Boston - MIT is a large campus with plenty going on. So when I happened across a small faculty talk featuring Sir Tim Berners-Lee, now known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, I knew I had to go and hear this genial boffin’s views on the future of the web.
Because we were few we all did brief introductions around the room. There was enough thinking capacity here to power a small city. Between physicists, artificial intelligence experts and other engineering related disciplines the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence was truly living up to its name.
Berners-Lee was both enigmatic and insightful and it was wonderful to be in a small space with his thinking rather than the usual auditoriums where he speaks. His talk revolved around the following premise:
” We are exploring the essence of what it means to be web-like: connected, decentralized, fractal and tangled. Is it time for us to plan more? Can we start to understand the web itself as a complex system? Should we look at it more as the web of people than a web of pages?”
Essentially Berners-Lee is saying that the technology is no longer the focus. Social rules were changing faster than technology. Yet developers and technologists in general were still focussed on efficiency rather than effectiveness. In addition mapping ontologies (relationships) was going to be too slow and by the time they were done new social relationships could make them redundant.
This was music to my ears but I could sense the discomfort in the room. Scientists don’t always like to include humans in their thinking. Humans can be erratic, unpredictable and even irrational. Yet the argument they were hearing was that the future of the web will not be engineered but possibly developed through a ” collection of half-formed ideas”. So while mapping the existing networks and tree like structure of the WWW was useful there needed to be more work done to understanding and predicting the parallel social developments the changes in technology and business models induced.
All of my work around Synergistic Design mirrors Berners-Lee’s conclusion. Technology, practice and business can not operate in isolation. They depend on and influence each other. And using a creative yet methodical research and design approach is the only way to uncover, and possibly predict, the true relationships that occur in our systems and organisations. And yes that research should very much include humans.
The slides from this talk are not on the www.w3.org site yet but I will update this page when they are.