Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hooray for the new web

Now, I don't like to use the words Web 2.0 very often, but many loyal readers know that I am something of an enthusiast - some might say a hopeless addict - of the new toys the web has to offer.

There are many worthy reasons to be using the internet, but what is really fuelling its development is fun. People spending an enormous amount of time, beavering away for their own entertainment and possibly the attention of others. Some of them do it for reward but many don't. Some of the most popular sites on the web are the likes of Youtube and Google Video. Links to funny, short videos - as well as more graphic ones - are being circulated in masive numbers across the workplaces and schools of Britain. Meanwhile social networking sites are now being credited for breaking new music acts and sucking away the time of schoollchildren.

Web 2.0 is all about the reshaping of the internet to support people-based connections and creativity. It isn't top-down, which is why many of the efforts of newspapers to get involved look so out-of-place. Many people are getting online simply because they feel they should, without realising that there is a need to commit real people to take time and possibly waste time in order to - possibly - deliver their goals. The masses don't need to be told what to look at or buy any more, they can make their own decisions, based on their own whims and the influences of those they trust.

This genuine plurality of voices on the web is down to a simple factor. For the first time - and it might not last - it is possible to do share just about anything you like on the web for free. We have the freedom to be adventurous, to decide what we want to do and then find out how to do it. Want to be a photographer, a famous band, build your very own peaceloving commune, video yourself on the phone you got for free dancing madly in motorbike gear? It's all there to do and you don't have to pay hosts or website builders anymore. Nearly all the free tools have the addition of community. Flickr is the perfect example. Ostensibly a site where you can get your photos online for free, you can also link up to your friends there, you can leave comments on other people's photos and display your photos in multiple sexy ways without any technical skills whatsoever.

So we go back to that old question: where does it leave the creative industries? Many of our jobs involve choosing what people should listen to, read, see and think. We've been the builders of culture and suddenly the bricks have been taken off us. There are all sorts of delightful things we can do on the web, but can they make us a living? My sense is that the money will come. This post has been primarily about Britain which not only has relatively very high levels of wealth but also deflation, as the people still selling real stuff put their prices down to compete in the new economy and sell to a population that might be willing to spend and borrow money for things that might be called non-essentials (or useless, like ringtones) but has the time to shop around and wants things cheap. Offers are everywhere: we now have a situation where it is difficult to even switch mobile phones without being forced to bring another new phone into the world, with its attached camera, video, music player, recorder, flip-top, conflict-fuelling cobalt, funky wallpapers and flashy lights. A flick onto Bluetooth and ubiquitous broadband later and we're all publishers. I for one am enjoying the opportunity to extend White Llama's tedious musings of consciousness into the dimension of rather fuzzy and dull photostreams.

What about the rest of the world? I estimate it took about 3 years for the UK web and our computers to go from being sticky and slow to fast and simply helpful. As web infrastructure moves further into the world and people in more countries develop economic power, these tools will extend too. Perhaps other countryfolk won't take quite so much time buggering about sending each other photos of their topless girlfriends, but I'm probably wrong.

As Justin Timberlake said, it's important to breathe. Practice a little discernment, think about what you want to do and why, but then know that you can do it. Be adventurous. Enjoy breaking down walls and making connections, searching for our place in a new world.

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