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Would you trust a teenager with your economic future?

August 7, 2006

Any parent will tell you that 15 is not a good age. You have to go back to photographs to remember the charming polite and deferential child. DNA tests are needed to establish if the raging monster (whose vocabulary is limited to it’s not fair) is in any way related.

Well something else hit 15 yesterday. On the 6th August 1991 Tim Berners-Lee put hypertext together with the internet and announced it on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. The web was born.

Within two years, thanks to CERN it became open to anyone. Amazon was launched in 1995, 1998 Google and the first blog starts. 2001 the Wikkipedia is launched and as of August there are 92,615,362 web sites on line. All these facts courtesy of an excellent little timeline provided by the BBC. Mind you I remember most of them. I also recall writing my first ever program using the first release of DBII on a Commodore Pet and being the hero of the HR department for calculating the pension statements in one day (moving multiple 5¼ floppy discs in and out of the B drive). On the strength of that I was put in charge of IT for the company and made my first fateful prediction that word processing would never replace electronic typewriters now they had memories. Well we all make mistakes!

15 years is not a long time and there is a lot of dependency. This week I have bought books, arranged tickets for my children to join me (14 & 17 by the way so one to come and one just about past the monster stage) for short periods. I have used the Wikkipedia and both discovered what I needed and got very angry at someone taking over the definition of a subject because they are prepared to put in time. We used to call this entryism in the 70’s and it was used by Trotskyites to infiltrate the Labour Party by simply putting in the time and energy that people doing the jobs in society could not afford. I have deleted multiple spam emails and some postings to this site. I have admonished my son for spending too much time in a darkened room playing games on his computer; but I spent the whole weekend crouched over the keyboard of my beloved PowerBook. The web is now a part of my life and a part of the frustrations of living.

However three things keep me awake at night (in respect of the web) and it would be interesting to see what people think. They form the Three “T”s of Tipping Point, Trust and Truth

Tipping Point: can the web continue to scale? No human system has before, what is different this time? Will it reach the point where there are two many web sites, two many google hits and we go back to asking a person who knows?

Trust: what if the level of identity theft and internet fraud moves beyond a threshold level of public perception to the point where we get a mass refusal to trade? Think of what happened with runs on the banks in the 19th Century. We know that a lot of fraud is not published. What if we get massive cyber attacks as part of a co-ordinated terrorist strategy that target a break in trust. Trust is hard won and easily lost.

Truth, are we moving form the wisdom of crowds to the tyranny of the masses? I got invited to a Wikki raid the other day. The idea was that a gang of us would hit a definition on the Wikkipedia to ensure that a “correct” view was represented. I refused, partly because mass validation of truth has a poor record in human systems.

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