Many thanks for all the thoughtful comments over the last weeks which are provoking much debate in the production office and will help enrich the series.
I was particularly drawn to TaiwanChallenges' point about Nicholas Taleb and the winner-takes-almost-all nature of the web. And wondered whether we should build this up into one of the big themes of the series.
It is compelling that the web, despite being so fluid, porous, open, an apparent free-for-all, is dominated in effect by a handful of monopoly brands. Let's face it, there's only one search engine that matters, one bookshop, one encyclopaedia, one micro-blogging portal (I don't even have to name these do I?) and, if current take-up numbers are to be believed and the trajectory continues, in a few years Facebook will be the social network with clout.
In part these brands rose to dominance because they formulated the right strategy at the right time to blaze a trail into - to borrow Taleb's phrasing - the web's unknown unknown commercial territory. Google 'got' how to monetise search before anyone else. Twitter created a whole new utility. But is that the whole story?
I'd argue there's another dimension to this. These big brands surely get to tipping point so quickly and so completely because they go viral - because users stampede en masse in a certain direction.
When I think about online crowds, I can't help imagining thousands of startled wildebeest twisting and turning away from lions on the veldt. I know the 'crowd' is in reality lots of fragmented individuals individually interacting with their machines. But aggregated they behave, it seems to me, like a frightened, faddish, conformist herd.
That's a problem no doubt for creative competition on the web. It may also be a problem for users - for us members of the herd. It begs the question whether people live life authentically on the web as they default with Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook. It also makes me question whether the viral passing round of derivative home-spun sketches as 'internet gold' on YouTube aren't just a function of users going unthinkingly through the motions rather than tuning into the little boy in them quietly questioning the whereabouts of the emperors' clothes. And then you hear about Tweeters and Facebook members who force themselves to pass on banal details of their everyday lives to strangers only next to complain of 'status update anxiety' to shrinks.
One of the great attributes of humans, surely, is their ability to separate themselves from the group and 'groupthink'. But the web doesn't encourage that... rather promotes the opposite.
OK, so this post may not be so relevant to readers here who are a savvy bunch, and no doubt seek out new forms of creative expression and trawl the web's niches each and every day. Right? But am I wrong about the big majority of users out there?
Is it a theme worth developing? Please give us feedback.