Preparing for the Post-Web 2.0 World

What happens when the online world as we know it carries on to its inevitable end, when we are overwhelmed by textual content with no way to organize or search it to any effect?

In the Chronicle Review this week, Michael Jensen writes about what will happen to our notions of textual authority in this new Web world, which he hastens to call Web 3.0 or Authority 3.0.

What Jensen finds is that our current models of establishing authority online, the metrics, rely on how many links a particular document receives from other Web pages. It is either that, or relying on community-based groups to use a site’s built-in tools to rate the authority of a document. Both systems have their problems. The Page-Rank-like system is built on popularity more than anything else and can be manipulated easily. The rating system, a la Slashdot and Digg will only further fracture the Web, reverting the online world to something like the state of Usenet before the invention of the Web. Too many too-specific groups that aren’t interlinked enough to matter to anyone with only a casual online needs.

The solution, Jensen argues, comes from skillfully combining both of these approaches with some hefty computing power. It will also require more thinking about what constitutes authority online. Jensen puts forth an arbitrary 17-point list of things that might be practical considerations for ranking authority. It’s many of the things scholars and professionals have looked to for years, but Jensen proposes that we consider them all together and that some ingenious code-writers come up with ways to let computers combine them to human benefit.

Are we ready to move past Web 2.0 into something else? Are we at yet another technological singularity, which stems no doubt from a cultural singularity–since culture leads technology and not vice versa? This is hard to say, but not hard to imagine. Think of it this way: both OS X and Vista have integrated desktop searches now. Users of their own computers are encouraged to rely on the search boxes to find what they need, so many people (myself included) have eschewed creating folders for the documents on their hard drives. We prefer to let an algorithm sort it out. A micro-scale model of the Web, but perhaps an accurate one.

With the proliferation of user-generated content online, it is only a matter of time before solutions like the Semantic Web (and here), Internet2, or something else will have to go live and help us organize the clutter of our digital lives.

Reference:
Jensen, Michael. “The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority.” The Chronicle Review. 53:41 (15 June 2007): B6. Link (Subscription Required)

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