The internet has been around long enough for us to think about bringing it past its current Web 2.0 ways. There is more to just HTTP but I’m focusing on it because it is what users are used to. Web 2.0 allowed an amazing amount of space for users to participate and add dynamic content. This increased web content by a tremendous magnitude and made things more relevant to users which was a big plus. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and even normal sites with forums and feedback comments are great examples of this. But what’s next?
With so many users online and generating content, it is important to start rethinking the internet as a place of people rather than faceless users. The key to this is to link virtual and real identities.
Identity & Security
If you take a look at Reddit, Youtube and many other user generated content, you would understand the need to have responsible and accountable users. There is a sizeable number, including yours truly, that have chosen to link personal identity to online profiles. It increases trust and credibility. It also makes one think twice before doing or saying anything online. In short, it ties the virtual world with its real counterparts and that is what technology should be.
Linking real identity to virtual profiles is touchy. People feel that their privacy will be invaded but in actuality the fact that they are now not only information consumers but contributors puts to bed the feeling of entitlement that they can do anything they like online without being traced. We would need 5 to 10 years to get everyone comfortable with this but the benefits will be worth it when everyone interacts on the web the way they walk around in the world.
This is not new. Facebook and Google are now battling for your identity. Google+ has percolated email and YouTube while Facebook is rolling out identity log ins for 3rd party sites. Twitter and other sites included as well. In comparison between the big 2, Google is doing it right in balancing privacy and public identity. Facebook’s model is to directly make money from your identity, Google’s use is less indirect when it comes to money making. Google is shifting from advertising dollars to a complete web service model. This means that your direct identity is less important to them and they won’t be fooling around with it as much.
Whichever the case, the move to personally identifiable profiles is a requirement to push the internet forward. With a well secured profile online, the possibilities are limitless. A gate must first be placed to differentiate identifiable users and non identifiable ones. Else, there is no incentive to do so and the system will be compromised before finally collapsing. Non identifiable users should not have access to better services.
So what are the services that we can expect to improve with this?
Having just finished an internship at SingHealth, I have much of my attention on healthcare. For the sake of the patient and for the advancement of medical treatments, patient data must be linked directly to the patient and shared between all healthcare agents. It is ridiculous to have seperate records in each hospital. Maybe this is done in the name of competition but it does nothing to help the patient or forward research. Obviously, all hospitals and healthcare providers must be accredited or certified in order to access to such records. Records should not be personally identifable to researchers but only to doctors, etc. What this would do is to allow patients to move between providers freely, allow better second or third opinions and increase consistency of treatments.
With such a large pool of data, a copy should be made unidentifable so that researchers in academic medicine can further push the horizons of medicine forward. The one big problem for researchers is the lack of an extensive and in-depth pool of information. They are not interested at all about identity, they just want a big pool of reliable info that can be used to test new procedures and interventions. This move, as the cliche would go, will definitely make the world a beter place.
Forums / Discussion Groups 2.0
With properly managed identity, forums and other discussion groups can be optimized to form focused groups. Because everyone now knows who you are, your real knowledge and skill specialties can be appreciated allowing access to specialized groups to share and forward knowledge. Internet forums can move on from being rambling public shout outs to actual productivity tools that facilitate information flows. This will be a key catalyst to removing red tape and improve responsible and high level sharing.
The end result is this, we won’t need conferences to bring specialists together. Developers do not have to wait for DefCon or Google IO or WWDC or anything of that sort. The same goes for specialists in other fields. Information can be spontaneously and continually shared. This is what makes human beings special and such an advancement increases the speed of such flows by multiple magnitudes.
Many, Many More
There are many more ways this can greatly improve lives. Intellectual property can be better protected leading to more products and services being made available online. Basically, once we manage to get the virtual world to behave responsibly by passing the incentive to the user, we will see a growth spurt in quality interactions online.
There will be privacy concerns, the same kind of concerns when countries first labelled each and everyone of their citizens with a number (NRIC, Social Security No, etc) and an address. But in order to make the internet a really useful platform, we have to take the same step that we did in reality, decades and centuries ago.