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4/9/00 the art of creation

Everyone is all hot-to-trot about how amazing the WWW is, how creative it allows you to be, how original everything is and the amazing outlet that it offers to everyone and everybody.

Well, you know what? It's not that great. The WWW is a publishing medium -- it's not interactive, it's not malleable or changeable. The Powers that Be try as they might to add on hacked patches to HTML and call them DHTML, XML, VRML, etc., in the hopes that they can give people the flexibility to be more creative.

What it ends up being is text on a page -- static & unchangeable. Sure, things can be updated regularly, but newspapers are updated daily, magazines are updated monthly, & the phone book is updated yearly. Items on the internet may be able to update more regularly, but it's still the same system.

User interaction is the difference. Go to any major website -- how much is created entirely by the users who frequent the site?

The answer is: none. The bigger the site, the more money that's riding on the site's existence, the less user-created content there is. Web indicies & search engines are an exception, but they are less content and more access-to-content. Visit Microsoft...anything created by non-microsofties? Next to none.

That's why epinions is such a big deal, and eBay, and why my receipt site has gotten such a positive response -- the creator has assembled a framework of useage, but the content itself is generated on-the-fly by the visitors of the site. Admittedly, my site isn't a shining image of what the internet should be, but it's a step in the right direction.

Consider this: my receipt site, which would be interesting if it were just 159 receipts, each with it's own page, in just the sheer magnitude of the strangeness. But, who would go through every receipt? Nobody. Maybe me, to make sure all the links worked. But nobody else. The actual content of the receipt site is entirely user created -- the text I've typed on the site could fit into a hundred kilobytes. The data from users is probably around a meg or so. The only reason to check out every receipt is to look at everyone's reaction to each individual receipt.

Consider this: there are sites online pretending to be "art". They aren't much more than an animated version of wall-art -- you click on some of the links, some things change, but it's always the same thing. Every visitor sees the same piece of art. The internet is designed to be interoperable; meaning, every computer on the internet has the capability of interacting with any other computer, changing, affecting, and influencing it's use. Files are transferred, users are logged in, mail is routed. The internet originally worked in multiple directons. HTML, however, is primarily the other end sending something to me, not the other way around.

Usenet was the original demonstration of complete interactivity. It's a framework of indexed public conversations, but the conversations are entirely user created. Some areas are moderated, some are designed to be counter-productive, some are completely off the wall. Even the various topic-lines are user created; who, in their right mind, would have created alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork , just so that other people can view its contents? It's a structure to be worked within, not a publication created by one user for viewing by millions of other users.

ICQ works along similar lines. So does IRC, and so do MUDs. These are all malleable structures, intended to be worked within, altered by users. The structure is self-replicating, down to the level of the individual user (and operable in multiple nested dimentions by usage of 'bots and multiple avatars, but that's getting complex). HTML, however, was designed to be used as a library. Not just a library, however, a cross-linkable library. User interaction was designed out. Scientific papers were not intended to be altered by the reader; neither are news articles, sociology treatises, or governmental documents.

It set up the internet to work well for the TV Generations (3 of them now?), who have been trained for years on how to be entertained by screen-sized bits of colorful information. Channel surfing developed the ability to absorb images rapidly while shifting between layers of data on the fly. The WWW proved to be a major draw. Everyone could find some form of information online to absorb and catalog in their minds. However, like television, there is nothing to DO. You act passively in the internet world, moving from one place to another place. The one extra step that can be taken is move from entertainee to entertainer, but creating your own website consists of creating new static data for the casual internet viewer to paruse during their online travels.

There probably isn't any turning back. If you dig through Usenet, you'll see the effects of the TV Generations on the threads. Every 5th post is an advertisment, many topics are destroyed by unrelated tangents, or posts made with the intent to screw with the system, make people angry, or to act counteractive to the openness of the system. IRC is best left to moderated and private chats, since the open chats are taken over by people who aren't interested in true interaction. These days, anything that's truly open requires a pretty strict moderator, or some other limiting structure to prevent what may be considered counteractive to the system. The user posts on my receipt site are pretty messy these days; early on, I chose to avoid censorship. I've gotten some negative responses about that stance, but some people I originally considered censoring turned out to be the more creative of the people. And, who am I to say what people are allowed to think, especially since I created a means for people to contribute their thoughts without restraint.

There needs to be more personal responsibility introduced into the internet culture before truly user-created content can take over. This Utopia is probably impossible. You can't trust people to put into something as much as they expect to get out of it. If they would do such a thing, you'd end up with a perpetual-motion society. Everyone would be happy, everyone would have their own place (since you could be trusted to create your own place, without restraint), and progress will be unimpeded. Linux is a demonstration of the ability to create something as a society, rather than as an individual. Unfortunately, the structure created and the operations within the structure are acted upon by the elite of the computer world. For the rest of us, we are doomed to destroy that which trusts us to keep it together.

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