From The Information Age To The Connected Age

[qi:078] Jason Calacanis launched yet another discussion of the future of the web with his official definition of web 3.0, in which web 2.0 cake is spread with a liberal frosting of people, but not just any people — “gifted” people. Aside from its introduction of magnet-school speak into tech talk, this definition is curious in that it mentions layering. But the web is a network, or as some gifted people already knew, a “graph.” The web is less a cake needing frosting than a stew mixing everything together, allowing for the possibility of any one ingredient touching another. [digg=http://digg.com/tech_news/From_The_Information_Age_To_The_Connected_Age]

Today’s version of the web, whatever you want to call it, is notable because people and hardware and information and software and conversation are all mixed together into a hyperconnected network. Maybe instead of getting tangled up in discussions of what’s web 1.0 vs. web 2.0 vs. web 3.0, we might look instead at another shift: how the web enables us to move from one era into another, from the Information Age to the Connected Age. You can see this shift both in the practices of individual workers and in the strategies of technology companies.

Knowledge Worker (Information Age) vs. Web Worker (Connected Age)

The Information Age is the age of the knowledge worker. The Connected Age is the age of the web worker. Knowledge workers create and manage information, massaging it into intangible knowledge goods. Web workers create and manage relationships across knowledge goods, hardware, and people. The table below, taken from Web Worker Daily’s upcoming book “Connect! Web Worker Daily’s Guide to a New Way of Working” contrasts knowledge work and web work. Of course, in practice individual workers may take a hybrid approach, combining aspects of both.

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It’s not just individual workers, though, that take a primarily Information Age approach or Connected Age approach. Companies do too. Microsoft represents the Information Age, while Google hints at the shift towards the Connected Age.

Microsoft (Information Age) vs. Google (Connected Age)

Microsoft (MSFT) exemplifies the Information Age. It uses step-by-step, top-down controlled project management methods to build monolithic intangible goods — desktop and client/server software — largely from scratch. It uses money as currency, monetizing knowledge products using licensing fees and strict control of software copying. Microsoft must rely on protecting access to its knowledge goods — because this is where it has created value.

Google (GOOG), on the other hand, hints at the Connected Age without entirely fulfilling its promise. Google uses openly available knowledge, human, software, and hardware resources (with a good dose of its own such resources) and harvests value from those resources by finding and creating relationships. Google monetizes the human behavior on the web — human action captured in web pages as links, content and meta data. It trades in the currency of attention. Across the company, Google uses a more evolutionary development style, seeking innovation by spreading bets over many possibilities, most of which have little chance of success. Google depends on a more emergent style of innovation.

Google, however, is a gigantic corporation. Could the Connected Age make corporations obsolete, at least for purposes of web work? We need corporations for the agricultural, industrial, and knowledge tasks of our society. But an entirely new engine of productivity might be built without formal organizations. Economist Ronald Coase has proposed that the reason firms exist is to decrease transaction costs. But the web makes transaction costs across individuals and ad hoc groups of people so small as to be unimportant to many web-era businesses. That is why we see an acceleration in the number of independent contractors and loose partnerships across small organizations.

Seeing Shifts

The Connected Age concept isn’t necessarily more real or true than the term web 2.0 or web 3.0 is, but just like those, it’s useful for seeing and understanding shifts brought about by the web and shifts that the web is itself undergoing. I count myself lucky to live in a time where there’s enough progress and action to even discuss naming the shifts we see taking place.

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