I fear the lateral web

Not too long ago, I re-organized the way that my feeds are linked, to try and make it easier to follow only the parts of my Internet life that one might choose to follow.

This is breaking apart.

Maybe it is because I've had too much coffee today and am unable to focus, but I am getting a healthy dose of THE FEAR from the expanse that is the Internet.

I know that no one cares how I organize my feeds, not really, anyway. They'll follow this particular feed, or not, depending on whatever.

But I have this sense of the Internet really going on forever, and not stopping. Like I'm trying to corral liquid mercury.

I've been experimenting with the Chrome browser extensions, and some of them are pretty cool. I've got my Calendar extension, and my Gmail extension, so my incoming messages and events are popping up with little iPhone-like badges. If I really wanted to get crazy, I could get a Google Voice account and the extension would let me call and send SMS right from my browser. All of this is pretty cool, previews of coming events for a Chrome OS, and a "app-less" computer browser set-up.

Then there are the other javascript goodies, like "email this page", "tweet this page", "search for maps based on addresses on this page" "wikipedia this", etc. All good, fairly functional stuff.

But then there is Sidewiki.

If you've never explored Sidewiki, it is a Google-powered Wiki for EVERY WEB SITE ON THE INTERNET. You open it up along side another page, and you can add editorial marginalia to any web site.

It is designed to be tour-guide notes, perhaps helpful comments. Most sites still have no Sidewiki entry, and those that exist are pretty sparse or obvious.

But I think you can see where this is going.

A lateral internet, comprised of "hidden" marginal notes. Fire up the Borges-Bot--it's time to compose some more conspiracy-inducing strands of the lateral web. Imagine a sprawling web site full of blank pages. With no text they remain largely un-indexed, and take nearly zero hosting space on their own. What function they do have, is to serve as anchors for long Sidewiki explorations. Un-themed, "private invite" chats take place. Links are shared. "Un-searchable" conversations take place, which are of course archived by Google, and used for unknown purposes. Romances and revolutions live and die without ever leaving the Sidewiki.

I had the same feeling about Buzz, to tell you the truth. I don't really use Buzz, but at the same time, I DO. You see, I use Google Reader's "Share" function, serving up shared items from my RSS feeds, and presenting them on a single page, with the ability to comment. But then, in commenting on other's shared items, and reading the comments, I noticed that some are coming from Buzz. You see, with Buzz, you can link in your Reader shared page, so any Shared item is automatically converted into a Buzz. One item is copied to another, making equivalent Internet posts in two different sourced feeds.

You can do the same thing with Twitter: my Twitter feed is copied to my Buzz feed. So, if the rare circumstance occurs where someone is only following me on Buzz and not on Twitter, they can still see all my 140 character wisdom.

But, on Buzz they can comment. So, there might, potentially, be a long conversation based around one of my tweets that no one following my Twitter feed would know about, unless they were also on Buzz. So this is not a simple copy of an item, but a generative spawning of the original item... or at least potentially, in that Buzz has the ability to comment.

Still with me?

All of this creates huge Boolean logic problems, if, like me, you are obsessed with having "one feed to rule them all". How do you funnel all the input formats upward, maintaining each in an OR connection, not missing anything, and not duplicating anything? Especially when each service has a different "favorite", "like", "comment", or "promote" feature? And where is all this data, anyway? Who controls my "liking" of something? We are meant to think it is tied to the original item. But it doesn't.

But where does "comment" exist, exactly, in the nebulous world of Internet services? It's not meta-data, at least not "meta" in relation to the "data" of the Internet. It's side-data, tuned by separate services, and presented along side the overall data of the Internet. Content itself, semiotic aporia that it is, is becoming de-contented by the exo-content. Where is the meta-content? HTML is becoming the meta-content, because rather than the strictly meaningful content, it is the only content universally accessible, by which exo-content is accessed and distributed.

The signified was considered to be the anchor of the signifier, as the real that informed the ideal. But now the signifier informs our understanding of the signified, because we can only interpret the real by deploying our ideal categories. But then next, in this imaginary timeline of logic, the signified exerts control again, by being the signifier for the signifier's signified categories; because only drawn in the material of the signified, can the signifier be extensible or sensible.

