Maybe just turn the Web off then on again?
March 12, 2017 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Tim Berners-Lee, a web developer of some repute, is concerned. "...over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity." More on TimBL: WWW page, Wikipedia, Twitter.
posted by Wordshore (23 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
All of TBL's criticisms, while certainly not wrong, sound like social problems rather than technological ones. We don't need a better web; we need a better humanity.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:19 AM on March 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


Technology is not something you discover like a vein of ore lying in the ground. It is made by people to their own designs. Social arrangements are themselves technologies. Technological problems are social problems and vice versa.
posted by enn at 6:27 AM on March 12, 2017 [29 favorites]


Important read. Three simple, but very powerful, ideas that should be looked at again and again. Then, after that looked at again and resolve to take action in whatever way one can.
posted by DJZouke at 6:33 AM on March 12, 2017


No-one has ever invented a better humanity. Some people have invented a better internet.
posted by pompomtom at 6:44 AM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: Some people have invented a better internet.
posted by persona at 6:49 AM on March 12, 2017 [20 favorites]


These are not social problems in a vacuum. They are social problems that exist because of the nature of the internet's technical and economic incentives, as TBL points out. For example, businesses like Twitter and Facebook have no particular reason to crack down on bots or ban abusive accounts, because every time they do they (notionally) lose money. And so both services are completely overrun, and their boards will oppose any real effort to fix the problems.

One of the core issues is the massive scam that is internet advertising, but that's a tough nut to crack.
posted by phooky at 6:52 AM on March 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


[Fixed the "Guardian" misspelling. I get that it's a joke but it's a joke that has launched a thousand derails, and a thousand flags for mods to wrangle.]
posted by taz (staff) at 7:07 AM on March 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


One of the core issues is the massive scam that is internet advertising, but that's a tough nut to crack.

This comment has the potential getting 5 billion eyeballs on it. Sell your boner pills here and you'll never believe what happened next! /insert photo of Slovenian model getting her teeth worked on while signing a mortgage
posted by NoMich at 7:09 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Can somebody save me the click and tell me the three trends in question?
posted by Dragonness at 7:23 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Technology is based on reason, scientific understanding of first principles, and organized knowledge.

So far we as a species appear to possess little of such foundational understandings about ourselves at Layer 8 and beyond.

So I don't think social problems are technological ones.
posted by runcifex at 7:30 AM on March 12, 2017


Can somebody save me the click and tell me the three trends in question?

SPOILER ALERT FOR REST OF COMMENT

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

2) It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding
posted by Wordshore at 7:50 AM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


1) Anything can be observed. "Control" is a moot issue once data is communicated/stored electronically.

2) It is "viral" (easy) for *anything* to be spread on the web.

3) This is a subset of #2 above. Basic communication is sender-->receiver. "Understanding" is too variable and intent often too obfuscated to lend hope to "transparency."
posted by CrowGoat at 8:40 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Social arrangements are themselves technologies" is the sort of soundbyte that sounds very sophisticated and deep, but really only works by massively expanding the definition of, and equivocating the term technology. When someone says "I don't think this is a technological problem, I think it's a social problem", they're saying something meaningful about the level at which they believe the solution to a problem lies. Insisting on a more broad definition in which these two levels are one and the same completely misunderstands the original statement and generally creates more problems than it solves. In fact, I can't think of a single instance where it would be useful to equivocate in this way other than to seem deep.
posted by simen at 8:43 AM on March 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


2) It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

I'm not sure I agree with this. Publishing should be easy. A bigger concern is that it's too easy to monetize misinformation on the web. When you get paid by the click, your incentive is to make things clickable rather than true.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:00 AM on March 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


but really only works by massively expanding the definition of, and equivocating the term technology.

No, that's ignorant (no offense; in the technical sense, not as a personal insult).

People have been discussing and thinking about ideas and social arrangements as technology since at least the time of the Hindu Vedas over two thousand years ago. We're shrinking our thinking down to nothing and over compartmentalizing our ideas in ways that are making it harder not easier to understand what we're doing when we engage with ideas.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:04 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


You know, it's nice to look at a technology like the internet and say, hey, there are some unintended consequences to having this structured in this particular way which interfere with how civil society is supposed to function, maybe we should fix that. And we should.

But I'd like to point out that there's a fourteen-billion-dollar a year industry called public relations whose only job is to promulgate falsehoods for profit. And that's doing a lot more damage intentionally than the web could ever do by accident.
posted by MrVisible at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's funny timing for this essay; Tim Berners-Lee is right in the middle of a very controversial push to embed black box DRM security into web standards. (Briefly: TimBL's argument for EME, a roundup of arguments against EME, a recent podcast about the controversy). EME really deserves its own front page post, but I fear W3C is spending so much political energy on that right now it can't make any headway on these important social issues.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


This has been your daily installment of "Capitalism Ruins Everything". Tomorrow: Higher Ed.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that all three issues are outgrowths of one bigger issue: the web is becoming too centralized. The consolidation of the web into Google/Facebook/Amazon means that these behemoths have a tremendous amount of personal data, the ability to follow you across the web through their trackers, and powerful incentives to monetize that data. Besides the inherent conflict of interest created when these companies can profit from viral misinformation, on a technological+cultural level it is much easier to engineer viral content for these types of monocultures.
posted by Pyry at 10:25 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Trend #1 is a serious problem that has always been part of the WWW conversation. Problems #2 and #3 seem much more "of the moment". (Ease of spread is a feature, not a bug; political ads (and all ads) need to be more transparent, duh.)
posted by chavenet at 11:42 AM on March 12, 2017


Ease of spread is a feature, not a bug;

It's not even a feature, it's a paid service. Unpaid content is a lot less likely to go organically viral because so many popular social platforms now throttle and charge some premium for organic reach. Not Twitter, yet, but even it's been moving in that direction.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Here's a hint for "serious" online newspapers and media sites: to help stop the growth andf proliferation of "fake news" or similar, how about not being a conduit for crap news (such as those links from Taboola, Outbrain, etc)?
posted by Artful Codger at 1:44 PM on March 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


Insisting on a more broad definition in which these two levels are one and the same completely misunderstands the original statement and generally creates more problems than it solves.

I think you're underestimating the extent to which computer-mediated conversations muddle these two 'layers'. People can only interact with social technology in ways that the system allows, and can interact with them in ways their creators inadvertently allowed but did not intend. But as these systems are developed, the development priorities are determined in large part by how people are already use these systems. There's many historical examples of developers of social systems assuming that social problems are to be worked out by the community, only to discover that this doesn't actually work because their intervention is still required.
posted by Merus at 6:47 PM on March 12, 2017


« Older Sorry I burned down your village. Here's some gold...   |   Video response to whitewashing in "Ghost in the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments