"Creation and consumption are the unique traits of humanity."
Two things have existed since the beginning of civilization, tools and art. Over thousands of years the capabilities of implements and the appearance of their creations have changed a great deal, but their innate qualities remain the same. This is because the essence of humanity has endured through the rise and fall of countless cultures. There are two things that separate us from other living beings, the desire to both create and to consume. Sometimes this drive has begun ill-fated quests for power, but ultimately it is the motivation behind all things that we find useful or enjoyable in life.
Our ancestors had nothing but crude hammers and chisels, and with those tools created ancient sculptures and murals. However many of these early expressions of humanity decayed over time, but several millennia ago a form of expression was discovered that knew no temporal or physical boundaries. This form was information. As languages and rulers shifted, etchings on rocks became ink marks on scrolls. But it wasn't until the twentieth century that the ability to create and understand information became integral to the majority of our population's survival.
In the recent years the social and technical landscape of our lives has begun to change rapidly. As our tools change, art changes. Connections between what we imagine and what we experience are being made, and our form of communication is also changing. Thus there are three main shifts that are occurring now. We may not perceive it as it happens. But art is changing, human interaction is changing, and our language is changing.
Past generations are quick to remember days when art was paint on a canvas, and literature was words in a book. These things inspired and entertained many, but only a few became skilled enough to produce it. Essentially art is an experience, visually it is an image, audibly it is music, and mentally it is a description. But two things are changing about art. Instead of just experiencing it we are now living in it. Three-dimensional films transport us into a different world where art feels like reality, and video games cause art to respond to our own skills, choices, and desires. With the nature of art changing, the consumption and production of it is also changing. A few centuries ago only a few privileged people in a community could read and write. But in the last century most people in the developed world have acquired this ability. The same thing is happening with popular art. Once only a few had the skills to create it and the opportunity to distribute it. But now any given person can produce something that can be seen by millions of others through the internet. With each day it matters less and less who you are, but what you can do.
In ancient times a person could only interact with people whom they came in physical contact with. And usually people only were in contact with each other if they were part of the same geographical community. In time, forms of written communication were discovered, and people began to interact with each other over long distances. But this interaction was delayed and limited until modern innovation like the telegraph and telephone came along. However even with the propagation of instant long distance communication, communities still continued to be shaped by geography. But now tools are being created that not only allow long distance interaction, but encourage and immerse ourselves in it. And with the advances in mobile devices and computers, the definition of community is changing. A community is a circle of communication, and now that our communication is independent of geography, our communities are too. Now that people are not restricted by geography, interaction has become less hostile, and productivity has increased due to more efficient co-operation of teams. Just as it no longer matters who you are, it does not matter where you live.
The New Language
From the beginning of history, language has changed. Conquerors would impose their tongue upon occupied nations and create new mixes of words and manners of speech. But as more people learned how to read and write, the evolution of language has been ground to a halt. Speakers of English would have no problem communicating with their ancestors from centuries ago, and our descendants will continue to speak the same tongue. But just because letters and pronunciations are not as volatile as they once were, language is still changing, not in the essence of communication but in its form. The new language is not one spoken face to face, but one spoken through technological connections. We still use our voice in everyday lives, and in phone and video conference conversations, but we also communicate through texting, instant messaging, and emailing. To provide an example of how our language is changing, it would not be our grammar or vocabulary that would prohibit us from communicating with our descendants, but our ability to use technology to convey our thoughts.
Ultimately with changes in art, interaction, and language, we are coming closer together, not in a crowded or compressed way, but in a way that provides us a greater opportunity to be happy and productive. Anyone can produce art for others to enjoy, and we can enjoy their creations in more immersive and interactive ways. The perimeters of communities are being broadened, as we now can communicate with not only our neighbors but people who share our passions. And our language is changing from a tongue spoken face to face to a collection of words and symbols that are transmitted electronically.
Upon understanding these things, I have discovered many truths about our changing world, but also have formulated technological concepts that can work in harmony with new art forms and tools. I will first discuss the truths I believe, then the nature and possible improvement on tools that exist, and finally how these tools can be used for the distribution of art and information.
