Supernova began last Monday morning at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center. There is no sign of recession in the Mission Bay area — construction cranes everywhere. The 300 acre former rail yard was created in 1998 as a redevelopment project and seems to be flourishing. It has attracted a lot of biotechnology research and development and is the headquarters of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. It also has fiber to the premises communications.
Kevin Werbach kicked off the conference with his view of the "Ten Challenges for the Network Age". If it wasn’t already, Supernova made it clear that decentralization is happening and that there is an accelerating shift underway to network-based computing, services, business processes, marketing, entertainment, social relationships, connectivity, and culture. The shift is changing our assumptions about how the world works. There are big opportunities ahead for those who grasp the shift and peril ahead for those who don’t.
A panel with Bob Iannucci from Nokia, Esther Dyson, and Clay Shirky (New York University) how the Internet is changing the way the world works — especially how people are doing things differently. In Clay’s new book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, he tells a story of how a woman left her cell phone in a cab and someone stole it and started using it rather than trying to find out who owned it (which would have been easy). The woman’s friend took the matter as "wrong" and launched a campaign on the Internet through blogs and social networks to get the thief to return the phone. Based on messages the person had sent from the phone it was determined who she was. Her MySpace profile led to where she lives. The police would not take the case. They said it was just lost, not stolen. The bloggers did not give up and eventually brought the NYPD around. The phone got back to the owner and the thief was arrested. More than one million people followed and/or participated in the effort. Talk about "Power to the People"! (which I have been writing about for fifteen years). ! highly recommend Clay’s book.
In a similar manner, Facebook groups are providing valuable input to businesses and surely will cause them to change direction on some issues. Intel found this out years ago when they denied problems with the then new Pentium chip. They were forced to come clean. Collective opinions will be making more and more of a difference. Another emerging business tool is the the Virtual Company Project which is building online tools to provide governance for a virtual company. People with common interests and appropriate skills will be able to develop a business and collaborate online to provide products and services.
On the political scene the bloggers of America have been having a heyday for the last five years and are becoming more and more effective. In 1999 there was considerable strife in Kosovo. Part of the strategy by the government was to control information so that the people would not know exactly what was going on. Journalists were expelled from the country. The independent radio station, B92, in Belgrade was closed down. Local media was either shut down or censored. But the radio station set up a web site and began to publish text, audio and video. They reported when air raid sirens were going off. Up to the minute news was provided to the population. There was no way to shut down the Internet site because the government didn’t’t know where the server was. If they had known and shut it down another server would have been put back online. From a coup in Thailand to London bombings, information becomes available and it becomes public. In Zimbabwe text messages went out to tell people where to vote as the government tried to keep it a secret. Governments can put people in jail but they will not be able to confiscate 3-5 billion cell phones. As long as there is information the Internet provides a way to share it. Power to the People.
One of the most subtle but most powerful capabilities of today’s Web 2.0 that was not available ten years ago is tagging. People take pictures with their phone and upload them to Flickr. They then apply tags: London, bombing. Someone else finds the pictures and adds their own tags: train, terrorism. As more people find, view, and tag, the pictures become more valuable — they gain more context. This is a key element of social networking. Not only can people report something, but they can also join in a collaborative effort to find a criminal or a loved one. Awesome stuff and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.