I spend a lot of my time thinking about how Internet technology can promote information flow, and through it efficiency and transparency, in peoples’ lives. When you’re allowing people to publish their opinions and experiences, and then share them in the kind of social mesh that the web is becoming, I think it’s also important to remember to somehow include the people who aren’t part of the mesh, and whose circumstances mean that they can’t possibly participate. The danger is that people who aren’t active in the network will lose out, and be underrepresented in important ways.
This clearly doesn’t matter much in the consumer web, but I believe that the principles proved in the social web will take greater hold in software, and through that to society as a whole. We are becoming more democratic; we have more access to information. Anyone can publish an idea, a news report, a photograph or any other piece of transmittable media, which can then propagate to anyone else. The roots are in web technology, but the effect is clearly felt way beyond the tech sphere; we’re fast getting used to this privilege, but for most of history freedom of expression has been a radical idea.
Ideally, the result of this freedom through technology is a real-life social mesh, more closely-bound on a global level than people have ever been in the past. Through the free flow of information comes transparency, and through that, again, democracy. But this ideal can only work, in my opinion, if everyone feels the benefit. Part of the point of democracy, surely, is that everyone can take part.
So how can we extend the network? And should it even be an issue, given that around 2.6 billion people don’t have access to basic sanitation?
It’s a fact that cellphone penetration massively outstrips computers in the developing world, which is one reason why a lot of very large computing names are beginning to focus on handsets (and why the free, open source Android software that Google is peddling has nothing to do with competing with the iPhone). That means that cellphone networks also have a great deal more reach than other forms of network in those areas, and it’s therefore significant that the next generation of ultra mobile PCs – for example the next Eee PC – have connectivity through the cellphone network built-in. The result, I hope, will be a sea change in Internet demographics; from that, I hope many things will follow.
These are my interests. I want to bring the technologies that have been proven on consumer websites and in the tech sphere to places where they can benefit people, and make the offline world a better place. I’m under no delusions that I’m going to have any effect myself, but as the technical head of an open source social networking engine, and as someone who just has a personal interest, I can try and do my bit.
This blog is going to be for the sorts of thoughts – like this post – which don’t lend themselves well to a company-sponsored space. It’s often going to be rambly, and will probably raise more questions than answers. Still, you’ve got this far, which hopefully means I won’t be shouting into the void. Thanks for reading; please let me know what you think.