Four Truths About Technology
"The internet is no longer trapped inside computers"
It was only a couple decades ago when the internet was but a crude conglomeration of computers in universities and government offices. Eventually the web spread to the common population as personal desktop computers were proliferated. Until recently the internet existed solely on our desktop and laptop screens, but now that is changing. With each day that passes a larger percentage of daily internet access is occurring by devices such as tablets, smart phones, televisions, and even automobiles. The web no longer just connects desktops, but most modern technological devices. Because of this information is flowing more freely than ever, as the communicative tools such as social media and email, and the informational resources like search engines and wiki encyclopedias, can be accessed at anytime from anywhere. Metaphorically, the internet is like electricity. A hundred years ago electrical power was confined to buildings and sockets, but now with batteries, we can carry electric devices wherever we go. Similarly the internet is no longer confined to bulky computers, as it has become the oxygen of information.
"The internet is not anti-social"
In past decades the internet was widely considered an escape from social life. Aside from email and occasional forums, most interaction was done anonymously with automated feedback. But in the mid-2000s, this fact began to change. Leading developers such as Facebook's creator, Mark Zuckerberg believed that people were only drawn to the social abyss of the internet because they did not feel sufficiently connected with their peers. Subsequently with the objective of not isolating, but connecting people socially, social media started to gain major popularity. Today through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the internet has become entrenched in our social lives. No longer a "second reality", vast portions of the web are devoted to organizing and enhancing the reality of everyday living. Even though there remains powerful virtual capabilities in technology, modern devices exhibit a duality that mirrors our very minds, a mixture of fantasy and reality.
"Facebook is not a fad"
It is widely held that the web's top social network will bow down to a more innovative successor in a similar fashion that myspace.com gave way to facebook.com. However I am not convinced that this will be happening anytime soon. The reason why is that Facebook has different objectives than most social networks. It looks not to pull other websites into it, but to reach out and become part of the greater web. This strategy was illustrated recently with the unveiling of offsite "like buttons" and comment boxes. These two technologies have been tested and refined extensively through social interaction on their site, and now are ready to connect the internet together into one giant site. The "like" and "recommend" buttons allow the constant sharing of content between Facebook users, and most likely are collecting a great deal of data that Facebook can use for targeted advertising. But it is the simplified comment boxes that will not only increase users activity but cause a Facebook account to be come a "driver's licence" of sorts on the web. In a few years I foresee most sites having a log-in and comment via Facebook account feature.
"The internet will be ruled by the masses"
Only several years ago the majority of software and web-based programs were created by large companies. These companies invested in new technologies and then tried to protect the ownership of their creations with closed-source codes and other restrictions and altering and distributing their digital products. Corporate computer giants such as Microsoft and Apple have tried to treat the internet like a physical object, drawing a thick like between creator, and consumer, by allowing only several controlled ways of mass-driven production. However companies like Google and a large amount of non-profit web organizations such as Wikipedia, are enacting the opposite approach. These groups encourage and many times rely on the involvement of their user base in the production process. And unlike imperialistic corporations, it is open-source and unrestricted groups that are growing at the highest rate on the internet. If Facebook has one weakness, it is here. The social network tends to act more like Microsoft, than Google. Therefore the creation of a successful open-sourced and user created social site could pose an eventual threat to Facebook.
Therefore, ultimately, the internet is no longer confined to computers, as it now can be accessed through televisions and mobile devices. It is not a secondary, virtual reality like it once was, but now a growing part of our social lives. Social media sites like Facebook are starting to not only to combine these realities, but are bringing the entire internet closer together. But eventually all imperialistic sites will fall and give way to ones controlled by the users. Thus, as the capabilities of the individual to alter the course of the internet have never been higher, it is time to propose a basis for a new social network, one that accounts for all of these trends.
Tools of the Next Generation: The Ultimate Social Network
"Control relies on confusion; freedom on communication."
