Drinking from a firehose – internet


The pioneers of the web saw the internet as a democratising force – empowering the under-informed consumer against an omnipotent corporation. People imagined a perfect market where we could find the thing we wanted at the best price at the click of a button. The hot web properties around the turn of the millennium of the day were comparative price engines, which took off on the assumption that as finding what you wanted became easy, the key differentiator would be price.

It’s turned out a bit more complicated than that.

If anything, the connection of people to information has been too successful. Technology has transformed the amount we are able to do each day, but it has also transformed how much we are expected to do.

We are deluged by information at work; from people we know, from people we don’t; from companies that want to sell us something; from media companies, advertisers and spammers.

In a paper published in Science last year, Dr Martin Hilbert calculated that the amount of data in the world was increasing by 23 per cent per annum …. and moreover that each of us is consuming the equivalent of 174 newspapers …. every day.

We are drinking from a fire hose.

It’s clear that technology has not made our lives easier – it’s just allowed us to do more in the same amount of time, not all of it useful. The ability to compute, store, and share information instantaneously around the globe has meant expectations have risen.

We are expected to do more, do it better and do it quicker. This is patently unrealistic, and it’s not surprising that stress related illnesses are so prevalent. We have infinitely more options, but much less time to understand them.

Bill Joy, the chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, described it like this:

“Technological evolution has exponentially surpassed the speed of human evolution. Technological evolution is doubling every eighteen months. Biological entities, only progressing at the speed of biological evolution, are left behind”.

In other words, a human being can’t consume, understand, collate and usefully process 174 newspapers of information a day. In our efforts to do everything, we frequently do nothing.

The lack of time, overload of information and lack of trust for things we haven’t tried ourselves has made our lives dull. We live in vibrant and constantly evolving societies, and yet we visit the same restaurants, cook the same recipes, buy the same clothes labels, read the same authors, and use the one bank, builder and garage we’ve always used.

We should aim higher.

The solution is nurtured in the people we trust. It’s called word of mouth. Because 21st century humans have confused it with telling everything to everyone, we’re not very good at it.

Bees have a brain the size of a seed, and their longest conversation is seven seconds, but even they are much better at word of mouth than your average human.

When a bee finds a new source of nectar, they fly in a figure of eight pattern. The axis of the eight directs the other 40,000 bees in the hive to the flowers, to gorge on the nectar and spread pollen. Everyone benefits. That’s word of mouth at its simple best.

Efficient word of mouth would allow us to remember things friends we trust have told us about, let us pass that on to other friends who trust us. It would allow us revel in the new, rather than living our lives on repeat.

If word of mouth was efficient, the company with the best product wins. A small business that offers great service operates on the same playing field as the large corporate. Innovative small businesses that go the extra mile would succeed more quickly, and provide more jobs, and better products.

If word of mouth was perfect, the CEO in every business would be as fixated on improving his company’s product, as they are on sales or finance; because winning and losing would be defined by it. That means product people becoming CEO, which happens very rarely unless you’re Apple.

The challenge is in making it simple to pull the precious needles out of the haystack of your life, save them, and share them with your friends.

But whatever the technology, word of mouth is about selectivity and trust. It’s about you helping yourself and helping your friends. It’s about finding a bed of roses in a sunny corner, flying in a figure of eight, and getting your friends to join you in the feast.

4 hours ago
This back to basics theme sounds great, but won’t work. Like communism, it’s a good idea on paper, but then encounters the wider world and it becomes something else. For example, Facebook started life as a simple proposition where you would log your friends and close acquaintances and keep in touch. Look what the money men have turned it into; an over-complex behemoth of a marketing man’s (almost) wet dream. It is now rammed down society’s throat at every turn. Also, look at all the novel ways people have been using it beyond a simple contacts forum – there’s a Facebook page for everything, from fundraising to “liking” the latest brand of hair straighteners to forming petitions/ focus groups. So; the Web- simple in concept, bewilderingly complex when applied, used and modified by billions of individuals.

7 hours ago

There were no “pioneers of the web” the usual fallacy that a group of clever coves get together to make all our modern wonders possible.

This notion of prescience encourages politicians to believe they can tell the future and set up committees to direct “investment” (aka squandering taxpayers’ money) in areas we shall all need or desire in the future.

The web happened serendipitously because of the cross-fertilisation of thousands of ideas, trial and error, amid many failures and a few successes and the wider mass of people deciding what they liked, didn’t like.

To reduce this accidental technological revolution to some planned campaign to liberate the Masses against their evil overlords and monied intersts, is out of the pages of the writings of Marx and is absurd.

Inundated with information? So building a library and filling it with books inundates us with information all of which we cannot process?

Of course not, you only get inundated if you take every book out and try to read them all at once.

