Remember when I wrote about this idea of making email like a cloud?
I just got the word today about the Google Wave, and I have to say I'm already seasick -- the Wave collectivizes your documents and conversations and social networking and creativity into the GOOG Borg, sucking what marginal privacy you might have once have had in something like Facebook out to many more people, and more importantly, to itself. It also, inversely, sucks the public Internet down into little grouplets all over the place to the extent that the Internet in a sense ceases to be -- it is once exposed fish entrails now poked back inside...but I think I'm mixing up my metaphors here.
There already isn't an Internet because of mobile phones. Who reads an encyclopedia on a bookshelf when you can Google a research question? Who goes to an informative web page of experts when you can just ask the person in your IM or see which hotspot lights up on an embedded MapQuest?
The pebbles being relentlessly pushed and ground and pulverized on the shore between these waves sucking in and out into the big GOOG Cloud are ourselves, are individual dignities, and privacies, and lone creative moments.
Google takes something that was for many people an "ah-ah" collaborative moment --the thrill of communicating or working together online in real time -- and so replicates and multiples and stretches it and bends it back on itself that it ceases having its charms. I feel about this the way I felt about the awfulness of Beth Novek's collectivist elevation of the group online over the individual, and when I felt that first wave of nausea reading her pieces years ago (I had no idea that it can and would get worse, that this person could actually be in the White House, in the Obama Administration's Office of Technology, wikifying the techprez).
The Wave is several magnitudes of horror worse, given that it's the megapower Google.
At first, the Wave just seems like some sort of wonky widget-prone interface that sort of makes it easy to put Flickr pictures into your email and have an AIM like or g-mail like interface mixed into your email, with faster uploads and transmissions. But that's just a very, very deceptive overview of what is in fact a collossal culture-bending machine that could make the human consciousness change in ways that just are not going to be pretty because they are all about collectivization of the many for the commercial and political benefit of the few.
The main evil of Wave is that it wikifies everything by sucking the wiki concept in *everywhere* like the flu, removing the concept even of geopolitical space/power that wikis had as a dedicated URL space (which made it possible to boycott them or make alternatives to them in other dedicated spaces). In fact, URLs may cease to exist, if all you have in the future are Google Wave "linkies" that are sort of bookmark positions inside a wave. BTW, a wave is really a tube, it's just that they though it would sound a lot cooler to call them waves. Well, a tube with stuff moving through it. A URL will be shed in favour of the linked archived Waves.
What is this wikification? It's everyone editing your email all the time. You start a convo with someone, or three someones because groupification is promiscuously easy, and soon, they can start editing your typed expression in real time, constantly changing it (and probably your blog and most anything you do). And I don't mean after a pause for reflection; I mean that a compulsive type could be faster on your ass fixing your spelling even than spell check, which is slowed down by pausing on each word and asking for your consent to change it.
Consent is the last concept anyone is thinking about with the Wave. Turn it on, and throw consent out the window, it is not built in. It is not engineered for the individual's free will.
Google sidesteps around the awesome -- profoundly molecular and far-reaching -- consequences of this evil of collective pressure by saying its "Playback" function -- the function that leaves a trail of the changes like a combination of a chatlog in SL and a trackback in Word -- will be the "accountability" mechanism. So even while everything is vandalized, there is still a record that will show everything except (this is fascinating but deadly) for the person who shows up late, say, after the rest of the people in the 3-way convo edited and made the product -- the 4th to come up will no longer see the same history, the way he wouldn't see the chat log before he logged on to Second Life during a group chat.
So there's history, but not for everybody. And the history is behind a tab. That's like saying the wiki history keeps the anonymous fucktards who edit Wikipedia (as much vandals as the griefers of Wikipedia) honest because you can refer to it. The only thing difference is that "Playback" manifests in ordinary human colloquial speech instead of with the arcane mark-up of Wikipedia nerds. Still, "Playback" is something that, with the proliferation of waves, will likely get lost in the shuffle.
I remember the first time I shared a sketch with Barnesworth in Yahoo Messenger, where on Yahoo Messenger, you could send a drawing and someone else could then edit it and you could both see it, and also send little sound clips or pre-made scenes. It was quite compelling at first but YM had a limited pallette. Of course, Second Life is a much, much better utility for this sort of real-time collaboration because you have much more open-endedness and persistence and all the rest and the accountability is built into the avatar and the C/M/T system, not in having to study chatlogs, although chatlogs are an important accountability-inducer in SL culture.
