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Browsing ahead

You can’t do much when you’re dead   — but you can still send e-mail. That’s just one Internet innovation that will loom large in 2008
By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 26, 2007

GOOGLE-EYE VIEW (Clockwise from top left): Google Earth image of Fenway Park, Google Street view of Yawkey Way, Google Mars, and Google Moon.

Hey geeks: all that online talk (nine billion Google hits and counting) notwithstanding, “Web 3.0” won’t be happening any time soon. And even if the anticipated advance to the next technological level was imminent, the growing consensus is that any blogger using that awful neologism should have his broadband connection yanked from the wall with extreme prejudice.

Regardless, just as it has every year of its existence, the Internet will change in 2008 — growing and evolving in its complexity and convenience, its reach and its risk. The most recent big leap, of course, came three or four years ago, with the introduction of new-generation Web services that facilitated interactivity and multimedia using wikis, podcasts, social networks, photo-sharing, online mapping, video/mp3 blogging, syndication, and more.

What can we expect next? There’s now nebulous chatter about another quantum advance of computing power. The looming evolution/revolution has been described in terms both practical (simply leveraging “Web 2.0” technology for newer, advanced service and content) and fantastical (an Internet, quoth the New York Times, that may learn to “reason in a human fashion”).

If you’re not quite ready to acclimate yourself to notions like the “Semantic Web,” the “Geospatial Web,” and the “3D Web,” fear not: it’s doubtful that such concepts — never mind an artificially intelligent Internet — will become widely used in the next calendar year. Here, however, are some guesses as to what you will be seeing come across your browser screen during the next 12 months.

Facebook fatigue
I’ve been friended. I’ve been poked. I’ve had my Super Wall scrawled upon. I’ve been bitten by zombies and invited to bite others (thereby, presumably, turning them into zombies, as well). I’ve been invited to locate world capitals on a global map-quiz game, and to join something called “Six Degrees of Separation — the Experiment.” I’ve been notified when friends use the friend finder to become friends with people I’m not friends with. I’ve been notified when friends send messages to people I don’t know.

I’m exhausted. It’s enough that I’ve got two dozen blogs to check in with every day, and a Red Sox message board to load and re-load, and an online music-discussion group to take part in — never mind three e-mail accounts to check, and, uh, actual work to do. Now I’m supposed to hew chunks from my day to engage with this endless procession of worthless Facebook applications?

First, it was Friendster. I joined in 2003, diligently filled out my personal info, and uploaded what scant digital photos existed of me at the time. Then, several months later, after Friendster had fallen out of favor, I had to do it all over again at MySpace. Then, in late 2006, Facebook opened up. Once more into the breach.

My gripe with Facebook — besides the fact that it’s the third social-networking site I’ve felt compelled to join during the past four years — isn’t so much the people I barely know flooding my inbox with friend requests. In fact, that’s a small price to pay for a site that’s helped get me in touch with a few college friends I hadn’t seen in years.

It’s more that interfacing with Facebook has begun to feel like homework. Perhaps it’s my ever-advancing age, but my eyes literally cross as I scan my profile trying to figure out WTF I’m supposed to click on next. At last count, there were more than 10,000 add-ons available on the Facebook Platform. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’m not the only one with Facebook fatigue. Yes, some have predicted the site is worth perhaps $15 billion. And Wired magazine rhapsodized recently that its “social graph” innovation may have “defined the future of the Internet.” But on, Corey Doctorow predicted that the site’s imposition of “socially obligated ‘friendships’ ” would hasten its demise. And one commenter had another prognostication: “If Facebook partners up with any more of their patently ridiculous outside applications, they will collapse under their own weight.”

E-mails from beyond
On Wikipedia, there’s a page called Deceased Wikipedians, which features photos and remembrances of some of the site’s late contributors. There’s also one, ominously, called Missing Wikipedians. It lists dozens of people, known only by their screen names, who, for reasons unknown, haven’t been heard from in months. One user told me of a high-profile administrator who hadn’t posted anywhere since September, which is not like her at all. “People,” he said, “are getting very, very worried.”

As we spend ever more of our time on the Internet, the off-line pageant of life and death continues as it always has. It happens sometimes: folks you recognize from the online world only via a screen handle could die and you wouldn’t even know they were gone until you realized you hadn’t seen them proffer any Interweb wisdom in weeks. Back in 2005, one poster on a Red Sox message board headed to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery. He then virtually disappeared for months. And months. And his e-brethren became concerned.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Internet, Science and Technology, Social Software and Tagging,  More more >
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