Woolly Thinking

November 3, 2005 10:14 PM

Via James, I found an anonymous blog (two posts so far) called Abandon the Web, a site with the stated purpose of "Thinking outside the box of the Web", to find the "next winning platform".

Now the web isn't going to be the Big New Thing forever. Someone's going to come up with something better. We do need people throwing out interesting ideas, because the web's successor is going to come from someone with a lot of dissatisfaction and a good idea. But with the kind of sloppy thinking displayed on Abandon the Web so far, it's only going to be found there by accident. After reading the first post, I was left hoping the site was a parody of the "lost in the stratosphere" world of web punditry.

I suspect it is. Even then, though, it's a great example of how to manufacture supposed insight from thin air.

ATW's first post sets out to describe the five major problems of the World Wide Web that its successor will have to overcome. These problems are labeled the "Five Paradoxes of the Web." They're not paradoxes, of course, most of them don't even manage to be contradictions, but a good name is important. The 'Compensation Paradox', for example, could be better stated as "It's not easy to get people to pay for web-based services", something that any number profitable web-based enterprises can prove isn't exactly the insurmountable problem that the paradox label implies.

Looking at the paradoxes, they seem to be mostly, well, peeves. Coming up with a viable business model in a completely new ecosystem is hard, but it's not a paradox. Browser compatibility might suck, but even Internet Explorer is slowly coming to the party. Code that bridges between Javascript and the server-side is getting easier.

One advantage of describing problems as paradoxes is that logic abhors a contradiction, so if you can tease one out of some circumstances, you don't need to say anything more to justify your position. Contradictions are bad, OK? This is classic woolly thinking. Take the 'Identity paradox', which complains that the web provides neither absolute identity nor anonymity, once again not exactly a paradox. ATW never has to explain why this is necessarily a bad thing, why either complete anonymity or identity would be an improvement, it just phrases the issue as a contradiction and leaves it there.

The other advantage is that by stating only the contradiction, you don't have to come down on one side or the other: all your solution needs to do is be less contradictory. In its second post, ATB rates World of Warcraft against the web, based on how it scores against each of the paradoxes. WoW scores 50% on the Responsibility Paradox against the Web's 0%, because the MMORPG has a central authority. A complete anarchy would also avoid the Responsibility Paradox. Would the anarchy score higher or lower? Would this make a complete anarchy preferable to WoW's central authority? Presumably, a 100% totalitarian system would be less contradictory than WoW's 50%. Would this also be preferable?

I know the questions are a little unfair, but it wasn't me who started throwing meaningless numbers around:

Final rating is: modern software platform—1.4, modern gaming platform—2.1. To build a successor to the Web, don't start with .Net: instead, take World of Warcraft and make it suitable for general purpose use.

Once again proving that if you reduce a problem down to a series of nonsense metrics, you end up with a meaningless result. I'd guess this person has never read the World of Warcraft forums.



Thank you for reading my blog.

To answer your question regarding the Identity Paradox: 1.0 score would require a system where you will reveal exactly as much about your identity as you want in a given context, putting you in complete control. Totalitarian system forces you to reveal your identity completely at all times, which is far from ideal.

Sorry, I misread your post. You asked about Responsibility paradox, not Identity paradox.

Totalitarian system will get a score of 50%. It is centralized (bad), but there is complete accountability (good). WoW is totalitarian.
Complete anarchy will score 50% also. It is decentralized (good), but with zero accountability (bad). Freenet is anarchy.

An ideal system will be both decentralized but have entities that accept responsibilities for the action of citizens. The modern state/citizen system more or less fits the bill, considering that you can extradite someone for a crime. UN is centralization, but UN is not as essential as root DNS servers.

Both the ATW site and your comments are interesting. However, I think your summary is a bit too hasty. For example, you write that the ATW's "compensation paradox" that it reduces to "it's not easy to get people to pay for web-based services" but that seems like an oversimplification. The ATW author's description is:

"Many Web services are free for users, because charging for them is impractical—but providing these resources costs money. This makes direct business models unsustainable, and requires metering of resources. Even without explicit caps, limitations of provider's hardware and bandwidth lead to denial of service to users during peak times—or during attacks."

Web services become free for users because to the extent they are commoditites the price converges on marginal cost which is essentially zero. On the other hand fixed costs are nonzero resulting in the effects described by the author. The result has been an explosion of advertising to cover the gap which leaves us in essentially the state of broadcast television twenty-five years ago (less regulation.) The only reason we have such a paradoxical situation (i.e. modern technology and old model) is because of the "compensation paradox."

I think the problem is the economic idealogy period, the net is so critical and central to our way of life now and whatever will succeed it will be equally as critical and central. The biggest thing the net isn't being used for in my mind is better education, instead of having thousands of teachers and schools of varying quality, you could be teaching kids at home via computer over the net using streaming video and wikipedia like 'updated in real time' curriculum. Which is edited by teachers and profesionals in industry with the best minds all over the world in real time, and students could rate, get help or submit changes in explanations about how math or something is taught for review. The thing is there is a huge disconnect between how curriculum is created by educational institutions/companies and how it REALLY needs to be made (i.e. reviewed with feedback from all the students, all the teachers and all the other professionals).

The biggest changes that are coming are:

1) Once bandwidth gets high enough education can be broadcast and you can use video records of the best teachers, or have real time webcam broadcasts to many students, and students can rate their, edit textbooks, converse with one another and other teachers abou their course curriculum in real time.

2) Genetically modified human beings, super intellects if you will, people ordered to spefication. Imagine being able to always manufacture child prodigies like William Sidis and other such prodigies on demand. Their computational power and superior memory abilities will change the world completely, the backward and superstitious people of the world will be eliminated completely by breeding in superior intelligence.

2) Digital Neural / Cybernetic interfaces, there is so much people cannot do because the cannot link their minds to digital machines and engage in "conversation" with them in a natural fashion, imagine thinking your thoughts and having them "converted" to text or your own voice wav file/mp3 for you instantaneously, and your mind could control the computer with no need for a mouse.

3) Sharing thoughts via digital / cybernetic enhancements, this is going to change the world permanently, it's very "borg like" but in our quest for power and technology to solve problems and design technology I see it as inevitable, it will be "opt in" of course, and you can turn it on and off (be an individal, or linked to other minds), but I see huge things on the horizon here. Imagine being able to share your raw proto-thoughts, real thoughts, conversations and sentiments directly with other people who are able reveal or cogently form into words the difficult thoughts and feelings you have in your head that used to take a whole load of time to express correctly to others, instantly.

The way resources are allocated to begin via capitalist economics is functionally broken, because capitalism focuses on the displacement of resources of some people and redistributes them to others, it is basically about shifting the risk around between people and it's done in an anarchic fashion.

Previously: Digital Identity

Next: Woolly Thinking Two