The alternative is selecting only what you want to read. On computers its called a delete button

Frank Fisher
7 hours ago
Jeez. I wrote about his years ago – why aren’t I a billionaire. I remember talking to Arthur C Clarke about it (yes), okay, talking by fax, he didn’t like to communicate any other way, dunno why, and the issue of the torrent of voices came up. Everyone gets a voice, but what value has one voice in a screaming crowd? How do you *know* what you need to know? Answer: you don’t. Just try to get by day by day.

At that point 15 years or so back, I think we needed to be consuming 600 books a day to keep abreast of increasing knowledge – but this isn’t new. I figured at the time that the last person who would have been able to know everything that was known at that time, through his lifetime, would have been Leonardo da Vinci – famous for his extensive library and web of connections. He was the last man who knew everything.

Back on topic – word of mouth does indeed work perfectly online, with user reviews etc, so long as those users are indeed real. Astroturfing and sock puppetry cock it all up, which is why we need another human talent… intuition. Firstly to recognize who is real and who is a persona. But also, for more complex info, newspaper articles etc. I long ago gave up on facts, expert opinion, recommendations, statistics – in a sea of everything, everything can be ‘proven’ – all studies and thesis can be argued for. So now I distrust everything except my own intuition. If something seems like bullshit, it is


M T Bucket
7 hours ago
What utter tosh. Just because someone I know ‘likes’ something on facebook doesn’t mean it is suitable for me. I don’t shop for my groceries oin the basis of which brand of baked beans most of my friends like (among 100 other items in my basket). I might however ask a friend whether his Porsche is any good or not. On the other hand, people do go to extremes to justify what they have purchased, lest they look foolish (post-purchase justification anyone?).

The bee analogy is also false. Bees are a community that depend on collective survival. The hive is king. Humans on the other hand almost always act in their own best interests.

Web 1.0 was meant to be an information sharing tool. Social media or Web 2.0 was invented for WoM and companies are still working out how to use it to more effectively screw consumers, not to provide them with the ‘best possible service’.

6 hours ago

I think maybe you underestimate people’s ability to recognise quality. For things that they are not particularly fussed about, they respond to being bombarded with claptrap and false information by bypassing the quality-judgment process, and substituting for it a process of choosing whatever it is that their section of society has made its most popular. In effect, they’ve re-defined quality as “preferred by people like me”, in order to keep some personal control over it, rather than having to rely on the word of people in whom they have no faith.

For things that they are fussed about, they have to go through the rigmarole of discarding all the deceptive crap with which things are surrounded, and I’m sure that the frustration of having to go through this experience must have the effect of discouraging future attempts at discernment.

So maybe people do still have the ability to assess quality, it’s just that the environment in which they live discourages them from using it

8 hours ago
You still cannot get anything done which is useful from an information processing standpoint without a library card and a visit to said presumably obsolescent institution.

This is a good thing.

It amazes me that so little work has been done to differentiate instantaneous media from print media. The former is an instantly expendable and use-by-dated tool for negotiating mazes. The latter is all about memory, retention, contemplation and genuine information reduction and compression (not as in LZW either LOL).

Why people waste so much time futilely attempting to substitute the psychic paradigm of the book with that of IT-derived tools is also a source of wonder and amusement. They are their own entities unto themselves as different from each other as aliens from platypuses (platypae ? LOL). They can be used to reinforce each other; one without the other much less substituted for the other therefore is Fahrenheit 451 with no political object in sight and therefore self-lobotomising

8 hours ago
“word of mouth is about selectivity and trust. It’s about you helping yourself and helping your friends”

Mmmm. I think word of mouth has to be about reciprocity. It’s about imparting information which you would be happy to receive, were the situation to be reversed, and about not imparting information which you wouldn’t be happy to receive.

You use the analogy of bees, but the thing about bees is that the one which discovers the source of nectar isn’t going to send all the others off on a wild-goose chase so that it can keep the whole of the source to itself. Nor is it going to turn the source into a nice little earner for itself by demanding an entry fee. Nor, indeed, is it going to create a false source by salting dry flowers with nectar brought less comfortably from farther afield. And it’s not going to claim ownership of the source for its community and fight bees from other hives who come across it in the course of their travels.

Humans, on the other hand, have a predilection for doing all these things, and more, and until such time as double standards and deliberate deception revert to being socially unacceptable, in contrast to being the epitome of cleverness and smart behaviour, as they have become, the advances we can make from the development of communication will be very limited.

Judge Denies Attempt To Block Obama’s Transfer Of Internet Oversight To UN

October 2016: In a last ditch effort to block Obama’s plan to allow the US Commerce Department to hand over oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a multi-stakeholder community – which includes the technical community, businesses, civil society and foreign governments – 4 state attorneys went to a Texas federal court alleging that the transition, in the absence of congressional approval, amounts to an illegal forfeiture of U.S. government property. Confirming once more that under Obama’s Presidency the judiciary and legal system have been totally politicised, their case was thrown out on a technicality.

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