David Weinberger: the network of everything

Liveblog of David Weinberger's talk on networked knowledge and why the internet is toppling traditional institutions

The internet is ours, whatever companies think. A lot of our markers are going away – newspapers, books, libraries… Public libraries mark a town’s commitment to knowledge – and they may go away, through a  tiny bot of technology called the hyperlink. The institutions shattered.

He can’t tell us how this happened, but he does want to take us on a path through knowledge. We have around 2kg of brain – and we want to know everything. This is not a conceivable project for that lump of matter. So we shrink things. We invented experts, who know a lot of things about a small area. We get a certified answer from them, and we can stop asking the question.

Books are stopping points. the finish. If you question, you go to the footnote, and then stop. It’s a disconnected system. Now we have a connected system. The smallest possible human movement – the tap needed to activate a link – replaces a trip to the library… Knowledge has become a network, rather than something discreet.

Once upon a time, knowledge had access limits. If your had questions about a pieces of research reported in the paper – tough. Now it’ll come with hyperlinks, taking you to the original paper, or other reporting, or a blog post about it. Scientific knowledge now happens in the web, in a network of papers, reports and blog posts.

Part of the value of the network is room for disagreements, a way of preserving them. The Encyclopaedia of Life doesn’t care what you call a species. Every one gets its own page. Peer review – the traditional mechanism for scientific publication – doesn’t scale. Knowledge floods the network. And the value in differences is preserved.

Software developers have built the fastest and most efficient learning mechanism in the world for themselves, on sites like Stackoverflow and GitHub. This environment of sites was built bottom-up. No-one directed it. It’s based on humility – asking – and generosity – sharing answers. And iteration, to make better answers. It’s public learning, as opposed to the old model of education by a professional jun private, before the educated one enters society and makes it better.

We no longer try to impose a single order on reality. We tag species with as many pieces of information as possible. We create playlists of music, putting single tracks in multiple places in a way albums never could.

When the library of congress opened up its collection to be tagged of Flickr, some people think the tags applied are wrong, random and unconnected. But the open up layers of meaning from different people that help people find related images in new ways.

If you think of the internet as a medium of distribution, you are 100% wrong. People are the medium of the internet, they are the ones who pass things along. The internet is infected with humanity.

Those old institutions crumbled because they weren’t human and they didn’t operate in human ways. The internet works on humanity, and that’s why it’s triumphing.