We, the Web Kids (a manifesto-like for the web generation)

  1. Piotr Czerski
  2. We, the Web Kids.
  3. (translated by Marta Szreder)

  4. There is probably no other word that would be as overused in the media discourse as ‘generation’. I once tried to count the ‘generations’ that have been proclaimed in the past ten years, since the well-known article about the so-called ‘Generation Nothing’; I believe there were as many as twelve. They all had one thing in common: they only existed on paper. Reality never provided us with a single tangible, meaningful, unforgettable impulse, the common experience of which would forever distinguish us from the previous generations. We had been looking for it, but instead the groundbreaking change came unnoticed, along with cable TV, mobile phones, and, most of all, Internet access. It is only today that we can fully comprehend how much has changed during the past fifteen years.
  5. We, the Web kids; we, who have grown up with the Internet and on the Internet, are a generation who meet the criteria for the term in a somewhat subversive way. We did not experience an impulse from reality, but rather a metamorphosis of the reality itself. What unites us is not a common, limited cultural context, but the belief that the context is self-defined and an effect of free choice.
  6. Writing this, I am aware that I am abusing the pronoun ‘we’, as our ‘we’ is fluctuating, discontinuous, blurred, according to old categories: temporary. When I say ‘we’, it means ‘many of us’ or ‘some of us’. When I say ‘we are’, it means ‘we often are’. I say ‘we’ only so as to be able to talk about us at all.
  7. 1.
  8. We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us different; this is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point of view, difference: we do not ‘surf’ and the internet to us is not a ‘place’ or ‘virtual space’. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and broke up online. The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us. Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built, they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web; we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.
  9. Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is to us something as basic, as the ability to find a railway station or a post office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of ‘Estonia’, or whether the water bill is not suspiciously high  - we take measures with the certainty of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car. We know that we are going to find the information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible. We select, we filter, we remember, and we are ready to swap the learned information for a new, better one, when it comes along.
  10. To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the details, we can look them up within seconds. Similarly, we do not have to be experts in everything, because we know where to find people who specialise in what we ourselves do not know, and whom we can trust. People who will share their expertise with us not for profit, but because of our shared belief that information exists in motion, that it wants to be free, that we all benefit from the exchange of information. Every day: studying, working, solving everyday issues, pursuing interests. We know how to compete and we like to do it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it.
  11. 2.
  12. Participating in cultural life is not something out of ordinary to us: global culture is the fundamental building block of our identity, more important for defining ourselves than traditions, historical narratives, social status, ancestry, or even the language that we use. From the ocean of cultural events we pick the ones that suit us the most; we interact with them, we review them, we save our reviews on websites created for that purpose, which also give us suggestions of other albums, films or games that we might like. Some films, series or videos we watch together with colleagues or with friends from around the world; our appreciation of some is only shared by a small group of people that perhaps we will never meet face to face. This is why we feel that culture is becoming simultaneously global and individual. This is why we need free access to it.
  13. This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the file to download. We are capable of showing appreciation and we do want to reward the artist (since money stopped being paper notes and became a string of numbers on the screen, paying has become a somewhat symbolic act of exchange that is supposed to benefit both parties), but the sales goals of corporations are of no interest to us whatsoever. It is not our fault that their business has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.
  14. One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the external memory network these are simply memories. Remembering them, exchanging them, and developing them is to us something as natural as the memory of ‘Casablanca’ is to you. We find online the films that we watched as children and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.
  15. 3.
  16. We are used to our bills being paid automatically, as long as our account balance allows for it; we know that starting a bank account or changing the mobile network is just the question of filling in a single form online and signing an agreement delivered by a courier; that even a trip to the other side of Europe with a short sightseeing of another city on the way can be organised in two hours. Consequently, being the users of the state, we are increasingly annoyed by its archaic interface. We do not understand why tax act takes several forms to complete, the main of which has more than a hundred questions. We do not understand why we are required to formally confirm moving out of one permanent address to move in to another, as if councils could not communicate with each other without our intervention (not to mention that the necessity to have a permanent address is itself absurd enough.)
  17. There is not a trace in us of that humble acceptance displayed by our parents, who were convinced that administrative issues were of utmost importance and who considered interaction with the state as something to be celebrated. We do not feel that respect, rooted in the distance between the lonely citizen and the majestic heights where the ruling class reside, barely visible through the clouds. Our view of the social structure is different from yours: society is a network, not a hierarchy. We are used to being able to start a dialogue with anyone, be it a professor or a pop star, and we do not need any special qualifications related to social status. The success of the interaction depends solely on whether the content of our message will be regarded as important and worthy of reply. And if, thanks to cooperation, continuous dispute, defending our arguments against critique, we have a feeling that our opinions on many matters are simply better, why would we not expect a serious dialogue with the government?
  18. We do not feel a religious respect for ‘institutions of democracy’ in their current form, we do not believe in their axiomatic role, as do those who see ‘institutions of democracy’ as a monument for and by themselves. We do not need monuments. We need a system that will live up to our expectations, a system that is transparent and proficient. And we have learned that change is possible: that every uncomfortable system can be replaced and is replaced by a new one, one that is more efficient, better suited to our needs, giving more opportunities.
  19. What we value the most is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of access to information and to culture. We feel that it is thanks to freedom that the Web is what it is, and that it is our duty to protect that freedom. We owe that to next generations, just as much as we owe to protect the environment.
  20. Perhaps we have not yet given it a name, perhaps we are not yet fully aware of it, but I guess what we want is real, genuine democracy. Democracy that, perhaps, is more than is dreamt of in your journalism.
  21. ___
  22. "My, dzieci sieci" by Piotr Czerski is licensed under a Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Na tych samych warunkach 3.0 Unported License:
  23. Contact the author: piotr[at]czerski.art.pl


