26 July 2006

Homo Conexus

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Homo Conexus
A veteran technology commentator attempts to live entirely on Web 2.0 for two weeks.

Sooner or later, we all face the Dodgeball truth. This comes at the moment when you realize that one of life’s possibilities — a product, an adventure, an offer, an idea — is really meant for people younger than you.

This bitter revelation is named for the relatively new Web-based service Dodgeball.com. This is a social networking site, and it represents most of what is supposed to be advanced and exciting about the current wave of “Web 2.0” offerings. Dodgeball’s goal is to help you figure out, at any moment of the day or night, whether your friends or people who might be friendly are nearby. Toward this end, users construct networks of contacts — you list your friends, they list theirs, and on it goes — and lists of “crushes,” people they’d like to get to know. Then, with your cell phone or PDA, you send Dodgeball a text message saying that you’ve arrived at a particular bar or Starbucks or museum. Dodgeball messages you back with a list of people in your network who are within brief walking distance of your location — and tells them, and your crushes, where you are.

How did I come across Dodgeball? Trying it out was part of a larger journalistic experiment in living a Web 2.0-only life. For a couple of weeks this spring, I shifted as many of my activities as possible onto the Web, using new, hip technologies. Some of these shifts were merely the intensification of practices already familiar to many people — for instance, skipping newspapers and getting news only from RSS feeds and customized news sites. I listened to radio shows by podcast. I got my “authoritative” information from Wikipedia and all traffic and travel info from Windows Live Local and Google Earth.

I went further. I shopped for everything except food on eBay. When working with foreign-language documents, I used translations from Babel Fish. (This worked only so well. After a Babel Fish round-trip through Italian, the preceding sentence reads, “That one has only worked therefore well.”) Why use up space storing files on my own hard drive when, thanks to certain free utilities, I can store them on Gmail’s servers? I saved, sorted, and browsed photos I uploaded to Flickr. I used Skype for my phone calls, decided on books using Amazon’s recommendations rather than “expert” reviews, killed time with videos at YouTube, and listened to music through customizable sites like Pandora and Musicmatch. I kept my schedule on Google Calendar, my to-do list on Voo2do, and my outlines on iOutliner. I voyeured my neighborhood’s home values via Zillow. I even used an online service for each stage of the production of this article, culminating in my typing right now in Writely rather than Word. (Being only so confident that Writely wouldn’t somehow lose my work — or as Babel Fish might put it, “only confident therefore” — I backed it up into Gmail files. And being equally only confident therefore in Gmail, I cheated and made lifesaver backups on my own computer in Word.) And this is only an abbreviated list of what I did on the new Web.

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