I Want To Save The World

I’m feeling frustrated today. Why? Because I want to save the world but I feel so helpless. With Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath getting worse and not better, I’m reminded again by something that has been nagging at me for a very long time relating to the subject of technology. Basically I’m sick of people talking about how technology is making it an exciting time to be alive because it is making the world better (especially now that we have 65-inch Plasma TV’s). Well if technology is so great why do I feel like I can’t do that much with it to help these people?

Don’t get me wrong though, as technology is helping out to some degree (or maybe it is more of a change of culture). Due to the severity of the events, more and more organizations switched to blogging/human mode (instead of the typical edited news or formated press releases) so that they could get information out faster to others. Yet why I’m so frustrated is because after disasters such as these strike, technology still doesn’t appear to be doing much to effectively mobilize and organize the masses to the degree I would like to see it. Yes, people are donating in droves (so much so that donation sites are being overloaded) but what else are we doing to directly help those in need besides monetary assistance. If they say information is power, what the hell are we doing to pass on information to assist and empower the people on the ground in Katrina’s wake?

A perfect example of this is the frustration of a mechanical engineer who wants to help on the ground but can’t seem to contact anyone via the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Yes obviously there are communication problems going on but even if the lines were open would it make much difference? What the hell I am getting at here is the difficulty of trying to grasp what the hell is going on down there (i.e. lack of information) and also how to coordinate such a large scale recovery operation (i.e. project planning complexities)? And yet don’t diverse groups of people from all around the world collaborate on large projects, sharing tons of information, on the Web everyday? If so, what the hell is stopping us from getting together and collaborating on such a vital project such as this? Remember, the beauty of the Web is about everyone doing their own small piece in small groups to collectively help the overall greater effort because, when disasters of this magnitude strike, having a centralized command site to control and organize everything can actually slow things down instead of speeding them up.

So this is what I’m wondering (and I just posted this as a comment on David Weinberger’s blog). What would happen if groups of people starting getting together into "cells" (i.e. like a "terrorist cell") to do good (like the cells that comprise your body’s immune system)? Imagine samaritan cells of small groups of people working together with other cells to help people in the wake of the Katrina disaster? What would these people need to work autonomously instead of through a central command center? I’m assuming a communications network (i.e. the Web) that would provide them with information and lots of it. More importantly, they would need the ability to gather this information from different sources (i.e. web services) as well as filter the vast amount of information so that it could be usable to their locality (even down to their neighborhood).

The question I’m pondering today is do we have the technology to do this? If so, why isn’t anybody doing this? Is it because no one has had the idea to utilize the existing web services (i.e. Flickr, Google Maps, Technorati, etc) in this way yet (i.e. tagging real life objects and locations, such as a neighborhood or quarter of a city)? If we don’t have the technology today to do this effectively, will the Web 2.0 architecture give us this ability in the future?

I know one things for sure, I’d rather see more people working on technology that enables small groups of people to collaborate collectively with other small groups on a world cause or project than see people working on the next generation Uber 100-inch Plasma TV set that will make my life "so much better" and make me feel "excited to be alive".

Topic Aggregator?

The words "Web Neighborhood" in one of Jason Kottke’s posts got me thinking. David Weinberger posted the other day an apology to his friends because he was "unable to read all of their posts". I thought this was strange because he obviously would like to keep on top of everything his friends (in his "Web neighborhood") talk about but he can’t because he doesn’t have time to read all of their sites or RSS feeds. Yet I’m sure he would love to hear what they are talking about, especially if it relates to something he is talking about on his site.

So it dawned on me, why hasn’t anyone created a news aggregator that collates and groups news feeds based upon topics in the newsfeeds (I’m assuming determined by grabbing the keywords from the title or tags from the post or maybe even by looking at the links the post is pointing at like Technorati does?). For example, if there were a bunch of posts that had the word "Google OS" in them, couldn’t an aggregator gather those all under a similar heading? And even more so shouldn’t the aggregator be able to list these groupings in order from most items grouped to least so that in effect you get a  "most talked about headlines of the day" at the top to "side stories of the day" at the bottom, almost like you get in a newspaper? I mean you could go farther from there even. If you had a lot of items under one grouping, couldn’t the aggregator grab the PageRank of the site for each post within that group and list them from highest to lowest, so theoretically you are seeing the best site for the topic listed first while the others are listed below (which of course may not always be the case and maybe you could sort the list in other different ways)?

What do you think of this? I mean I know aggregators can do this do somewhat right now in that you can put in your own tags to search for specific things from your feeds but why not let the feeds sort themselves out instead of having to manually enter and look for specific topic keywords? I mean wouldn’t it solves "David’s Dilemma" because then he could just look at the topics / headlines of the day in his RSS news/topic/tag aggregator and easily see if any of his friends in his "Web neighborhood" are talking about the same thing he is? Or is there a news aggregator that does this already that I’m not aware of?

Actually taking this to the next level would be actually embedding this topic feed list below a post on your own site. So if you were talking about "Web OS" then below your post would be a "Related Feeds" list of all the other people on your feed list talking about "Web OS" as well. That way as soon as you finished adding your post, it would immediately show who else was talking about the same topic as you in your "Web Neighborhood"!

What Do We Care About The Most?

More and more people always say that the Web is conversations about things that we care about. I wondered today what is the thing that we care about the most. My answer was that I thought that we cared about each other the most.

I found this quite ironic though considering how much we as a society are pushing each other apart. We all seem to be screaming for comfort and companionship from each other and yet, at the same time, we are yelling at each other to be left alone.

Forest, World, Web

Tree -> Forest
Person -> World
Site -> Web

Walking through the UBC Endowment Lands today, I had a strange vision. Each tree in the forest in front of me was replaced by a person and all of those people together were the world. Immediately the vision changed again, instead of trees in the forest in front of me, I saw each tree as a website which together made up the Web. Everything seemed connected in small pieces loosely joined and yet this loose union enabled some pretty amazing things.