<Image Tatuagem geek no Barcamp – Tiago Doria http://flickr.com/photos/tiagodoria/432822929/>
To avoid the digital natives and immigrants debate, let's opt for the term digitalists instead, and define them thus:
"Those who are comfortable using a range of digital media and are open to the changes that digitisation brings to society."
It's not exclusive, anyone can become a digitalist, and it's not absolute, you can be a digitalist in some areas and maybe have reservations in another. But you're not Andrew Keen.
This follows on from previous post, where I took Scott Leslie's post about just sharing to argue that the mode of sharing has changed. Digitalists know this because they do it every day through blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In that post I suggested that institutions developed complex approaches to sharing because they either didn't know, or didn't believe that the simple methods would work. Scott commented that the flipside of my just because complex solutions were once required, doesn't mean they will always be ending was that complex problems don't necessarily require complex solutions.
And this is key to the tools available to the digitalist, they are simple. It's Really Simple Syndication after all, not Massively Complex Syndication. So here are my list of tools that a digitalist packs in their bag before leaving home:
- Embed – as Tony says in his video, Embed changes everything. What the embed tag allows is for a wide range of media to be, well, embedded, across the web. Not in itself amazing, but its implications are profound. It means you don't have to agree how to share, you don't have to develop metadata or format standards – you just take the embed code. And what this means is that content becomes widely, massively distributed. And the result of that is that a) people can create multimedia sites without any expertise, b) people get used to sharing, c) content is no longer tied to its originating site, d) content is no longer tied to its originating context and e) models which work against embed (ie locking down content), ultimately fail because if it can't be embedded, it may as well not exist. Embed is the conduit for content across the web, and thus the key element in understanding new models of ownership, creation, business, distribution and presentation.
- RSS – I've said it before, RSS is the universal acid of the net. It allows you to subscribe to any feed which will be updated regularly. Again, not mind-blowing in its basic form, but it is what this allows which is significant. It means we can all become broadcasters, because the 'schedule' is created by the user. It means you can personalise the information you receive, by selecting blogs, podcasts, video feeds you want to subscribe to you are in charge of the information you receive. And because it is a standard, subscribing is simple, just a click and its there. Which means anyone can do it. RSS is also the means by which meta services can be constructed. Take any output as RSS and you can build a site around it – Friendfeed is a good example of this. To an extent, your online identity is a list of your RSS feeds. If you were sad enough to want to know about me, you'd get a long way subscribing to my blog, Twitter, YouTube and Slideshare RSS feeds.
- Hashtags – once we have all this information flowing around, we need to filter and organise it. Previously this would have meant establishing a committee, agreeing a new metadata field, informing all participants of the correct label, etc. With hashtags users themselves tend to think of a useful term, and put a # in front of it, which allows it to be easily located in search. For instance, there was a CETIS conference on widgets last week (I was supposed to be there but had to pull out). The participants settled on #cetis08 as the tag, and so any twitter posts, Flickr photographs, delicious bookmarks were tagged with this. Thus if you go to Twemes and enter cetis08 as your search term, you get a good feel for the conference. Hashtags allow us to filter and reorganise content – without the ownership of the label, and more importantly what is deemed worthy of a label, being determined by an authority.
What these all have in common is that they are bottom-up, simple and focused on sharing. It is this democratisation and emphasis on sharing, reuse and reorganisation that is the fundamental difference between old content models and new ones, so these aren't just geeky technical matters – they're the combustion engine of our society.
I've focused on data techniques, not actual technologies such as blogs and wikis, and I've tried to keep the list simple and easy, but I'd love to hear of any other suggestions you have for the digitalist toolbox.