Taking back the internet and our cityspaces

Segregation Wall in Palestine

I bought Banksy's Wall and Piece book today (24 Dec 2005) while doing a last minute christmas shopping run in Bristol today. I've already seen quite a lot of the Banksy's work but its great to have most of it in one book which can be easily leant to people who I know is pretty good. Anyhow I was flicking through the book and I started to check out some of these quotes, specially this one.

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn't illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt lika a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it's wet.

Its interesting because this is exactly the same vision of the internet Tim Berners-Lee and others had from day one. You know every part would be rewritable by anyone. Cant find the quote, but I did find this from the BBC. Damm I forgot to link to How the read/write web was lost. Which talks about how Tim Berners-Lee's vision of a read/write web was slowly edged out of the picture.

Well in some ways. The idea was that anybody who used the web would have a space where they could write and so the first browser was an editor, it was a writer as well as a reader. Every person who used the web had the ability to write something. It was very easy to make a new web page and comment on what somebody else had written, which is very much what blogging is about.

For years I had been trying to address the fact that the web for most people wasn't a creative space; there were other editors, but editing web pages became difficult and complicated for people. What happened with blogs and with wikis, these editable web spaces, was that they became much more simple.

When you write a blog, you don't write complicated hypertext, you just write text, so I'm very, very happy to see that now it's gone in the direction of becoming more of a creative medium.

Just like Banksy's vision the internet slowly moved away from its core slightly utopian vision and started to become like the cityscapes of what Banksy pushes against. Although web 2.0 gets a lot of stick, the main thurst is about people. And thats a positive thing.

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There's also been a long running meme that a website should not be a set thing which is delivered to the end browser. HTML is intreperated by browsers and always will be. We should expect every browser to do the basics correctly, like the box model in CSS should be apply in the same way to all browsers but for a site to expect there site to be displayed with the style they have set is unreasonable and not a good thing. Anyone should be able to change the style, remove the style and even extract the sections there really after without resulting to haxor techniques. You could say these techniques are the same ones applied by Banksy because things have got so bad in our cityscapes. The internet has luckly not got that bad yet. Actually with the advent of Firefox and its huge selection of public generated extensions the opposite is actually true. Then if you go one step further you have Greasemonkey which then allows you to alter any page in anyway you see fit and save the results to share with others. And now we have Flock which is browser which is made from day one to foster the vision of the read/write internet. Yes it all seems pretty much a bolt on for now, but that will change.

I have not really mentioned it on this blog yet, but Microsoft's SSE (RSS Simple sharing extensions) could close the feedback loop in the RSS space. Even if that fails, I can certainly see a tighter trackback type mechinasm or an annotation mechinasm growing in popularity. Jon Udell talks up the read/write web. I mean even today, the mainstream media are falling over themsleves to have user (hate that word so much) public generated comments and feedback, even if there implimented in odd and unsatficatory ways.

Although this is no biggy for most people reading this, its in the same way as Napster (and of course Bit torrent) have as default the option to share your downloads. Making you a supplier as well as a consumer, is a fundamental shift. The likes which Banksy can only wish for in the cityscapes of the analogue world. We need to keep this at the forefront of the web 2.0 dash and where ever we go from there. Parciptation of people is key.

Interestingly at the same time I bought Wall and Piece I was looking for We the media for my sister. She's got quite old fashioned views about the internet but rather than me trying to convince her, I thought as shes studying Fashion Journalism the book would be a ideal read on two counts. However it never quite happened because I simply could not find Dan Gilmor's we the media anywhere in Bristol on Christmas Eve. But what took me and even Sarah back was the fact that the books on offer in the Computer sections of Blackwells and Waterstones were so boring. I hate to say it but they were so web 1.0. The only saving grace was the new Search and Amazon books which were present at Waterstones. But generally they were about how to create HTML pages using Dreamweaver, how to program using PHP, ASP, etc, etc, etc… Nothing web 2.0 ish in the slightest. Nothing about blogging, wikis, podcasting, public parciptation! Its such a shame because it puts across such a different view of where the internet is today.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.