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"There will be no web 3.0 after the web 2.0", explain Francis Pisani and Dominique Piotet in the second edition of their book, "Comment le Web change le monde?" (how is the Web changing the world?). Both authors, an analyst in Silicon Valley and an independent journalist based for a long time in California, favour the term "Web Métis" (Hybrid Web), a combination of technologies and new uses. On the occasion of the conference "Du web 2.0 au web métis" (from the web 2.0 to the hybrid web - held on Friday September, 9 at La Cantine), Francis Pisani opens up a window on tomorrow’s web.
What do you mean by “hybrid web”?
I am going to respond in a convoluted manner. I am currently writing a short article entitled La mort existe-t-elle vrai-ment? (does death really exist?) To sum up, last August was marked by the announcement of the end of the PC era, with two symbolic elements and a very tangible one. First, one of the major players in personal computer, Steve Jobs [died]. Then, on the 30th anniversary of the first IBM PC, one of the co-founders, Mark Dean, published an article in which he explained things would now move on. Finally, HP, the world leader in PC production, wants to separate from its computers production unit. In fact, I consider that it is not really relevant to speak of the death of something. I am thinking of finishing this article by taking the book as an example. Here too, the shape has changed, but we read more and more. In a nutshell, forms disappear and things are transformed. All things have a hybrid reality. The former tendency was clear-cut, it was one thing or another, whilst philosophy has demonstrated the opposite for a long time. Instead of giving a defini-tion of hybridising, I prefer to explain that it is a way of dealing with information and communication technologies.
To define the "Web Métis", you evoke a future of information technologies marked by hyper-connectivity, mobility and the prevalence of social networks.
Social networks are a good example of this hybrid web. These are human networks, which nevertheless involve technology. Our approach is to say: you can no longer speak of two worlds, but rather of two layers of a same world. In social networks, there is this "social relationship" dimension, which may pre-exist technology or survive without it, but also a certain type of relationship which is stimulated by technology. Any thorough study of the Arab Spring, for instance, is bound to demonstrate this kind of things. Some interactions already existed, others have been facilitated by technology. But technology did not do the revolution per se. It is obviously stupid to talk of a Facebook, Twitter (or the likes) revolution. Therefore, this is one of the examples of the hybrid web.
Today, there is in a real awareness of the weight of new information and communi-cation technologies. But this recognition is reflected in a paradoxical manner: on the one hand governments welcome the role played by Internet and social networks in the Arab Spring, on the other hand, they seek more control over this new area of freedom which worries them…
Governments realized it was something which occurred beyond them. In this desire to control, everyone is in the same basket, from China to James Cameron and Iran via Nicolas Sarkozy. Nevertheless, this space is neither good nor bad, nor neutral, to use a wellknown formula. The Internet has become a new fighting arena.
Today, I am not able to say who will win, but our responsibilities as citizens rests on it. It is important to educate people, to initiate a public debate. At the e-G8, Internet was represented by governments, Hollywood and the Silicon Valley. The rulers are to be blamed for not including members of the civil society in these debates. Today, our duty as citizens is to fight for this very aspect. And this is where I reassess the importance of education: We must educate. Dominique Piotet and I belong to those who think we are going through a rupture phase. The technology does not guarantee paradise for us. But, the mere existence of such a failure creates spaces in which we can act to initiate social changes we view as positive. You can once more take the examples of Tunisia and Egypt. I would however like to make a remark on the subject: the Arab Spring showed us that new technologies could play a role in a revolution, but not that they could be used to take the power yet.
According to you, what are the techno-logical and social spheres in which the transforming elements of the future will rise? Also, will they come from the United States, Europe or somewhere else?
To create large companies, you need a big market and a great deal of engi¬neers. These are two characteristics found in China and India. Companies are very likely to emerge from these two countries. There is a whole theory stating that these companies will first copy the intellectual property system of American companies, to strengthen their local markets by limiting foreign companies’ possible action, in order to start acting on other markets as soon as they reach hundreds of millions of users. However, I would like to add that inno¬vations can come from anywhere else. There are two great examples:
Ushahidi [a website created to collect the evi-dence of violence after the crisis in Kenya in 2007, following the presiden¬tial election, Editor's note] and M-Pesa [the mobile banking service, originat¬ing in Kenya, Editor's note]. When new technologies reach the final third of humanity, they adjust, innovate and progress. At the end of our book, we are talking about fundamental data including hyper-connectivity, the data tsunami, permanent connection, mobility, geo-tracking, databases, cloud computing etc. These are the variables that will contribute to define what we call the hybrid web. According to Nova Spi¬vack, the long cycles of information technology last for 10 years. This is quite a caricature, but why not? The web1.0 was born in 1993, the web 2.0 in 2004-2005. Following this logic, we're only halfway through the current cycle. I don’t believe in long¬term futurology. I think we can try to work over a 2 to 3 years span. This is the time needed for a technology to appear, give rise to the creation of one or several companies and finally take off.
In July, you published on your blog a post entitled "La Silicon Valley est-elle en danger?" (is the Silicon Valley endangered?). Are we witnessing a form of decentralization of innovation?
I find it interesting to question the con¬cept of innovation. If you regard an innovation as purely technological and meant to be brought on the market, you always end up thinking that the Silicon Valley is the world leader in this respect. But I think this concept ought to be expanded. This is the concept of “framing”, i.e. the way in which the problem is being addressed restricts the discussion. When talking about inno¬vation, we “frame” the discussion, in a Silicon Valley sense. We must be inter¬ested in other things, which, in my opinion, could range from creativity and innovation to social change. At this stage, the whole approach of soci¬etal developments is very interesting. I think the shift is happening right now. In five years time, it will become obvious. I am about to embark on a world tour focused on new technologies, begin¬ning on September 13 in Mexico City and during which I will be visiting 30 cities around the world. The aim is to go and look at what is happening in the rest of the world, without the Silicon Valley “lens”, looking though the sole lenses of creativity and social change. Thomas Friedman coined the phrase The world is flat, according to which everyone is on the same level, everyone is connected and therefore technologies eradicate differences. I’m exaggerating a little, but not so much after all. The question Dominique and I are asking is precisely this: Are communication tech¬nologies truly eradicating differences? To answer this, we must go and see.
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #8.
Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.
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Interesting post, and I have ca. 3 comments.
One, I read a latent assumption or judgment about Silicon Valley somehow not being about social change when it innovates. I consider this incorrect. I'm closely connected to some of the most exciting people and startups in SV and many of them have strong components and/or potential for social benefit. Even Singularity University which is at the very high end of technologically driven innovation frames in the main produces projects that have a sustainability component or goal.
Second, your plans on a global "social change" tour are fascinating and timely. It is well known and acknowledged - including in Silicon Valley - that there are other innovation hubs blossoming outside of it, with Brazil being a place mentioned with increased frequenccy.
And third, I do not subscribe to Friedman's view of a latterly flattened world. In truth, there are certain characteristics, both human and geographical, that select for innovation. It may pain us to say it, but not everyone and not everywhere is equally equipped and talented for innovation. The rest of us can learn much and be inspired and enabled by those who are ... if we actually allow them to stand out and lead the way. So what I am saying is that by framing it in the Friedmanian pronouncement we set ourselves up, at best for mediocracy and at worst, for failure.
Responding comments welcome.
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