In fact, I have yet to hear a definition of what exactly constitutes a web app.

I’ve heard plenty of descriptions of web apps; there are many, many facets that could be used to describe a web app …but no hard’n’fast definitions.

One pithy observation is that “a website has an RSS feed; a web app has an API.” I like that. It’s cute. But it’s also entirely inaccurate. And it doesn’t actually help nail down what a web app actually is.

Like obscenity and brunch, web apps can be described but not defined.

I think that Jake gets close by describing sites as either “get stuff” (look stuff up) or “do stuff”. But even that distinction isn’t clear. Many sites morph from one into the other. Is Wikipedia a website up until the point that I start editing an article? Are Twitter and Pinterest websites while I’m browsing through them but then flip into being web apps the moment that I post something?

I think there’s a much more fundamental question here than simply “what’s the difference between a website and a web app?” That more fundamental question is…


Why do you want to make that distinction? What benefit do you gain by arbitrarily dividing the entire web into two classes?

I think this same fundamental question applies to the usage of the term “HTML5”. That term almost never means the fifth iteration of HTML. Instead it’s used to describe everything from CSS to WebGL. It fails as a descriptive term for the same reason that “web app” does: it fails to communicate the meaning intended by the person using the term. You might say “HTML5” and mean “requires JavaScript to work”, but I might hear “HTML5” and think you mean “has a short doctype.” I think the technical term for a word like this is “buzzword”: a word that is commonly used but without any shared understanding or agreement.

In the case of “web app”, I’m genuinely curious to find out why so many designers, developers, and product owners are so keen to use the label. Perhaps it’s simply fashion. Perhaps “website” just sounds old-fashioned, and “web app” lends your product a more up-to-date, zingy feeling on par with the native apps available from the carefully-curated walled gardens of app stores.

In his recent talk at Port 80Jack Franklin points to one of the dangers of the web app/site artificial split:

We’re all building sites that people visit, do something, and leave. Differentiating websites vs. web apps is no good to anyone. A lot of people ignore new JavaScript tools, methods or approaches because those are just for “web apps.”

That’s a good point. A lot of tools, frameworks, and libraries pitch themselves as being intended for web apps even though they might be equally useful for good ol’-fashioned websites.

In my experience, there’s an all-too-common reason why designers, developers, and product owners are eager to self-identify as the builders of web apps. It gives them a “get out of jail free” card. All the best practices that they’d apply to websites get thrown by the wayside. Progressive enhancement? Accessibility? Semantic markup? “Oh, we’d love to that, but this is a web app, you see… that just doesn’t apply to us.”

I’m getting pretty fed up with it. I find myself grinding my teeth when I hear the term “web app” used without qualification.

We need a more inclusive term that covers both sites and apps on the web. I propose we use the word “thang.”

“Check out this web thang I’m working on.”

“Have you seen this great web thang?”

“What’s that?” “It’s a web thang.”

Now all I need is for someone to make a browser plugin (along the lines of the cloud-to-moon and cloud-to-butt plugins) to convert every instance of “website” or “web app” to “web thang.”

Google Bags (Another) Machine-Learning Startup | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com

Google Bags (Another) Machine-Learning Startup | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com.

Famously, Google says it’s on mission to organize the world’s information. And Wavii says it’s on a mission to understand the world’s information.

Wavii analyzes blogs, tweets, and other web content and tries to organize it so that it can be readily mined for stuff that you’re interested in. That’s quite a challenge. Some internet is already structured with this sort of thing in mind, but there are so many different ways of structuring it, and most web data is unstructured. The dream of a the “semantic web” — where all web content would conform to standard structures to make it easier for machines to organize information — is still a long way from reality. Wavii attempts to overcome this limitation by using machine learning to understand natural language and automatically structure data.

Wavii Vows to Understand Entire Internet | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com

Wavii Vows to Understand Entire Internet | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com

Adrian Aoun wants to build a system that instantly understands everything posted to the internet.

As it stands, Wavii’s online service is a Facebook-like newsfeed for everything other than Facebook. It feeds you news about what’s going on in the world at large, not just random thoughts from your friends and family. But in building this service, Aoun and company are tackling a much larger problem. They’re trying to organize the internet’s information in ways that machines can understand it.

“There’s a world of untapped information out there, in news articles and blogs and tweets,” Aoun says. “What we’ve done is we’ve taught our machines to read those articles, blogs, and tweets, and we extract the concepts that are being talked about. We’re watching the web in real time, what everyone is writing about and talking about, and we’re building structured data that can then be used by automated applications.”