Enter the Hive-Mind
I’ve been on the internet for, if I calculate correctly, since 1989. That’s 23 years or so. I first started using Compuserve in high school and then got my first internet account at college. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Very early on I discovered that there is a tremendous amount of information available out there. Data, knowledge, information, brain food. And that if you looked carefully enough and were clever enough, you could usually find the information you were looking for. Later, as the world wide web exploded into being, new companies were formed that helped us find that information better. Google (which changed searching entirely), Yahoo (remember when they used have a directory of all the websites and it was impossible to get yours listed?), WebMD (good, basic info if you can tolerate all of the promotional stuff), government, blogs, and so on. It’s all there. A clever search and sifting through a page or two of results and you could find the answer to any question. Even “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth“.
Ok, I’m kidding about the lemmings, but I have yet to encounter a common question that does not have an answer somewhere on the internet. It has become part of some people’s daily process, including mine, that googling for answers to programming questions is almost all I do. It’s part of the learning experience for the language and tools that I use, but it’s still a fact. We (as developers) rely so heavily on everything to reuse tricks and techniques that others have done before us. I don’t think it stems from simple laziness. (and you still need to understand the answer you get to effectively use it.)
Shifting gears: First Gear
I work with Linked Open Data. It’s pretty cool stuff if you haven’t seen it before. A simple concept proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who essentially invented the web, to link data elements together in a way that allows them to be more easily searched by computer. It allows us to structure data in a way that can be more easily understood by computers, and therefore offer us answers to “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth”. This leads us to something that is being termed “The Semantic Web” or even Web 3.0. The Linked Data that makes up this semantic web allows for something called “Semantic Search” that better understands the intent of the user’s query. Thereby producing better results.
Shifting Gears: Second Gear
I’m also a fan of Twitter and the now-ness of what goes on there. There’s a half-joke that I’ve encountered that twitter people are referred to as the Hive-Mind: a collective intelligence, so to speak, of your followed to which you can pose a question and often get back a pretty good answer in a short period of time. It sounds funny, and oddly ominous like the Star Trek Borg, but it works. Well, except the time I asked this question recently:
I think it was too advanced of a question for Twitter. :) I didn’t get any good responses.
Shifting Gears: Overdrive
My point in all this is that I see us slowly headed towards something that we only see in science fiction books. A place where all knowledge is stored and is readily accessible to all humans at any time with almost instantaneous response. More correct and reliable information bubbles to the top and false and misleading information is naturally suppressed by the very people who use it. Is it a Technological Singularity where we will be unable to survive without it? I don’t know. But I do know that we are seeing the early stages of something that is slowly and inexorably changing the world.