David Weinberger Interview Transcript in English

Interview done by Mario Sixtus, at LeWeb 3, Paris, December 12., 2006

Video can be viewed at Elektrischer Reporter

The transcription follows the spoken word.

We foremost wrote Cluetrain because we were really sick and disgusted with the medias portrayal of the internet. We wrote it in 1999 and the media consistently and seemingly only talked about it as a business medium.

So the exciting thing about the internet is you can put your Cadillac online and you can self (engs?) and that seems to us that missed the important point which was obvious to everybody who is actually on the internet that it wasn´t primarily about selling things.

It´s great for doing that but you don´t get a billion people to adopt a new technology the way they have the internet in the past 10 years because they want to do research or because they want to do Cadillac shopping and the enthusiasm of the participants also can not be explained through business.

So it seemed to us that what was important about the internet that was driving people onto it was that here was a chance for us – people – to talk about what was interesting to us instead of having to listen to TV and be bathed in the photons of …

We got to talk and we got to talk with other people in our own voice about what mattered to us.

That I think. I still think that´s on the heart of why of the internet and why its been embraced as something more than simply another way of sending messages back and forth.

Its about people connecting in their own voices.

Cluetrain focused on business because the interent was being portrayed as nothing but about business.

But the authors have always considered business to be simply one important example of the transformative power of the internet and we see this all around us. We see this not just in each area the way that its effecting politics the way its effecting education and not just effecting but changing, transforming.

Whats happening in some sense is the pieces that had been so carefully stuck together over the course of the past few thousand years as we figured how politics work and goverment and so forth those pieces are all coming unglued in terms of just the news lets say. We dont need a news organisation to create a front page force.

It s very interesting to see what professional journalists and editors think are the most important storys but we have equal access now to all of the storys and we can use alternative ways of finding whats actually interesting and relevant to us.

So its putting together our own front pages our own headlines.

The pieces have falling apart and we´re inventing new ways socially to pull them together to make sense of things. That is a change that effects everything all the way through education and our personal lives and what it means to be a friend.

It´s a important change.

I continue to think that the web is underhyped.

There is now a second round of enthusiasm in the internet as a business opportunity –
but the basic dynamics of the – the basic significance of this remains steady that is this is a new public space in which we get to talk in our own voices about what´s interesting to us and to connect with others and over the course of time we invent new and more and different ways of connnecting and we continue to do that.

And we don´t get to do that in the history of civilisation to come up with new ways of connecting with other people and now we´re doing it seems like every day. So we will continue doing that and that will continue to drive interest.

As the economies change there will be bubbles and oportunities that come and go which is exciting but the basic is a human dynamic, a human social dynamic and that´s I think is steady.

The first bubble – the first wave of interest – it was the first and so people didn´t know what was going to work and what the new – we had a sense there is a new economics as I think there in fact is – but we didn´t know exactly what it was so people rushed in.

They were funded to rush in with a good idea without having thought through. Because who could? We didn´t know how this is going to work. So much of that bubble went away. But we probably won´t make exactly the same mistakes again.

There are two things happening.
We have children now who have grown up with the internet and take it for granted and they are – how they take it of course will be the future. And its very very interesting to see what they doing with it. What the internet looks like when its just a normal part of life.

There will always be a class of people who are technical and enjoy tinkering with the internet the way there are always a class of people who enjoy tinkering with cars.
Its used to be that the tinkerers on the internet were the only people on the internet back when it was really hard to do. Now its a hobbyist advocation and its important because a lot of innovation comes form there but thats not the mainstream by definition its not the mainstream.

Its inevitable that there will be more people who simply use the technology than who innnovate with it or people who care about the technology it self and enjoy fouling around with it. One of the good things about the internet is that even as its become more sophisticated and what it offers at the same time its becoming in some ways easier to hack easier to put together new capabilities without having to be an advanced technologist, this is part of – or superadvanced technologist you still need to know something of the internet.

This is one of the actually important parts of Web2.0 that a bunch of very advanced services, very powerful services have arisen but at the same time if there are Web2.0 sorts of applications they make it very easy for other people for other applications to use their capabilities.

And so you get a mulitplier effect where people who are not so technical that they could design their own mapping program their own online reservation system never the less can use those and pull together new applictions using the work done by others.

So at the same time that we gain more sophistication we also making it easier for people to use those sophisticated tools and creat their own.

The education system is responding slowly.

In the United States our own schools – our own locals schools in Boston where I live are in some ways stepping backwards because of a goverment push for increased accountability
and so students are being tested and schools are being tested which drives schools to teach in order to get students to pass the test and they pass the test by cramming more knowledge in their heads.

Whereas the great – one of the great liberating effects of the internet and of other previous forms of communication by the way is that we dont have to keep as much in our heads. Our heads are very limited but our ability to find and traverse an open web of information to get answers to find of the people to talk with that has – that has grown tremendously.

In our own school our children still are beeing – our children are beeing told when they are doing a paper you may only use 3 internet resources. Thats not what they gonna be doing as soon as they leave school and so in some sense we get into this deepening alienation between how our children are living and thinking on the web, which they are doing socially.

