The technological predictions in The Guardian‘s Survival guide to 2003 are pretty — what else? — predictable: Bluetooth, increasing broadband penetration, WiFi, home networking, 3G mobile phones, Doom III and Xbox, blah blah blah… But there’s an interesting notion which I hadn’t considered before, of the weblog phenomenon as the new usenet.
Usenet newsgroups were rendered worse than useless by wayward discussion and wall-to-wall spam. Now, according to some web theorists, blogs are bringing back the newsgroup idea, albeit by the backdoor. The idea is that, on blogs that let readers discuss links and find out where similar ideas are being discussed elsewhere on the web, we’re seeing the rise of a kind of twenty first century Usenet – more focused, more responsive, more integrated into the rest of the online world.
There’s something enticing about the prospect, for those of us who have been online long enough to have been usenet newsgroup fanatics before the rise of other aspects of the net. But I’m not sure I see the convergence, and I’m not sure I would welcome it either. Classically, blogs continue to adhere to a one-to-many, or few-to-many, format. Although there may be reader comments and interactivity, they are not the point of most blogs (Slashdot and MeFi apart). What commands one’s loyalty for a particular weblog is its distinctive, opinionated and often idiosyncratic auteur. Arguably, a blog that became a newsgroup would in important senses no longer be a blog anymore, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. Maybe we’ll see the rise of such a post-newsgroup phenomenon, but I hope it would not replace currently-configured weblogging. And why would the low signal-to-noise ratio in such a public discussion blogosphere not make it a ‘twenty first century Uselessnet’ with similar ‘wayward discussion and wall-to-wall spam’? Finally, could someone explain to me exactly how these beasts would be ‘more focused, more responsive, more integrated into the rest of the online world’ than the Usenet newsgroups were or are?
The other piece of welcome prophecy in The Guardian essay is that of the imminent return of William Gibson:
The most influential SF writer of the last two decades, his ideas have come to change the way we think about computers and networks. But William Gibson has always been unhappy with the future visionary tag. SF is actually about the present has been his mantra. Pattern Recognition, his new novel (his first for three years) does something he’s always threatened. It’s set in the present, not the future, in London, and follows a trend-watching heroine who’s over-sensitive to corporate logos and obsessed with tracking a “garage Kubrick” who is releasing fragments of an art film on to the net. It’s published here by Penguin in April.