One way to think about it, I think, is like this. But you may disagree and that’s fine.
Ebooks are first generation digital publishing and blogs are second generation digital publishing.
Ebooks are first generation because they exist in isolation and if many people want to read them many copies are needed. Blogs are second generation because they exist in a single place (on the web) so many people can read them without many copies being made and they have fancy features ebooks don’t have, like the ability to be continuously updated, to link to each other and to have comments added to them.
Both are very powerful ways to express ideas. Both are becoming more refined. Both, in my view, share a single, fatal characteristic. They are time-driven. This hinders the expression of ideas. When I turn from page one to page two or move from post to “next post” I move forward in time and I can only go forward and back. I cannot go sideways. But humans don’t think like that; they often think sideways. Hence the creation of “maps” to express ideas.
But what happens if you mix these kind of maps with the power of blogs?
At one moment of time you get a map, which is a collection of linked elements with associated details.
Over time you get a spiral, moving forward and up like a spiral staircase. I call each element a shell (partly because it contains all manner of things – text, video, pictures and who knows what else and partly because the word reminds me of a nautilus shell which in turn reminds me that each element can be the beginning of a new spiral). So on each step is a collection of linked shells. Each step represents the transition between new versions of the map – either when a new element is added or an old one is updated. So the diagram above shows one step of the spiral staircase. Each shell can be linked to another shell in the map and – this is important – linked to a shell on another map.
There is no equal of “publishing” for spirals. They can only be initiated, expanded, maintained and linked to. Thus the spiral is the third generation of digital Sharing (and I use the upper case deliberately – see this map).
So Cloud-based digital Sharing is here. Slap on a small payment system for access, both into the map and across maps and there’s a beginning for a brand new business.
Just as blogs evolved from being simple journals so spirals will evolve into who-knows-what.
But that, I think, is fairly straightforward. What happens after that? Here’s a first pass.
Assume for a moment that knowledge maps (spirals over time) are created in the public Cloud but also on private and even personal Clouds. The public Cloud maps would include multiple map service sites, as blogger.com is to blogs and maps on hosting sites (using the equivalent of free blogging software like wordpress).
First we’ll knit all the maps together, that is across all sites – public, private, personal – in a meta-map which continuously and automatically updates. The equivalent of Creative Commons licenses will apply to different maps and they will show up as different colors (or at least that’s a start).
Second we’ll generate a global map index, searchable without needing access to the maps, available worldwide that also continuously updates.
Third we’ll set up a search function so that someone looking can enter search terms into a search engine and generate a map on the fly of things they have searched for that are on separate maps.
Then they will “fly” through it in 3D. (See this post for some background.)
The question that comes to mind, is, of course; why do we need this? Because we have to offer everybody all over the world, rich or poor, complete access to everything everybody knows. This is a way to do that. But how do we do it? By creating software as I have proposed (disclosure: I’m doing some work with the company that produced the map above to explore this and other issues) and I think the semantic web gets a look in here, but I don’t know exactly how, because I’ve only been to two of the New York Semantic Web meetups. We have the hardware – touch-screen, network-connected tablet computers.
I’ll leave you with John Underkoffler, speaking at a TED conference, who before founding Oblong, “spent 15 years at MIT’s Media Laboratory, working in holography, animation and visualization techniques, and building the I/O Bulb and Luminous Room Systems.” (from his biography at ted.com). Step in at 6.30 … and I’ll see you in the future of knowledge access.
p.s. note to subscribers: I’ve implemented the gorgeous Paperpunch theme, so if you haven’t dropped by the blog in a while you might want to do that. note to all: I’ve started a Gulf Oil Spill disaster map to try and provide links to knowledge about it and the human response to it. Here’s the link. update: Please also note that I see this post as kind of a continuation of my previous post, book publishing, digital sharing and money.
update 6/29/10 — deleted 12/4/11 —
this post now appears on my map “the color blue” to demonstrate how the maps look (in a first generation view). here’s the link . note 6/30/10 — among other things I am now the digital publishing rep. for Thoughtgraph in NY, the company behind the software I use for illustration above. Just so we’re clear.
update 12/4/11 — I am currently a Debategraph Associate and also use the Thoughtgraph software that is used for Debategraph in experimental ways for what I call “dynamic information graphs” or “difographs.” My site there is www.thoughtgraph.com/thesmithy.