The end of the web, research and the computer as we know them
People ask what the next web will be like, but there won’t be to be a next canvas.
The spatial web that we currently have will gradually be replaced by a time-based worldstream. It’s already happening, and it all started with the life flow, a phenomenon that I (along with Eric Freeman) predicted in the 1990s and shared in the pages of Wired almost exactly 16 years ago.
This life feed – a heterogeneous, content searchable, real-time mail feed – has arrived in the form of blog posts and RSS feeds, Twitter and other discussion feeds, as well as walls and of Facebook timelines. Its structure represented a slide beyond the “plateau known as the desktop” (where our interfaces ignored the dimension of time) towards streams, which flow and can therefore serve as a concrete representation of time.
It’s a bit like going from a desktop computer to a magical journal: imagine a journal whose pages turn automatically, following your life at every moment … Until you touch it, and then the page change stop. The diary becomes a sort of reference book: a comprehensive, searchable guide to your life. Put it down and the pages start turning again.
Today, this agenda-type structure supplants the spatial structure as the dominant paradigm of the cybersphere: all information on the Internet will soon be a temporal structure. In the bit world, spatial structures are static. Time-based structures are dynamic, always fluid, like time itself.
The web will be history.
Metaphors have a profound effect on computing
[#contributor: /contributors/5933492c58b0d64bb35d4d4d]|||[David Gelernter](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Gelernter) is Professor of Computer Science at Yale University and Chief Scientist at Lifestreams.com. Her books include * Mirror Worlds *, * Machine Beauty * and the upcoming * Other Side of the Mind *. A former member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gelernter is also a painter; his works are currently on display at the Yeshiva University Gallery in Manhattan. |||
Until now, the web has been spatial, like a magazine kiosk; we use spatial terms such as “second from top to far left” to identify a particular magazine. A diary, on the other hand, is based on time: a dimension of space has been borrowed to represent time, so we use temporal terms like “Thursday’s entry” or “everything since last spring” to identify the entries. .
Time as a metaphor may seem obvious now. Mainly because it is natural for us to see our lives as stories, organized by time.
Yet it took us over 20 years in IT to get there. The field eventually shifted from ingenious conservation of resources to their creative waste. In this new environment, we can focus on the best way – instead of the cheapest and most conservative way – to make the internet work.
And today, the most important function of the Internet is to provide latest information, to tell us what is going on correctly now. This is why so many time-based structures have emerged in the cybersphere: to satisfy the need for the most recent data. Whether it’s a tweet or a timeline, all are timed feeds designed to keep you up to date with what’s new.
Of course, we can always browse or search the past: time moves on and back into the cybersphere. Any information object can be added to “now”, and flows steadily back – like a twig fallen in a stream – into the past. You can drop conventional files, posts, and websites (these will appear as static and unique items) into the stream, which acts like a cloud-based file system with content search.
But what if we merge all of these blogs, feeds, chat feeds, etc. ? By adding up every temporal stream on the net – including the private life streams that are just beginning to emerge – into a single data stream, we get the worldstream: a way of representing the cybersphere as a whole.
No one can see the entire global flow, because much of the information flowing through it is private. But anyone can see a part of it.
Imagine an old-fashioned well with a bucket on a rope, the bucket dipping deeper and deeper into the well. This well of time is infinitely deep, so the bucket will sink forever – and the rope is still as long as it needs to be, so there will always be more rope to unwind. (The endless scrolling we now know from many time-flow websites is just the unwinding of the rope.) The bucket represents the head or start of the global flow, the oldest data object. The cable axis represents now, and the rope (plunging deeper and deeper into the past) is the stream itself.
Instead of today’s static web, information will flow constantly and steadily through the worldstream in the past. So what does all of this mean?
Today, the most important function of the Internet is to tell us what is going on right now.Streams completely changes the search game
Today’s operating systems and browsers – and search models – are becoming obsolete, as people no longer want to be logged into computers or “sites” (they probably never have) .
What people really want is to agree to information. Since several million distinct life streams will soon exist in the cybersphere, our core software will be the stream browser: like today’s browsers, but designed to add, subtract, and navigate streams.