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From the garden of forking paths to the walled garden - the evolution of the consumer internet
Today is an auspicious day for consumer internet geeks around the world, so today’s episode is all 🤓🤓🤓. If you’d like to read about “😎 what we’re vibing to” or “🧐 trends on koodos”, check out the last episode of commentary by koodos:
The hashtag started with this tweet 13 years ago.
I’ve spent this afternoon thinking about how the consumer internet has evolved.
“Differing from Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not think of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times. This web of time - the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries - embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and in yet others both of us exist.”
The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges. (1941)
Borges' seminal piece of literature and his vision of "forking paths" has been cited as an inspiration for Ted Nelson’s hypertext (text which contains links to other texts) - perhaps the most foundational concept of the world wide web. From its beginnings, the concept of the internet was one of an ever-expanding web of information. However, the inevitable course of capitalism (and the lack of egalitarian mechanisms) has led us in the direction of supplanting the vision of the web with a more customised, commercialised version. Instead of the garden of forking paths, it has become a walled garden (wherein the certain powerful organizations control access to applications, content, and media, and restrict convenient access to non-approved applicants or content).
However, the power of the hyperlink remains. A hyperlink is a portal. In one click, you’re transported from one world to another. It connects disparate information, enabling an internet that is “diverging, converging and parallel”. Hyperlinks are also vital structural components and enablers of internet culture - 👉like this👈.
However, the paradox of this proliferation of connections is that, while by no means immune to decay, the information is quickly superseded by new dispatches and loses structure and organization. With Web 2.0, we saw the rise of people drawing connections and organizing content on the internet (the concept of a folksonomy or social classification, i.e. user-created tags) led by sites like Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us and others. This was at once a radical adaptation and a logical successor to what we previously had - and the concept of a tag, and later the hashtag, played a pivotal role as a core structural unit.
One of the core advantages of the hashtag (and folksonomies as a whole) is that they can be dynamic, changing as culture shifts, and thus accommodating a changing situation. However, such changes can be disruptive when users prefer some degree of stability (see this paper).
As the web evolves, issues of attribution and contextual understanding are becoming a much bigger focus — especially with the wave of new technologies that enable this (e.g. the semantic web, blockchain, etc). Mapping who originally made contributions, how they travel through groups, if they're accepted or contested and how they develop is incredibly powerful. We will also see platforms that honor users’ contributions and provide them with the opportunity to take ownership stakes for valuable contributions (~ownership economy~)? Furthermore, the potential of affective annotation and the ability for users to move beyond just tagging content with literal descriptors, but to also contextualize how content makes them feel will open up opportunities for more empathetic experiences online.
Next week, my wonderful collaborator Leora Kornfeld will be sharing more about the role of the internet curator and whether she sees a world where internet curators can make a living from curating. You won’t want to miss it: