At Web 2.0 expo, Tim O’Reilly made the inspirational speech. He was preaching to the faithful, but it was good to hear some optimism about the future of technology, and not just in entrepreneurs’ ability to get rich.
Quite simply, We’re making a change in the world, he said. And it’s true.
He had some heady comparisons: Web 2.0 is not just about participation. We are building a platform to make people smarter, he asserts. It’s akin to literacy or the formation of cities --a huge change in the way the world works. And, he adds: We have a long way to go and a lot to discover.
For those who think his rhetoric is a bit strong, I would add a comparison I’ve made before: The ancient Great Library of Alexandria. More than a repository of knowledge, it was a place for the great thinkers of the age, about 300 BCE to the year zero, to come and study, experiment, write and change the world.
Just as the need for organizing all the world’s information provided the impetus for new inventions – including the process of alphabetizing scrolls, the invention of the dictionary, the bibliography and the Greek grammer, which became the basis for the later invention of the Latin Grammar – the Internet necessitated the invention of the Google search engine.
And we all became smarter. The Library of Alexandria was created by the Ptolemy clan. Ptolemy I was a general of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt and much of the rest of the civilized world and then died, leaving the spoils to his general to divide up. So great works were translated into Greek, the works of the great Greek writers and philosophers were collected, the Greek language spread throughout Europe and the Middle East, and the Hellenic Age began. Its influence is with us today. A translation of the Torah into Greek is even believed to be the document that Jesus used to spread his religion to a mostly Greek speaking world.
The Ptolemys, like Alexander, were idealists. The intent was to spread knowledge and Greek culture, and it worked. Parts of Alexandria were open to the public, making it the first public library, as well as the greatest library the world saw until the spread of the internet.
O’Reilly made an interesting comparison that points to the benefits of idealism. He compared Google to a large bank. Both are massive data centers. But only Google gives you services against the data, including the data collected about you. The bank mines our data in the back office but keeps it to itself. O’Reilly expresses the hope that Enterprise 2.0 will be about companies letting users into their back office and turning companies inside out. Give us the chance to learn from our data.
And here I hope his enthusiasm is more than just the optimism of the faithful. The alternative, he says is to lead us back to the concentration of power we saw in the Microsoft Age. There is still the danger that will happen.
And, just my opinion, if it does, it will not be Google that does it. As much as the Technorati sometimes complains about Google, the company seems to have its head in the right place. There is no evidence that it has yet abused any of its power or access to massive information. Google is all about sharing. As long as it maintains its ideals, we’re in pretty good shape.