Collective, while still privileging the individual. The best software of the future will bring together the work and goals of many people without subordinating each person’s knowledge and expertise to the dominance of the group, as happens with group think.
For example, prediction markets produce a collective judgment from individual opinion. Facebook provides for each person to declare his or her own group and network affiliations, but never subsumes the individual beneath the group. Blogging allows conversation across sites with individual perspective and taxonomies, rather than forcing discussion into a communal site and format, as bulletin boards and forums do.
Collaboration is seen as a key to the future of software, and it is — so long as the collaboration doesn’t come at the expense of individual identity, knowledge, and expertise.
Connected, to the web of people and information and computation. The obvious example is browser-based applications like Google Office or del.icio.us social bookmarking, but another important category is connected desktop applications like iTunes and instant messaging aggregators.
Cyborg, bringing human and computational intelligence together. Google Search aggregates human behavior in linking and describing pages into a measure of page relevance and importance. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk makes human intelligence tasks algorithmically available to computer programs via APIs (application programming interfaces). Spam filters incorporate human judgment about what constitutes spam into ongoing computation.
Closed and open at the same time. Mac OS X is based on open source Unix, but is offered as a traditionally-licensed proprietary operating system. Facebook allows external applications to be integrated into their web platform but doesn’t use open web standards and doesn’t make it easy to get information or interactions out of the Facebook world. Google uses proprietary algorithms to offer free services.
Composed by a broad population not just engineered by an elite set of computer programmers. The people formerly known as users can now build their own websites and web applications, using freely available platforms like the WordPress blogging system with plugins and widgets, web-based application development environments like DabbleDB and Coghead, or desktop mashup platforms like Proto.
Choreographed into workflows to make you more productive and effective. For now you must make do with browser tabs to maintain an information flow and task context, with minimalist links between your personal organization system and email where so many tasks come in, and with cobbled together reminder systems by SMS or bookmarking or sticky notes. For now, you are the agent that choreographs your work routines — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Future workflow systems might carry you through your projects and your workdays, highlighting what you might otherwise forget to do, finding items of greatest potential interest to you, and doing the work of carrying tasks and information across various applications.
Cognizant of what you mean or what you want. Semantic search engines want to do a better job of understanding what you mean when you enter some keywords, instead of just blindly applying algorithms to those words, regardless of meaning.Google offers personalized search that tries to give you better results based on what you’ve searched for in the past. And research efforts are underway to make email systems know what you’re talking about, so they can automatically take action on your behalf or cluster emails according to topic and priority.
Anne Truitt Zelenka is a writer, web technologist, and blogger. She serves as editor of Web Worker Daily.