The effect of the wave is to depersonalize. It's the opposite of the avatarization in SL which more intensely personifies by making the avatar a rich depository of impressions, connections, inventory, notecards, landmarks, etc. It's unlike email, with the distinctive handle still there, but your body/sense of self/individuality merged away in various collective functioning. It's verb, not noun, and whenever you have the predicate so hypertrophied, like communism and other isms, the individual, the person, gets erased.
Why would you need to edit somebody else's email to you? Would that be used much? Well, the devs show you how, say, if 3 people were planning to see a movie, the original invitation and suggestions would simply get edited by all kinds of people until they reached a collaborative acceptable outcome product of their "wave", all updating constantly in real time with each new state of the interface, which of course can have voting widgets and all kinds of other widgets. The Wave is still stuck with the problem email has of having to read backwards, 'bottom-up" -- only it's simplified by keeping the Playback in top-down format.
A particularly smarmy feature of this Google-culture-dripping demo is that you see how much the concept of the team is embedded and bleeding into RL culture (they have to have "outings" together and be cutsie together endlessly) and how much Google is patting itself thunderously on the back for making an opensource thingie, that will be at an address code.google.com I think, which will enable all those exploitative and aggressive widget makers to make toys to try to trap customers, as they do on Facebook.
Imagine all the vampire bites, movie quizzes, farm trees (*waves to Khamon*), aquarium fish, birthday gifts and every other damn thing sucked into your email.
Of course Silicon Valley types might sell it as an i-phone like set of APIs that do more serious things like track expenses or compare prices online, etc.
There's another gnawing question about all this. How cool can it be if Scoble hasn't been yacking about it or hinting broadly about it for weeks? He has only an oblique reference to it, and I haven't seen any prepared column about it released yet.
If anything, Scoble may simply not care, even though he seems to be a fan of gmail, because in a sense, Scoble already created Wave for himself by patching together Twitter, Friendfeed, Flickr, Tweetdeck, Kyte TV, his blog, etc. all in his own wave. Or maybe he cares, but it isn't that compelling. It may not seem like a world-changer to him to have real-time crack as he's been smoking it for years already on his own power use of services and widgets.
When Giga.om says they are cautious about the Wave, it sounds like they only care about whether it will work. Says Om Malik, "My biggest question about Google Wave is how the company is going to bring about a behavior change and find viral growth in order for it to become the standard Google wants it to become. The company wants it to be an open protocol so that people can build their own Waves and at the same time collaborate and federate."
I've got just the opposite concern. With teenagers already cresting on this wave in Facebook chat combined with mobiles and Picnic and such they and many others won't find any difficulty about crossing this cultural divide. Furthermore, the idea that you find salvation from the Wave Borg by having wave on your own servers, perhaps behind your own firewall, not necessarily in the cloud, like SL Immersive Workspaces, won't really fly because the speed and capacity and scaling and widgets and whatnot that are offered out in the cloud will be so compelling people won't want their own. It's like how dull opensim is to run on your own. It's like the thought of Twitter, but with only 17 people at work.
It's kind of sickening that this is being made an opensource thing for several reasons:
o it means workers are not accountable, to the extent that they are in Google, which may not be saying much
o it means Google gets a lot of enthusiastic free help, paid for by other people, ranging from Mom to University to Big IT Corporation (all opensource help is paid for somewhere offcampus from the opensource arena, which pretends it is working for free). That's troublesome, because Google is already too big, and encroaching on freedoms, when it hires people and pays them handsomely; how much more evil will it get with legions of widgeteers?!
o it means that stuff is buggy and people won't admit it because they will adopt the typical opensource arrogance and imperviousness to criticism and say "patch or STFU" instead of being accountable to customer service concerns and a bottom line
o it could be a fake opensource program like the one LL runs, where people are hyped up on groups and emails and IRC chans to feel "as if" they contribute to some big project, but they never really have a say in it, their work is sucked up for free and resold as licensed proprietary code later that they don't get a penny for, and basically they are just bug hunters and beta testers given a few perks like synecures as "good citizens" on the JIRA.
