(Note: Thanks to Gigaom for posting up an excerpted version of this post. I also wanted to share the longer version below for those interested.)
The shape of Web 3.0 has finally emerged in the realization of the Stream, something I and others have written about extensively.
Twitter and Facebook, among others, through their self-consumption and propagation, feed that spring and disseminate it in an immediate and constant flow of information.
This concept is not new to the Web, however. The Web has always been a stream; in fact, it has always existed as a stream of streams, even at its earliest stages of evolution as a set of individual sites developing new content (and new content sources) over time.
What has changed is the pace of content production and distribution, which has made the underlying web-stream more evident, and the need for a Scheduled Web more intense.
The seemingly inevitable result of the surfacing of the Stream is that users are thrust into the paralysis of what I’m calling Web Intention Deficit Disorder (WIDD).
Web Intention Deficit Disorder is pressing in its implications.
WIDD is the problem of getting people to not only focus their attention on a given issue, but focus their intention to act upon it as well.
Twitter’s crowning early moment last summer as the amplification platform of the Iranian protests to the rest of the world is an ideal example. Only in brief, isolated instances did “the whole world is watching” crescendo translate to any actionable difference to the reality of the situation.
This is, of course, an extreme example, but the idea that simply changing your Facebook or Twitter icon to a different color in solidarity is of little use or encouragement if no real world action results. And while the protests held our Twitter-trending attention for a comparatively impressive length of several weeks, it faded just as quickly when the next buzz topic emerged, be it Michael Jackson or the new Twilight film.
Distraction will be somewhat assuaged over the next year simply out of the necessity of preventing user fatigue and atrophy, bolstered by the development of more precise filtering and recommendation services. (I have seen several impressive efforts in stealth that will be revealed soon).
Establishing (indeed, reestablishing) a true Web of Intent, however, will ultimately require a different form of interacting with the Stream, one that more concretely insists on active participation and creative work, rather than mere passive consumption.
This exact concept is the nexus of a new endeavor called Trailmeme, from Xerox. Approaches such as the one they are taking are precisely what I find so vital to the useful development of the next generation of Web technologies.
We need intent-centric products and services that contextualize the Stream, and propel publishing in a more meaningful and actionable form.
Solving Intention Deficit: Trailmeme
Trailmeme is still in very early development and the UI is rough, but I have been following its progress with interest since I first spoke to the project manager, Venkatesh Rao, over two years ago.
Trailmeme, which is currently in a private beta, is a conceptual necessity to the organization and creation of Web content in the endless flux of the Stream. While its UI features are still in development, after a recent exploration of their stage, I feel it is evolving a new and valuable breed of content curation and creation.
I’m not allowed to say too much about them as they are still very much under wraps, but I do want to give a few high-level observations that get at why the project is so interesting.
Trailmeme is, on the surface, an organizational tool, yet that is only a small aspect of its actual value or purpose. And more importantly, it has certain characteristics that many startups will reckon with as WIDD becomes more and more acute.
Like any number of other content organization or bookmarking sites, Trailmeme allows users to save and tag articles.
But in their case, users do not simply consume and store articles, but “blaze” their own trails by creating a meaningful, intent-driven, interlinked network between pieces of Web content. The result are annotations and contextualizations that are at once personally relevant and, when shared and made public, a new way of reengaging the material for readers and followers of the trail itself.
The distinction between Trailmeme and regular bookmarking platforms is a deference to creative engagement rather than passive consumption.
Rather than tracking and cataloguing articles and sites, Trailmeme insists users place that content in a relevant pattern, however defined by the user, with other content. Users link digital objects (articles, websites, datasets, etc) in multiple relational paths, and provide their own commentary to the interlinked associations.
For example, the Trail on the “Scamville” expose launched last year by TechCrunch begins with a single node, or trail marker, and branches out in any number of creator or collaboratively defined paths to follow the story across various websites and articles.
For readers, these artifacts can be followed as an in-frame series of articles, or from a visual map view that displays all of the possible paths.
The visualization element is one that will become increasingly indispensable to the Web as streams are organized (InfoHarmoni is an especially interesting visualization play, fresh out of Y-Combinator).
The ability to link to multiple markers from a single node is also an intrinsic property that hearkens back to the earliest, but still unrealized, vision for what the World Wide Web should be.
The passive consumption of articles and Web content must become an active process of contextualizing and contributing to that content in new ways.
Here’s a video on the Trailmeme concept:
We have a long way to go before the Web of Intent takes hold, but the conceptual interests that underlie Trailmeme and others are fundamental to addressing some of our most pressing problems.
Hopefully many more systems like this will force an intentional engagement, one where mere passivity and reception proves not only unrewarding, but antithetical to the system, much in the same way that video games have elevated the interactivity of film and television.
The first step to ensuring intention is to promote systems that are inherently based on engagement and action, not mere consumption (e.g. more clients upon clients).
If we are to evolve a more manageable and effective Web, we must remember that capturing attention is not the only ambition we must pursue; we must focus and foster intention as well.