Author: Thomas Davidson
One of the undoubted highlights of my time at WebSci@10 this week was the first panel and the debate on trust online. This debate was incredibly profound, and this owed largely to the quality of the panelists. One of the panelists who’s views I found most interesting was Doc Searls, author and Director of ProjectVRM from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and Harvard University. Doc spoke about trust on the web from the point of view of giving the individual power and autonomy. He was also keen to stress how trust had to be earnt, and at times I thought he was going to take Matt McNeill (head of Cloud Services at Google) to task but respectfully refrained.
Anyhow, it was fantastic news for me therefore when Dr Lisa Harris informed me in London that Doc would be speaking at Southampton only two days later. I was delighted to hear this, as I’m sure you will have got the sense from my earlier post that the panelists had a lot more points to offer than time allowed for. So on Thursday I made my way to the far corner of campus to listen to the esteemed technological thinker and commentator speak again.
Doc spoke for roughly two hours (allowing for food and drink at the beginning) and the conversation was suitably wide-ranging. He spoke about his new book, The Intention Economy, but this was by no means a sales pitch. Instead he made his views about the evolution of the web clear, and instead of telling us the ideas expressed in his book, he showed us why he had the ideas he had. Doc went as far back as his first published website, the Cluetrain Manifesto (which incidentally is still live and you can find this in the Storify) and led us on a journey through his technological life up to the present day, where he optimistically expressed the potential of the individual vs the big internet companies, which he believes are far from a permanent fixture.
After talking Doc, opened up the floor questions, although this actually became more of a discussion. Much like Doc’s talk itself, the discussion was wide ranging, from the fact there is no clear “market-leader” or standard protocol for chat over the internet to the cooperate policy on travel with laptops. The general thread of Doc’s argument was noted and appreciated by almost all in the audience. The audience included some of his fellow panelists from WebSci@10, with Les Carr, Dame Wendy Hall and Tom Barnett all in attendance and they all appreciated the potential of the individual to gain more autonomy online, to grow smarter as outer nodes to the “Empty Zero” of the internet, and to solve some of the biggest problems faced by the world from the machine age.
The talk was concluded by Les Carr, and all in attendance thanked Doc for his time. I echo Dame Wendy’s thoughts, hoping that this can be the start of a continued partnership between Doc and Southampton.