In the last week or so, highly connected members of the popular professional networking site LinkedIn have complained vociferously about waves of invitations to join competing networking site Doostang.
According to Mareza Larizadeh, co-founder of Doostang, the problem was that their utility that let people import their LinkedIn connection network was buggy and the excessive invitations sent were due to that improperly tested software subsystem.
Be that as it may, what most intrigued me about the discussion that ensued was how eerily it paralleled the societal debate on evolution versus so-called intelligent design. Upon reflect, I believe that the hype surrounding Web 2.0 also falls into just this same category.
Let me start by laying out my perspective of the core foundation of both evolution and intelligent design, so we have a common framework. I’ll try to be agnostic here.
Evolution is built around the idea that things change over time and that the most successful changes, the best adaptations for the environment, are then favored in future generations, creating entirely new and more sophisticated creations over a period of time.
Intelligent design postulates that there are creations that are just too complex, too sophisticated, to have been produced by random chance and that a conscious “being” must have been involved for us to have the creations with which we’re surrounded.
Keeping that in mind, what can one make of the debate between “why do we need another networking site? They’re all just bad rip-offs and imitations” versus “more sites help us figure out what really works on a networking site and helps all sites ultimately improve. Without more competitors, we’d never have improvements at all.”
To me, the former is the argument for intelligent design applied to the world of the Internet; improvements can’t just happen randomly through exploring multiple possible adaptations / implementations, they need someone to control and manage things to ensure the best and most efficient possible outcome.
The latter is exactly the premise of evolution, however; Change and even reimplementation begets different possible directions for a system, and while some of those changes will fail, there will be others that will advance the state of the art. It’s inevitable that there’s a lot of wasted effort along the way, unfortunately, but without evolutionary change, without constantly trying to make things just a bit better, improvements are almost impossible to attain.
This all seems crystal clear to me, and just as in the question of theology, I’m a firm believer in evolution and in the evolutionary path of invention and creation. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in a higher being, a more powerful force than just human will, from a spiritual perspective, but from all of my studies and research, evolution works darn well.
And so what does all this have to do with Web 2.0, you may be wondering? First off, I think it’s important for people to toss out the entire concept of “Web 2.0” because it falsly presents itself as a marker, an important milestone in the development of the Web and in particular Web-based applications. But there’s no “intelligent design” in this new wave of Web solutions, no site that just revolutionized everything.
Instead sites and technologies evolve. The Web came from gopher systems, among other things, for example, and highly-lauded Web 2.0 sites are just evolutionary steps on the road from our collective Internet past to whatever the online future has in store for us.
Blogging, in a similar vein, is just a toolkit, and it is a powerful business solution precisely because it evolved over generations of software development from rudimentary guest book-style online journals into a powerful infrastructure for managing content and community dialog. But there’s no “Blog 2.0” solution, no watershed event or conceptual leap surrounding the release of a particular blogging application or solution.
As David Mamet’s film of the same name neatly states it: Things change.
And that’s just what makes the Internet such an interesting pressure cooker for technological evolution. Things do change, and, sometimes, they get better.
The best part? The intelligent designers are you and me, the users and developers of the Web, the Internet, and the world around us.