I smile too much

December 22, 2005

I smile too much. My friends know I joke too much as well. Not the funny, ha-ha kind of joking, but in (I would like to think) a more witty, acerbic kind of way. I seem at times amused by the most mundane things, by the way people say things, by an advertisement on television.

Yet when I sit down to write, I always find that my writing takes on a more serious, darker tone. I want to be able to write in the way I speak, break out the same jokes and point out the same absurdities in my amused manner. But all that comes out is this.

What does that say about me?


We have the Power!

December 17, 2005

Continuing with my Web 2.0 contemplation, Wired News compares the accuracy of Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica. The results are not what you would expect. It turns out that a Wikipedia article which receives enough viewers (and so has enough “fact-checkers”) is nearly as accurate as Britannica, long thought to be the bastion of human knowledge. This just once again shows the power of the many over the few, and how the Social tools of the internet become more efficient and useful simply as a result of the sheer number of participants. Thus we can only expect Wikipedia to become more accurate and comprehensive, while Britannica and its like will be left behind in the dust.

This reminds me of how the TV companies (NBC and the rest) kept on insisting that it would cost too much, and would be too complicated to put all their TV shows online for subscription/pay-per-view download. And at the same time thousands and thousands of people were managing to do just that with no official help, minimal funding, with only the support of ardent tv fans that helped create the now-gargantuan Bittorrent community.

The recent controversy over the existence of certain inaccurate articles in Wikipedia, and its somewhat misguided coverage in the mainstream media (specifically by CNN’s Kyra Phillips), shows the strength of the website, rather than expose a crippling flaw in its premise, which is what some would like us to believe.

Web 2.0 is here. or so they tell us.

‘Social’ is the new buzz word, being pinned onto words that define the current internet… we now have Social-Bookmarking (del.icio.us), Social-Browsing (Flock), even Social-Picture Sharing (Flickr). Another buzz word is ‘Tags’, and the key feature of ‘Social’ services is ‘Tags’. Tagging is far more useful than the now-defunct ‘Categories’, since using multiple tags allows to more fully (and accurately) define something. Trying to fit most ideas and objects under singular definitions is inevitably inaccurate (or at the least, incomplete); tags then, help us use a more functional and personalized system to make sense of any information (be they pictures, books, or blog entries) and is thus easier to search and find what you want.

A simple example showing the usefulness of this can be seen in how i organize my pictures in Flickr. Where once a picture of me and a bunch of my friends out at a local club would have been Categorized as ‘Montreal’ or ‘Partying’ (lame, I know), now includes a number of different Tags. ‘Montreal’ and ‘Partying’ could certainly be two of them, but it could also include ‘Newtown’ as the club where we go pretty often, and ‘Summer 2005’ for the time of year; ‘Mahima’ for the describing people in the picture, and ‘Nate’s Visit’ for pointing out that a friend from out of town was there. Because of the number of dimensions used to describe a single picture, finding specific information becomes drastically easier. Choosing the ‘Mahima’ tag, all pictures with her in it can be brought up in a second. This may not sound like much, but when a vast amount of information is required to be sifted through, one begins to see the possibilities.

This is still an example for the individual level; Web 2.0 is all about the ‘social’ dimensions of the internet, and so the same situation is meant to be applied on a far larger scale. When the ‘montreal’ tag is expanded to all of the pictures in Flickr, the number of results increases exponentially. The aim at the end is to be able to find at will, a picture of a ‘montreal’ ‘sunset’ during the ‘summer’ of ‘2005’, taken at the ‘waterfront’ during the ‘F1 weekend’ at the restaurant ‘Jardin Neslon’.

Of course it seems to me that tagging is merely the use of multiple categories, and others seem to agree with this definition. Yet this small tweak, coupled with the personalized and social factors of Web 2.0 products, creates a level of functionality that nigh eliminates the difficulties of accommodating thepreconceived notions of website/software creators, and the frustration that inevitably comes along with it. This helps mimic the ‘mental map’ within people’s minds, and allows information to be organized more ‘organically’ (the underlying principle of all such ‘Social’ tools). TheInternet has forever had too-much information rather than too-little. Without ways of easily accessing that information, its functionality is greatly reduced.

It is these small changes that ultimately usher in the next level of evolution for products and innovations. The coming together of a number of incremental improvements suddenly appears to provide us with a complete, well rounded product. Humans, for example, existed for many millennia before bursting out into their current level of productivity and inventiveness; the raw material of the human brain lay unused and untapped, while homo sapiens lived as little more than groups of semi-intelligent chimpanzees. And then, almost out of nowhere, a small shift in the vocal chords, coupled with an almost equally small shift in the language centers of the brain, allowed for the communication of ideas and coordination of human efforts on a scale never before encountered. And presto, in the blink of an eye, an insignificant mammal, ill-adapted (physically) for his environment, came to envelop the globe.

Hmm… seem to have drifted off the point a little here… (inspired in part by this). But still, it remains true that no single thing stands alone in this world, and without the support from other related products or services, its usefulness to us remains limited. Web 2.0, and the future of the web, relies on this very truth, and so we foresee a convergence of the such activities as they are integrated into our normal, every-day lives. The old ways of enforced compartmentalization are done, and a new way of perceiving the ‘net (and the world) are emerging.

The future, then, is Social. And Tagged.

The beauty in words

December 3, 2005

How does one describe a life changing event? How do you muster the words that describe the intricacies of the moment, the collision of feelings, perceptions, and circumstances that define it for you?

I have read many books in my short-yet-long life. I have experienced the joy of discovering new and unknown ideas in the books of Ayn Rand (a cliche, i know), seen the wonders and alieness of feudal Japan in James Clavell’s masterpiece, “Shogun”, and discussed moral quandaries in the future and alternate worlds of Orson Scott Card.

Yet i have not been so affected as by the sheer mastery of the words of Guy Gavriel Kay.