It might be that getting the hang of all that real-time stuff may not take off, and the thing could flop like Lively did, but I don't think so.
If it does work, it could put Twitter out of business, because it will have everything about Twitter that most people need -- of course, without the search that really is Twitter's meal ticket. And the Twitter search, like the Facebook ad magic, whatever that's going to be, may be the thin membrane that is all that stands between being consumed or put out of business by the Wave.
Or...will it? Do you get to put robot.text inside your wave? Or will the GOOG snarf up all your chat now because it is now hosting all your collaborative real-time wave work on servers, in clouds, or wherever, that it owns and therefore scrapes? GOOG already gets your data from searches, gmail, accessing websites on the Internet, etc. To this it can now lay claim to your formerly-private email and social networking.
It's all in how you conceptualize the management model, the hierarchy of power, and of course, there is one, even though it covers itself in the veil of equality, collaboration, etc.
Before, as an autonomous individual, shaped by your society and culture, of course, but still, an individual with freedoms and integrity, would log on, and despite what Clay Shirky was breathlessly anticipating for you back in 2006, you didn't lose your individual identity into connectivist soup in groups online, because your IP service, the pages you visited, etc. were all subservient to you as the main actor. Seated at your desk, you sent out queries, got answers. You typed in links to pages, you went to them. You typed an email, pressed send, and there was a wait. This was definitely a Yourule sort of Tropico. The time white, the asynchronicity -- this was the protective cover for your individuality and the solitude needed to think.
Then, with social media, you began to get pressured, and twisted out of shape because you were put in groups, and facing a press of having to perform, explain the fabulous things you were doing while AFK or even online. On Plurk. or Facebook. or Second Life. And you inevitably began to conform, and look for company, and externalize, and not have private thoughts anymore, and just put more and more stuff "out there".
The Wave will ensure that people do a lot less thinking in solitude, which is of course vital to a democratic society and even just vital to the commercial viability of a company. There is so much god-awful obsession with collaboration now that people forget that an awful lot in history, in terms of inventions, political systems, literature, etc. happens because people can be alone with their thoughts, not because they can endlessly share them. The worst thing is that in that collectivist cloud of the Wave, it is very hard to say "no", or to stop the flow, or to speak differently, with the constant pressure of the collective on your neck in real time.
Even using all the new tools, you would be alone in that creative moment that I think VWR-8049 very much destroys with bulk custom default permissions. So on Twitter, I see a guy saying he has just completed a podcast, but still can't get to sleep because he's still on that "high" of having made a product that seems important to him. He is alone, though, and no one has yet listened to him. There may only be 27 people who listen to him. In fact, the making of that podcast is almost more important to him than that somebody listen to it, and yet, he will check his comments 10 times a day to see if anyone said anything because he wants an audience. An audience. He wants an audience, not collaboration, editing out his text or replacing his audio with some other audio.
Some days 49 people click on a link I put in Twitter from bitly. Other days, it might be 8 or or 108. Who are those people? Are they different every time? I have something like 1300 followers, but some clicking aren't followers of me but searchers of Twitter, finding terms to click on. Talk about weak ties -- the people who clink on your link but never tell you about it or write to you are the real secret-sharers of the Internet.
In fact, you could call this the Silent Majority of social media, which is supposed to be much more sociable than it is. In fact, much of what passes for "social" is in fact a few loudmouths putting out stuff, and hordes of people silently, grimly, clicking without question, consuming, consuming like they used to consume TV or newspapers, and never giving you even a "like" click to tell what is on their minds.
Not with the Wave, where their link will appear inside multiple simultaneous transmissions. When they are caught up in the Wave, like Plurk (which is a proto-Wave which will now be put out of business. Pity). In fact, the word "transmission" in the Google description for this is inaccurate, because it implies that there is something that has to go from point A to point B across stuff, and take time (at least, that's the connotation). The Wave isn't even a wave moving on to the shore -- it's instant, with someone correcting your spelling even before you have finished your sentence, all up in your grid.
It isn't clear how many people you can stuff into a wave, i.e. the eternal question of how many avatars can fit on a sim, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (answer: any number, as long as they all fly so that they don't touch their foot on the surface lol).