The term "social" refers to the interaction of organisms, and in context to the internet, it encompasses the transfer of thoughts and digital objects through websites. Currently top social sites include Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. However all of these sites have their own sets of advantages and drawbacks. Additionally there is a disconnect between the worlds of social media, productivity, file sharing, and email communication. Thus it is possible to improve upon these sites greatly. The perfect social network would include the conciseness of Twitter, the customize-ability of Myspace, the fluidity of Facebook, the openness of Wikipedia, and the productivity tools and sharing capabilities of Google. Another powerful web tool that is not yet completely in sync with social media is the search engine. If social and analytical data were to be combines, the effectiveness of search engines would greatly increase. But before putting all of these elements together, I would like to overview two important lists that are related to social media, data forms, and data states.
There are five forms of data on the internet; they are text, images, audio, video, and interactive data. Text is the simplest form of digital information. Initially the first websites only contained text. The succeeder of the book and the letter, text conveys thoughts. It can be used for anything from brief conversations and comments to lengthy articles and works of fiction. Additionally strings of text called hyperlinks can be used to transport a web user from one site or page to another.
The second form of data in terms of simplicity and proliferation is the image. Over the last decade images have begun to take the place of text as the dominate data from on the web. An image is anything that you see. Usually images are static and do not move or change. The two most popular uses of images are digital photographs and web graphics, the latter of which can include site decoration, backgrounds, and buttons that act as hyperlinks.
Another form of data on the internet is audio. However unlike text and images, audio usually has to be specifically retrieved by the user. Sometimes sites will have controllable button-click sounds and background music, but usually audio files are either downloaded or streamed. The of the more popular uses of audio on the web are music files and podcasts, which are like on demand radio programs.
The next data form is one that is rapidly expanding on the internet today, video. Video sharing sites like Youtube host millions of videos uploaded by both large corporations and individuals. Social sites like Facebook and Myspace allow their users to upload video as well, programs like Skype use the internet to enable users to video chat with each other, and sites like Netflix are breaking ground in the television and film streaming industry. Recently many video sharing sites like Megavideo have also popped up across the web. Unlike the first three data forms, the way video integrates into the internet is constantly changing, as the latest technology are making it easier to view videos on our computers and even mobile devices.
The final data form is one that can include the previous four types. Interactive data includes internet games, web applications, and flash player elements. Initially most programs were stored and run on computers. Eventually programs like iTunes came along that used the internet to function. But now interactive data and web programs are showing up allover the internet as programing capabilities increase. Social media has integrated with web applications to an extent. Facebook social games like Farmville are examples of this. Other leading programs on the internet include the Picasa image editor and Google documents. In the future programs like these will become more dynamic as the internet becomes our primary productivity tool.
In addition to five forms, data has four major states. These are instant, transferred, broadcast, and archives data. Instant data can be equated to people exchanging thoughts and objects in the same room. Text in instant form includes instant messaging and live chat rooms. Instant images, audio, and video can include streaming video and music, and online video and voice calls. By its nature, interactive data like web applications can be considered innately instant. Be cause it required rapid and flawless nature, instant data is a young frontier on the internet, and is continuing to develop to its full potential. Skype, Facebook Chat, and simultaneous editing on Google Documents are examples of early achievements in instant data.
The second state is transfered data. Like instant data, it is sent form one party to another, but unlike in instant communication, it is build on a delayed and organizable structure. Practically any type of data can be transferred directly through email and indirectly through file sharing sites. However there tends to be a marked disconnect between instant and transfered data. But in time, sites will develop the ability to blur the lines, as any type of data becomes instantly transferable and the delayed transfer of data becomes instant.
The next state of data is one that is rapidly growing. Unlike instant and transfered data that is equally shared by individuals, broadcast data is that which is transmitted by a single source and received by multiple sources. Early forms of this include mass emails and RSS feeds. Recently social sites like Facebook have broken ground in the area of broadcast data with news feeds. Now organizations can get the word out quickly and easily to their subscribers through Facebook and Twitter. Rapidly, broadcast data is becoming the "mailbox" of the future.
