Several conversations over the last few weeks have set my mind a-racing about the whole nature of what I do. Yes I’m talking about the web, but looking at a much larger picture than just the technology used. The web is transcending the bits and bytes it is made up of, much like books transcend the paper they are written on or a CD of music transcends the plastic it is printed on.
For me the web is about two main things: people and information. It provides the means to connect between those things in ways that weren’t even dreamt of just a decade or two ago.
Connecting information to information gets a pretty technical subject very quickly (web services and the like) so I’ll not delve into it now. Some other time maybe.
Much more interesting is connecting people with information – pretty much anywhere and any time – is a far cry from the days when the privileged few wuld travel to a great city to study in the library. Now the information of the entire world, or at least a large and growing percentage of it, is available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. Classic novels, government survey results, people’s intimate diaries, school meeting minutes, all available to you and I.
But the greatest single power of the internet in my opinion is connecting people to people. The web is about facilitating communities where there wasn’t even communication before, enabling people to meet, talk, share and learn together. No wonder there are so many who seem to spend their whole lives online, it’s a lot easier than going out and finding such a breadth of communities in the physical world.
Today I saw something, a picture, that speaks to me of this immense power we wield. Here it is:
Just a postbox? No, it’s the postbox that allows people to share their innermost secrets with the word, to release their deeply-hidden desires and shames. Thanks to PostSecret, thousands have people have been able to put into words (or rather, put onto a postcard) something they haven’t been able to tell anyone face to face. The web provides one of the biggest oxymorons of our age – global intimacy.
And this is what I want to do. Whether I’m developing a commercial website, open source software, e-commerce system or whatever, I want to make sure I provide a tool that will not only connect people to information, but connect people to people. Make people feel at ease, make them feel like they are a valuable individual, make them feel like someone sympathetic is listening, make them feel they have a voice.
The web truly has done that; given a global voice to the people. And the people are talking.