Friday 2 March 2012

The unapparent immaturity of the online world

It was good to meet and discuss technology with people yesterday at a Breakfast Seminar I was invited to give in London. One of the topics that came up many times in the Q&A was the way people use online technology, sometimes well and sometimes in ways that could be improved.

This is a topic that applies to so much technology. But it really isn't obvious to many people. If you talk to Tim Berners-Lee about the World Wide Web, he will tell you that although it is so widely used by so many people for so many purposes and therefore it appears to be a mature technology which we all understand, actually it is not even a toddler on the development scale. It seems as if it has been with us for so long that it must be entirely well understood but in fact that is just not true. We understand very little especially about its development, its effect on people and society and are all still learning a great deal about it.

And this is true of much technology in the online world. Many people have eventually learnt that although anyone can create a website and publish information, it is better if much of that is done by people/organisations who actually have responsibility for the information source ... so I remember in the early days of the web that there were lots of sites where individuals would list what programmes were on tv for example, even though it is the BBC and other broadcasters or schedules publishers that should do this, and are able to do it. It takes people quite a long time for many people to decide what to use Twitter and similar services for. All of these innovations are actually very new. It does take time for both individuals and organisations to understand and decide what to use them for and what not to use them for. And especially to decide where the value is. And in organisations, it is often not the people most familiar with or able to exploit the new technology/services for maximum value that decide the policy on technology use for that organisation!

Email has a particular problem ... and often acts as the fallback for all, rather than being reserved for the best purposes it is suited to. There are millions of messages in emails sent every day that would be better sent as Instant Messaging for example. But this is another example of the innocent ignorance associated with the early stages of life of anything.

While we have to strive to uplift people's understanding of the new technology and help bring some maturity to the use of it, we should also be patient that the mistakes some will inevitably make are simply part of the process of learning and in the case of the online world, we shouldn't forget how young the concepts and tools we have still are.