As 2005 comes to a close, my colleague at CNET Esther Dyson is busy planning PC Forum, her annual March executive conference. The theme for PC Forum 2006 is "Erosion of Power: Users in charge." During our podcast interview, I asked Esther about theme--which users are in charge, and of what, and who's power is being eroded. She said that we are moving toward an era in which users have the rights and tools to exercise more control over their online existence.
It's not exactly the rise of the user class, overcoming centralized services providers. Users aren't going to become all powerful--in fact, today most users don't exercise their online rights, she said--but the concentration of power at the center is diminishing. Nor will all users experience the same level of service in exchange for providing their information.
The big brands collecting billions of bits of user data will need to figure out how to share that information, and the power it can yield in terms of convenience, money or other exchange forms, effectively with users. "The industry's challenge is to build all this infrastructure in a way that keeps it friendly and human and easy to manage despite all the intricate code underneath," Esther wrote in her PC Forum precis.
We also discussed the how privacy and identity fit into her notion of power erosion and increasing user control, as well as the controversy surrounding Wikipedia. Esther's take: "I don't think anybody said Wikipedia was a miracle of lucid writing...it's a miracle of user generated content, editing and is probably slightly better than mediocre....The fundamental proposition that user generated content, as in Wikipedia, is a good thing and overtime will self correct is true."
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