Everything you ever need to know about the internet

John NaughtonJohn Naughton is consistently one of the – if not the – best writers we have about technology. His A Brief History Of The Future is a simply fantastic introduction to the internet: why and how it came about, from Vannevar Bush‘s vision of the Memex through Douglas Englebart‘s ‘Mother of all demos‘ to Arpanet and Tim Berners-Lee‘s use of HTTP and HTML to form the world wide web. It was the first book I thought to lend Breda when she joined my little team at Learning Pool.

His blog and Observer column are well worth regularly checking too. Occasionally I am lucky enough to meet up with John, along with that other titan of technology, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, for lunch in Cambridge. It’s difficult not to feel utterly fraudulent during these conversations, but I do my best.

John’s name has been punted all round Twitter during the last couple of days thanks to a feature article that appeared in the Observer on Sunday, called Everything you ever need to know about the internet. It’s a great context-setting piece, reminding us all how new this stuff is – and yet, at the same time, that many of the issues involved are as old as time.

This ties in with some of what I have been thinking and writing recently about people’s attitudes to the internet – such as the fact that it shouldn’t be viewed as just another channel, and that it is a profoundly creative space. I suspect a lot of this comes down to a lack of real understanding of what the net is about.

So, go read the article. Then print it out and put it in your boss’s in-tray. The world will be a better place.

Internet megalomania

John Naughton is spot on about the recent Facebook announcements in his Observer column:

What’s comical about this stuff is not so much its implicit arrogance – the assumption that we all want to share using Facebook – as its historical naivety. The history of the web is littered with the whitened bones of enterprises that once dreamed of total control. So until the cure for megalomania is invented, the only known antidote is a mantra. Repeat after me: the net is bigger than any single enterprise. And nobody owns it.

Well worth reading in full.

Cultural agoraphobia

John Naughton’s Observer piece this morning is a good one:

The cultural agoraphobia from which most of us suffer leads us always to overemphasise the downsides of openness and lack of central control, and to overvalue the virtues of order and authority. And that is what is rendering us incapable of harnessing the potential benefits of networked technology. Industries and governments are wasting incalculable amounts of money and energy in Canute-like resistance to the oncoming wave when what they should be doing is figuring out ways to ride it.

Well worth checking out in full.

Rewriting the rules

John Naughton‘s Observer column on ten years of blogging is a delightful read:

This openness to immediate criticism and/or rebuttal is another revolutionary aspect of blogging. What we are seeing, wrote Clay Shirky some years ago (available online at http://bit.ly/fkxik), is nothing less than the ‘mass amateurisation of publishing’. What’s happening is a radical shift from the old ecosystem in which publications (newspapers, magazines and books) are filtered and edited before being published, into a world in which anything can be (and is) published.

All that remains is for English departments in universities to start studying blogging styles, for example the way in which accomplished online writers use hyperlinks. If you read the work of established bloggers or contributors to slick online publications such as Salon or Slate what you see is a move from having hyperlinks clumsily embedded in a document to the use of links to provide an ironic counterpoint to the main line of the piece. It’s all very, er, postmodern. But what do you expect? It is 2008.

John Naughton on Flickr

From his column in Sunday’s Observer:

Flickr’s designers also displayed a shrewd grasp of the essence of Web 2.0 thinking – namely that the big rewards come from making it easy for other developers to hook into your stuff. So they were quick to publish the application programming interface (API), the technical details other programmers needed to link into Flickr’s databases. This then made it easy for bloggers and users of social networking sites to create links to their Flickr ‘photostreams’. The results are clear for all to see. On 12 November last year, Flickr images passed the 2 billion mark. At present, between three and five million photographs are uploaded to the service every day…