Thursday, September 3, 2009

How Itsy-Bitsy Did Your World Become This Year?

I’m not a sociologist, but if I were, I’m pretty sure the Internet would be my dream come true.

MIT has an amazing display at the MIT Museum called Metropath(ologies). Part of the display is the Personas,” a system that lets people see how the Internet sees them. When you enter your name in the designated slot, the program develops a multi-colored bar that displays your “aggregated online identity” in a bunch of areas (fame, management, education, movies, news, illegal (say what?), politics, religion, aggression, politics, media professional, medicine, musical, etc.

According to the write-up, Personas is fallible because it isn’t able to separate data from multiple owners of the same name. My color bar for Nancy Rathbun Scott is pretty simple (actually, it’s distressingly simple, but never mind that).

Nancy Scott, on the other hand is infinitely complex (probably because there are millions of Nancy Scotts, including somebody who was executed for murder).

I’m sure the MIT folks are aggregating all the profiles and – should they want to – will be able to take that data and find people with identical profiles (or any other data-mining mix and match that captures the fancy).

And then there’s Twitter! When I contemplate the sociological possibilities of Twitter, I get so worked up that I have to walk around the room. Actually, Twitter is The World of People and there has never been anything remotely like it. (No, Dorothy, Facebook doesn’t count because Facebook connections are predominantly defined and confined by the people we already know. That’s what Facebook was designed to be and that’s what it is.)

I don’t think the people who developed Twitter had -- or do have -- any idea what it would/will be when it's all grown up. Therein lies its magic. It's open-ended and dynamic. Which means that if I want to connect with people all over the world doing brain research, I can do that. Or, if I want to find the 150 people in the world most fascinating to me, I can do that (yes, it would take some time, but the possibility is there).

Where will projects like Personas and Twitter take us? Nobody knows. Never before in human history have people had the ability to connect so broadly and deeply, for so many reasons. Only SciFi can creatively contemplate the implications of our new itsy-bitsy world.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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