Example: we know what dust is (signified). We have an ideal picture of a dry, dirty cloud of particulate, settling on all surfaces (signifier). Because we have an ideal picture of dust (signifier), we are able to say, this is not dust (signified), it is sand. But then, when we reach forward to spell out the difference, we must feel the dust on the ground between our fingers, and compare it to sand, and if we did not have these (signified) we would have no concept of what we meant (signifier). The signified is the substance of signifier, and the signifier is the form of the signified. Then they "act as" the other. The signifier is the substance of the signified, and the signified is the form of the signifier. Not only is the duality between the two important, the position in the metaphysical grammar is important. Because they are different, and yet they flip flop. It's as if your right hand was only not your left because it could sometimes be your left, and by this, it was not always the left. You can only have a left and a right hand if you have both a left and a right hand. Otherwise, it's just a hand.

I know. But aren't you glad we are binary beings? Imagine if we had a third hand? (ps you do: your genitals. A subject for another post.)

Back to the internet: we used to have meta-data: data that told us how to organize our data. Now the data that tells us how to organize data is exo-data: it resides elsewhere, it is only laterally linked, it is sometimes it's own data, and some times the "original" data is the meta-data for the exo-data. In other words, a feature of the relationship between data and exo-data is that sometimes the exo-data is the data and the data is the exo-data. Imagine if "the internet went down", and someone stumbled upon the contents of the Sidewiki server. They would have all of this tangential data, and some understanding of the organization of what it was originally associated with, (it's pretty easy to figure out the relationship between data/group and data/group/subgroup) but some of it would have unknown referents, and some of it would stand on its own, or maybe it wouldn't, but how would you ever know? How can you tell if a comment is a response, or an essay on its own? How can you tell if a reference work is real or made-up, apt or extraneous, if you don't have access to it?

I think the period of time when we have "control of our data and history" will be relatively brief. We'll be back to the days where fires destroyed knowledge forever, where referenced works were unknown, and where knowledge lived and died with single people. Except it won't be fires, but support discontinuing, broken links, and un-archived sites. The amount of data necessary to track all the data is an exponential figure. Storage may be increasing exponentially, but it would have to increase at a rate equal to "amount of data" X "exo-data to make sense of the data". Can it do this? How do we even guess at what these values are? How to we measure the rate of change of these values?

(N+MindFuck)^X. And that's even without all the semiotics ramifications of the sheer fact that I'm trying to express this on a blog, right? WHERE IS THIS POSTING TO? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME? CAN EVERYONE HEAR ME?

But on a consumer level, how the hell is a "social network" supposed to develop across all these servers? The days of Facebook and AIM were pretty simple. You have a friend list, and you can talk to the people on your list. Now there's all this... crap.

Thinking about it this way: I didn't used to have any data backup at home. I had one computer. Then I got a partner. She had a computer. I got a USB hard drive, and started backing up both of our files. But with the extra space, we both ended up with more data than our computers' HDs hold combined. Then, I got a network storage server with more capacity, and do a double back-up, migrating files upwards from the computers to the USB drive, to the NAS. I'm lucky if I can remember the pattern of Boolean settings to make sure I am only over-writing data in the right direction, and still have everything backed up.

I used to really like keeping track of my mp3s meta-data with iTunes. Forget it. Now there's no way iTunes own library database can keep it all in line. I'm lucky if it can still find all of the mp3s, without making duplicate copies to local libraries all over the place.

But most consumers don't even back up their files. They fill a hard drive, and when it crashes, they abandon it. If they can pay someone to do archeology at that point, maybe they do. And then they start over again with a new drive. How are they supposed to navigate these interlocking "social networks", let alone understand the semiotic ramifications of meta-data cum exo-data?

Fuck, I can pontificate about semiotics, but I'm still not sure how to organize my feeds. Does the cloud make it simpler? More complicated? I just deleted my Facebook, because my interest stalled before I figured out all the new settings. Maybe I'll restart when Diaspora comes out. So what will be the lifetime of a social network "data object"? How long will each of us live on Facebook, before the connections become a burden, we pull the plug, and start new?

I fear the lateral web. But I love exo-data.

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