They are thinking sociallly as we always have. We have always thought in conversations. Our children are doing it globally now. They take it for granted its all the time.
And then they go to school and they are sitting at their desk and they are taking (exams?) in their little blue exam book. Blue in US for some reason I dont know.

There is a growing gap there and it will be resolved but not right now its still getting worse.

Well we always it seems to me that we always understand something by simulating a tool that we know. Thats is the way we work. It seems to be embedded in our biology.

And so we always are going to have – we are always going to understand by metaphors which gets in the way when something is genuinely new.

So the – in the US the internet was originallly thought of the Information Highway. Well ok. Thats lots of information on the internet but that says that the value of it is that we can become research librarians. Nothing wrong with that except that doesn´t explain why a billlion people are spending time on the internet.

Only occasionaly are we looking for information. Much of our time is spend talking with one another – reading what we have written – reviewing the video that someone posted.

It helps – people like bad metaphors because it can tame a wild idea. So its just about information. Ok? Now you have conquered the internet because its just about information.

Or… its a type of broadcasting. The blogs are just – you know what blogs are?
Blogs are like columnist for newspaper except everybody now gets to be a columnist.

And if thats what you are thinking if that´s your metaphor then you finish that by saying:
And they are not very good columnist, they dont spell very well, they are… and that´s a way of making something thats wild and threatening to you seems safe and tame.

And also it means you miss what´s actually going on.

How do you get past that?

There is no magic. One good way would be to spend a lot of time on the internet and understand just by beeing there whats it like and the metaphors that it breaks.

Net neutrality

So the way I would explain it to aunt Tilly is going to be not a neutral explanation as I will tell you as I am very strongly in favor of net neutrality.

So what I would say to her is: all sorts of data goes across the internet. Everything from emails to the videos and the music as you know aunt Tilly. And there are very difficult technical issues about how to make the internet work best so that you have the best experience possible.

There are two possible ways of doing this and in one case we say to the Telcos, the people who were making money of providing bits, providing this datastream to you.

And we say: Just you go and you make your decision and make what ever deals you want and if you are owned by a movie company than you should be able to make your mind up that you are that those movies will come through nice and smooth and everybody elses including that of your son Bobby and daughter Amanda making those one come across too but those will be all jittery and nobody will be able to watch them.

But the one that you get from this particular movie company those will come across really well.

So we can let the telecommunication companys make those decisions about the architecture and nature of the internet or we can do what we have always done to build the interent into the most robust scalable technology that reaches all around the world ever in our history which is to allow the decision making bodys groups of highly technical people who don´t make money from the decisions we can let them decide.

So who do you want to decide?

The Telco who is financially motivated to make certain decisions or do want the people who design the internet to continue to make those technical decision.

I want the internet community to make that decisons.

The last people – literally I would rather have aunt Tilly make the decision because she´ll be fair than have the telecommunication companys make them.

Information Overlaod

The cure for informations overload is more information that´s what we discovered.
We beeing ??????? In the early 99ties there were some books written and lot of fear about information overload.

And we gonna be swamped. And the information tsunami.

And we haven´t been. We have more information available to us now than anybody ever predicted. A staggering amounts of stuff available. And generally we are not feeling overwhelmed. We just living with the opportunity.

There is so much we can learn and talk about and so many other people to talk with.
But we are not overwhelmed and that´s because we have gotten really good at managing and we get really good at managing by using metadata.

That is the information about the information. That´s what helps us make our way through it. So the cure for information overload is more information.


In a hundred years we look back – five hundred years – we look back and I think right at these years we will say either we made a decision to embrace a new renaissance or
a new dark ages we decided to empose upon ourselfs.

We were so frightened of the opportunity thats in front of us that we emposed a set of restrictions to make sure that every click is accountable and nobody can explore without beeing penalized for making wrong decisions that expressing things in a less than perfect way.

And so we make the internet in the most repressing envirement.

And we can do that because its all digital and everthing can be tracked much more so than in the real world.

We are walking down the street where essentialy even we are in public we are essential private and nobody has the right to demand who you are unless you are suspicious of course.

And you don´t have to ware an ID-Label but online we are thinking about.

We are in the process of doing exactly that: making you ware a lable everywhere you go and have everything tracked all the time.

So we have this fundamental choice.

At the worst the internet becomes just what they said at the beginning: it becomes an information highway and nothing more. So its a library where you can check out a book and of course every book that you ever checked out is beeing tracked and monitered by the goverment and by marketeers.

That´s the nightmare.

The positiv is that we are doing what we are doing now.
Which is to connect wildly with ever good and bad idea with people from all around the world with whom we may fall in love or we may have the strongest possible disagreemt with.

And out of that mix comes innovation and comes creativity and comes humanity also falibility but thats were we stuck, thats what we are.

So between those two choices right now we are heading towards a frightened dark ages.
And I hope we change our mind, that we take back the renaissance.

[tags]Elektrischer Reporter, David Weinberger, Interview, Internet, future[/tags]