But let's say you could get a screenfull of a list of 100 names all yakking and embedding YouTubes and sending notes and editing each other's text -- bedlam, or what we already know very well with our own personal Second Life wave known as "The JIRA".
Imagine if you could Weblin-like or...I forget the name of that other new thingie out there that lets you mark-up website -- mark-up the JIRA, even if banned, or if you didn't want to go through some of its wonkier interface annoyances. Imagine if you could just get your own thing started -- that would have its advantages in a closed situation like the closed society of open source coders in SL, where you would not be bound by the arbitrary actions of thin-skinned geeks, thick-skulled weapons scripters, and teenaged Asperberger's patients,
But, of course, who would bother.
In fact, if you had Plurk with YouTube and stuff, why would you go back to Plurk?
What Facebook really tested, and took a gamble on when it made its first few big bursts of concurrency and uniques is that people other than obsessive college students trying to find dates and cliques would care about socializing with other people to the extent that they do.
The thought of having to socialize with all these people you left behind 20 years ago because you could plead not knowing a forwarding snailmail address or being 3,000 miles away or needing to keep an unlisted number -- that was daunting, and the interface between you and those "weak ties" people as Grace called them had to be very sturdy. Sturdy -- and interesting.
But in fact, lots of people were only too happy to intensively socialize even more with people you would think they had enough of already, and even add to that mix perfect strangers, very attenuated friends of friends or just people they met...in a virtual world or something.
Geeks often characterize any criticism as "FUD" and brand you as a Luddite for criticizing some change in technology. Naturally, I reject this concept utterly. I often point out that Luddites are merely people who want to get paid a living wage, not people who hate technology; had that technology increased their income instead of someone else's at their expense, their actions would be different. Geeks always want disruptive technology to disrupt somebody else, not them.
But the real fear-ridden people in this equation are coders who huddle in teams, who coalesce into groups, who form fiercely-loyal obsessive opensource work groups, who circle their wagons endlessly, over and over, tighter and tighter, who form tribes, who collectivize, collectivize, collectivize. They are terribly afraid of the power of one. They hate the dissent of one individual. They try to get rid of the non-conformist who doesn't go along with the group. Fear and hatred of the individual and what he represents in terms of a counterweight to collectivized and exploited data at some level may well haunt Google, too.
The person who refuses to sign up for gmail, who publishes little on the Internet and is not searchable in Google, who gets his information from sources other than Google, who converses outside the Google realm, he is like an eyelash on the eye, as the character in Zamyatin's We felt about his individual consciousness. And of course, there are such people everywhere, still, and there might be more of them, and not just in the poor world, but in the rich world.
Giga.om repeats the affluent male tekkie mantra du jour, to the effect that email is "broken" and nobody uses email. As you know, I have my own ideas about how to reform email and dashboards, but they aren't like the Wave, because they involve more control by the individual of the content of what he accesses and the filing of it on the desktop.
Putting it all on the Internet/cloud/whatsis that Google owns make it take place in a very different political and social, not to mention technical space.
Now, if I save an email in that system, somebody else could tamper with it and rewrite it (the permissions systems of who has access to what was the vaguest -- actually, most non-existent -- part of this demo). Already, email has the problem of the tail that unwittingly falls into the wrong hands, the replicating of text not intended for other eyes, etc. This will compound. Still, there will be the desire to cut and paste and save somewhere out of the loop. Who owns the Wave and its pieces? Only Google can said to be owning it, like Linden Lab really owns Second Life.
Fred Wilson also spear-headed this fashion of saying email was "bankrupt" and yet, for most people, it isn't, and may never be, because they don't need real-time, or want it, or like it.
My email idea was driven from the perspective of the individual and his worth, and collaboration and connection without collectivization and connectivism. You don't have to externalize all knowledge and authority "on the web" and strip it away from individual to learn and collaborate.
And while the Wave may make it harder for spammers to get in, the way they have a harder time getting into Facebook, there will still be many of the old kinds of email (unread, but you need to save, read, but you need to park and can't answer yet, etc.) that will require some place in an interface that they don't seem to have in the Wave because they are supposed to be obsolete.
Anyway, as I study more about this I'll likely have a lot to say about it, but so far, I'm nauseated, and I think only the most concerted battle might install things like permissions so that there is more opt-in of wikification.