The final state is archived data, which describes motionless information stored somewhere waiting to be retrieved. Perhaps this is the oldest state of data, as it includes internet articles, databases, and libraries of various data forms. Examples of archived text libraries are encyclopedias like Wikipedia. Images are stored on sites like Flickr and Photobucket, and videos on Youtube and Megavideo. Many times digital data starts its journey as archived data uploaded by a web user before being broadcast to subscribers and then eventually transfered from person to person through instant and delayed messages.
Thus the ultimate social network must account for the instant, transferred, broadcast, and archived states of all data forms which include text, images, audio, video, and interactive data. These tools of the next generation must be strategically integrated in a fluid, simple, and yet powerful fashion. In this theoretical socially compatible crossroads of data, both the ease of transferring data and of sorting it are paramount. It must contain a simple and flexible framework that can adapt to suit the users' needs and changing technology.
Concept: The Framework
There are several unique elements that must exist in the framework of the ultimate social network. They include a powerful messaging service that supports both the instant and delayed transfer of multiple forms of data, a highly organizable feed that displays broadcast data, a dynamic archival feature that also integrates transfer of data amongst a fixed community, a suite of productivity applications that can be used to create content, and space for advertising that can fund the site. Although difficult to program and test, groundwork cannot be initiated on this project until there is a great deal of conceptualization. And that is one of the main intents of these words.
Concept: The Communication Portal
The main driving force behind social media is communication. Thus the ultimate social network must have an innovative communication portal that supports multiple data forms. There are three concepts that this portal will be based on. The first is the concept of email compatibility. Currently most social sites are separate from email accounts, they have their own messaging services that cannot interact with other email sites. This is an area were the ultimate social network can improve upon the current standards.
The second concept is that of the internet clipboard. There are two ways to transfer files on the web, one can send a link to where the file is stored, or can download it and than re-upload it. A site-wide clipboard would hybrid the two. As an example, if two people on a site like Facebook have the same photo on each of their profiles, they are two separate files on the web, and if one user wants to message the photo to a friend, they have to create a third file be re-uploading it. Currently all of the work is done on the user's computer. But if users of the ultimate social network had the ability to transfer files across the site without changing the location of the file, it would make the process faster and more efficient. With a web clipboard users could "copy" a file like an image of video and "paste" them wherever they wanted, into instant messages, or other user's profiles.
The third and final communication portal concept is the merger of instant and delayed messaging. This would allow users to have the same information transfer capabilities regardless if the person they are interacting with is online. Features of this merged service would include quick transfer of images through the clipboard and support for webcams. In its entirety the communication portal would serve as an instant messenger, email account, and video and voice chat program. The ability to send text messages to cell phones would also enhance the use of the portal.
Concept: The Information Feed
Sites like Twitter and Facebook have made a great deal of headway in this area. The modern news feed consists of updates from both "friends" and subscribed "pages". However sometimes it can be difficult to organize this information. Things that would increase the effectiveness of the information feed would be the ability to merge with RSS feeds, simpler customize-ability, and controllable spam filters. The main addition to the feed in the ultimate social network would be the ability to "copy" elements from it onto the web clipboard.
Concept: Subordinate Sites
All social networks include subordinate sites to some extent. Facebook profiles, pages, and groups are all examples of this. The ultimate social network would combine all of these templates into one highly customizable subordinate site. Users would get their own individual site and then have the ability to create further sites for organizations and communities. These sites would include instant message portals similar to live chat rooms, feeds similar to Facebook "walls", and organizable archives for content like articles, images, and videos. Later in this post I will discuss an example of one of these sites.
Concept: Productivity Applications
Social sites like Facebook are just starting to experiment with web based applications. But they are not nearly as powerful as they could be. The ultimate social network would include web programs like image and text editors, file converters, spreadsheet and presentation creators, and site template designers. These applications could be enhanced through file storage and the web clipboard. It would be possible to see an image in a feed, copy it, paste it into an editor, alter it, then send it to another user in an instant message portal. It would also be possible for multiple users to edit the same file together at the same time. That way there would be limitless project co-operation capabilities.
