Sunday, March 07, 2010

David Gelernter: Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously

I just finished reading an essay on Edge by noted computer scientist David Gelernter entitled "Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously" which basically argues for his concept of lifestreams as a better model for publishing and accessing information than today's web model. Rather that organizing information in a spatial form, he recommends that we think about and organize information along the time dimension. As he puts it:

The Internet's future is not Web 2.0 or 200.0 but the post-Web, where time instead of space is the organizing principle -- instead of many stained-glass windows, instead of information laid out in space, like vegetables at a market -- the Net will be many streams of information flowing through time. The Cybersphere as a whole equals every stream in the Internet blended together: the whole world telling its own story.

He proceeds to describe the nature of the problem and how lifestreams will address it:

13. The traditional web site is static, but the Internet specializes in flowing, changing information. The "velocity of information" is important -- not just the facts but their rate and direction of flow. Today's typical website is like a stained glass window, many small panels leaded together. There is no good way to change stained glass, and no one expects it to change. So it's not surprising that the Internet is now being overtaken by a different kind of cyberstructure.

14. The structure called a cyberstream or lifestream is better suited to the Internet than a conventional website because it shows information-in-motion, a rushing flow of fresh information instead of a stagnant pool.

15. Every month, more and more information surges through the Cybersphere in lifestreams — some called blogs, "feeds," "activity streams," "event streams," Twitter streams. All these streams are specialized examples of the cyberstructure we called a lifestream in the mid-1990s: a stream made of all sorts of digital documents, arranged by time of creation or arrival, changing in realtime; a stream you can focus and thus turn into a different stream; a stream with a past, present and future. The future flows through the present into the past at the speed of time.

16. Your own information -- all your communications, documents, photos, videos -- including "cross network" information -- phone calls, voice messages, text messages -- will be stored in a lifestream in the Cloud.

17. There is no clear way to blend two standard websites together, but it's obvious how to blend two streams. You simply shuffle them together like two decks of cards, maintaining time-order -- putting the earlier document first. Blending is important because we must be able to add and subtract in the Cybersphere. We add streams together by blending them. Because it's easy to blend any group of streams, it's easy to integrate stream-structured sites so we can treat the group as a unit, not as many separate points of activity; and integration is important to solving the information overload problem. We subtract streams by searching or focusing. Searching a stream for "snow" means that I subtract every stream-element that doesn't deal with snow. Subtracting the "not snow" stream from the mainstream yields a "snow" stream. Blending streams and searching them are the addition and subtraction of the new Cybersphere.

18. Nearly all flowing, changing information on the Internet will move through streams. You will be able to gather and blend together all the streams that interest you. Streams of world news or news about your friends, streams that describe prices or auctions or new findings in any field, or traffic, weather, markets -- they will all be gathered and blended into one stream. Then your own personal lifestream will be added. The result is your mainstream: different from all others; a fast-moving river of all the digital information you care about.

In short:

To accomplish this, we merely need to turn the whole Cybersphere on its side, so that time instead of space is the main axis.

There is much more to his model for information in the "Cybersphere", but time-based lifestreams are his core starting point.

-- Jack Krupansky


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