Reihan: The Infobeam

While reading Fred Vogelstein on Facebook,

Down the road, I imagine that if I'm burglarized and put that on my Facebook page, every one of my neighbors -- and the police -- will know that too. I know bloggers who use Facebook to automatically tell their readers what's on their mind by having Facebook keep track of the books and articles they read every day. They do that in addition to posting mini-essays, photos and movies. There is already lots of talk about how someday our Facebook page, or something like it, will serve as our universal identity -- where hospitals can go to check our health insurance, where banks can go to check our employment and credit-worthiness, even where the Internal Revenue Service can go to find our tax data.

I was reminded of David Gelernter's notion of "the worldbeam."

Your beam consists of every electronic document you have ever created or received, in chronological order. Every e-mail and voice mail and MP3 and project report, snapshot, video, shopping list--all there, encoded, for your eyes only. Your private documents are encrypted automatically; to get access to the Beam you'll need to pass a biometric test, provide a password and, probably, a key card. It sounds cumbersome but will become as natural as starting your car.

And, of course, your beam will include every friend and contact, and will be able to intelligently track the nature of your relationship. By identifying the people you communicate with most (in the infospace if not in the meatspace, though that is the next step), you will "see" who matters to you most. Sort of. Instead of imposing logic on a jumble of facts, you will see patterns emerge.

The most important thing is that we retain ownership and control over this information. Vogelstein almost gets this right.

If we, the users, through our Facebook page, become the hub, and they, the corporations, our spokes, the idea that we once worried about Microsoft's monopoly or, as we do now, Google's growing power in online advertising, will seem very silly indeed.

Of course, we can't allow Facebook to be in sole control of this information either.

It should be obvious that the idea of our social graph as hub will markedly change the way we consume media. Blogging is a neat tool, but a crude one in many respects. People forget that this is a transitional technology, and that our machines will get far more sophisticated about identifying the news we want and the news we need. A handful of smart and/or social aggregators have already emerged, like FeedEachOther, and I'm confident that this will keep evolving in a very cool way.