In summary, there are five forms of data, text, images, audio, video, and interactive, and there are four states of data, instant, transferred, broadcast, and archived. The ultimate social network would allow all five forms of data to exist in all four states, with the lines between instant and delayed transfer being blurred. The main elements in the framework of the social site would be an innovative messaging portal, a web clipboard, an organizable feed, and customizable subordinate sites. Ultimately this network would mimic all the capabilities of the internet and connect to anything that it doesn't consume. The online file hosting and operations would further the development of the "cloud" concept, as the importance of hard-drives begins to diminish, and the entire virtual experience is confined to a web browser. Finally the ultimate social network would be highly compatible with mobile devices as it will always exist at its users' fingertips.
Art of the Next Generation: The Ultimate Star Wars Website
"The ability to create is more powerful than the ability to consume."
Now that the tools have been created for the ultimate social network, there remains one thing to discuss. And that thing is art. People use tools to express themselves though various forms of art. Communication is an important driving force behind the social network concept, but the desire to create new data is more powerful than the desire to transfer old data. Most popular websites give users a fair amount of flexibility to communicate, but not many give them opportunity to not only create things, but give them a forum to share their creations easily. The final piece that the ultimate social network needs, is passionate users. And in my opinion there aren't many web writers, artists, and musicians more passionate than fans of the Star Wars franchise. Thus the ultimate social networks potential to host the most inclusive and productive fan community on the internet will demonstrate it's flexibility. The following is an outline for a Star Wars fansite within the ultimate social network.
This section would be the landing zone for newcomers to the sight and would serve as a general info section. It would include information about the mission of the site, an outline of the various sections, news about the site, a feedback section, and links to other relevant sites on the subject.
News and Archives Sections
The news section is integral to the success of the site. It needs to be relevant, accessible, and organizable. The news feeds will be broken down into various sections, so that subscribers to the site can view and subscribe to individual feeds that interest them. These would include newsfeeds about articles, audio, books, collecting, comics, gaming, movies, pop-culture, television, media, music, photos, podcasts, videos, wallpaper, etc.
The process that these news items will go through is the following. An administer of the page will create an item and then will publish it to the relevant feeds. Visitors of the site will be able to navigate to these feeds and also subscribe to them to see the items in their personal feed. The news items will also go into an archive section that is organizable by both subject and time. Pages can also be created exclusively for the archive section.
The community aspect of the site is very important, as it is the nerve center of communication. Firstly all items in the newsfeeds and archives should have comment threads attached to them. There should be the option to both view all comments, comments by connected users, or comments by local users. There should also be a section for live chat rooms, for discussion boards, and for forums. The chat rooms should be portable so a user can continue to chat while navigating to different pages.
The last aspect of the ultimate Star Wars website inside the ultimate social network is the heart and soul of the project, the creativity of humanity. This is were the art lies that will be created with the tools discussed in this work. In the Fancenter, users will be able to share their own creations with others passionate about Star Wars. These creations include original works and user submitted content in the fields of art, audio, collecting, comics, fanfiction, gaming, music, news, photos, podcasts, pop-culture, reviews, fansites, videos, and wallpaper. Here fans will be able to upload their own content for the entire community to enjoy and give feedback on.
The ultimate Star Wars website will include newsfeeds, archives, a community application, and a fan section. Once the ultimate social network is created, this flagship page will bring a large number of diligent and productive users to the site through their collective passion for the galaxy far, far away.
In conclusion it is my belief that supporters of user-centric social media and fan-centric Star Wars communities have the power to reach for the stars and create a website that suits their needs as human beings. With the emergence of new technologies we have the tools to do this, and I most definitely know that Star Wars fans have the passion and creativity to do this. Therefore I will sum up all of my opinions and research on the subject by introducing the concept of Spacebook.com, the ultimate website for fan driven social media. And I invite anyone interested in the concept to join the movement that is Project Spacebook.
The project is being organized by the Star Wars Community (SWC), a group seeking to unite Star Wars and other fantasy and sci-fi genre websites through social media. I currently serve as the Director of the SWC and would love to see this project move forward. If you wish to contribute to Project Spacebook, please like the SWC's Facebook page below for information on how you can help and updates about our progress.