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How Pinterest Will Transform the Web in 2012: Social Content Curation As The Next Big Thing

The most interesting wave hitting the social web in 2012 is social curation.  This was kicked off in 2011 as Pinterest's growth was noticed by Silicon Valley and a number of companies quickly followed suit - Snip.It launched as a social information curation platform, Quora adopted boards for a similar purpose, and Fab.com launched a structured social commerce feed.

In this blog post I will discuss the evolution of social media from long-form to push-button, the emergence of social curation on sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, and the move to structured sets of curated content on Pinterest and its brethren.

But first, the meta-trend....

...Social Media: Evolving From Long Form To Push Button
In the evolution of social media over the last decade, the trend has been a move from long form content, which has high friction of participation (both on the production and consumption side) to ever lower requirements placed on a user to participate in a conversation.

1999-2004 Blogging Platforms.
Blogger (launched in 1999) and other early social media sites were longer form blogs.  The bar to write content was reasonably high.  These sites effectively had two separate users bases: people who wrote the content (1% or less of users) and people who read or consumed the content (99% of users).  Yelp (2004) is basically a food blogging platform where reviewers will go on about how their boyfriend was mean to them during dinner, before actually reviewing the food.

2004-2007 Status Message Networks.
Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006) transformed social media by moving from long form blogging to short form social snippets in the form of photos (Facebook) and status updates (Twitter).  This decreased the friction to both producing as well as consuming content, leading to extremely broad participation by a global user base. 

2007-2010 Push Button Interactions.
Some interesting organic user behavior emerged on Twitter, as users would "re-tweet" content as a way to re-broadcast another person's content to their own network.  Similarly, Tumblr (2007) mixed long, medium, and short form content with an additional affordance "re-blog".  Re-blogging allowed a user to repost a blog with a single button, allowing users to essentially curate content without producing any original content. 

Twitter and Tumblr made it easy to re-tweet and re-blog other's content - the first step in social curation of the web (red arrow above indicates re-blog feature on Tumblr)

In parallel, push button private content curation emerged as Instapaper (2008), Evernote(2008), Read It Later (around the same time) all launched applications to allow users to collect and later read content.  However, none of these services had a strong social component.

Foursquare (2009) was one of the first networks to generate social content more or less entirely off of push button interactions.   By checking-in, you broadcast your location to your friends, creating content without actually needed to type a single word.

However, all of the social services continued to serve content as a time ordered stream.  Moving from a stream to a structured collectible set of content was the next innovation in social media.... 

2010-Now Structured Sets And Social Curation.
Pinterest (launch 2010) was one of the first sites to take push button content generation (via bookmarklets and "re-pinning") and structure it into sets of curated content called "boards".  This allowed users to collect content from across the web, as well as from other users on the site.  In some sense it took what a site like Tumblr had been doing but transformed blog-like streams into structured, curated collections users could share.  Importantly, it was easy for new users to consume these sets of content visually as structured sets, and to share these sets with others.

David King has pointed out an interesting insight - by constructing content in a structured set versus a stream, sites such as Pinterest and Snip.It have prevented stream-based sites such as Facebook from becoming a compelling place to consume the Pinterest or Snip.It content (which contrasts with e.g. Instagram or other stream based sites).

Pinterest boards are not as consumable on Facebook as stream-based sites such as Instagram, carving out a large new social media market for this behavior.

This new affordance is currently being adopted by other sites leading to all sorts of interesting behavior including:
  • Collecting news and information.  Snip.It (2011) was an early product to allow for social curation and structured sets of news and information based content.  Recently Quora (launched boards end of 2011) entered this market by adding "boards" for curating content from across the web to its core Q&A product.
  • Commerce.  Nils Johnson (one of the smartest social commerce guys out there) has pointed out how Fab.com recently used a Pinterest-like affordance in its "feed" to drive social curation of products.  (See image below on how closely the Fab UI mimics Pinterest).  It is similarly likely Pinterest will monetize in a number of interesting ways on the product discovery and commerce side.
  • Social media.  Storify (2011) has added an additional structured curation layer on top of Twitter.

Pinterest UI above, Fab.com UI below.

As you can see the Fab UI has followed the Pinterest one.

Summary: 2012 Will Be The Year of Curated Sets
2012 will likely see an acceleration of structured, push button, social curation across the web.  Why?  Because most users don't want to take much effort to produce content, and consuming content in a structured manner (especially photos) is also much faster.  Just as the first wave of social media has transformed the consumption of information, this next wave of social curation will fundamentally change how users find and interact with content over time.

Many thanks to Nils Johnson and David King for conversations that led to some of the insights in this post. 

via http://blog.eladgil.com/2011/12/how-pinterest-will-transform-web-in.html?spref=tw#

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