The Two-Way Web leads to Social Networks

Paperairplane was an experimental browser that was intended to facilitate a concept of a Two Way Web. It is designed to allow collaboration on a website from the browser.  This two way concept is an idea that has been part of what has become the phenomenon of the social networks.

The purpose of Paperairplane is to explore the possiblities of creating a two way web based upon Wiki’s idea of allowing anyone to contribute to a website (or uncontribute, i.e. edit out) from inside the browser.  That means that all sites can be interacted with from the browser – not having some special access granted. This is very much akin to what has evolved into the social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. This video discusses the idea of the social web (i.e. the social networks) being a two way conversation which is the concept behind Paperairplane.

The question was asked a while ago about how to make the web more interactive. Paperairplane was a concept browser where people, collaboration, and usability are the primary focus. Really it was a thought experiment that had some development behind it. The idea was simple as it related to the development of the brower. This was based upon a vision of how the web will be drastically different when it supports seamless community as a major component of the browser. The aim was to expand and consider concepts and applications. There was the idea of creating a new world wide web – called the two way web. Technically the process was to allow the browser itself to act as an individual web host providing for interaction as in a peer-to-peer network (remember Napster?) Indeed, this was not a new concept. In the NeXT computer – Steve Jobs post Apple endeavor – there was a built-in editor and annotation capabilites. This was all in what appeared to be a logical step from the initial Netscape Communicator browser which came with a whole suite of various tools that was headed in this direction.

Netscape logo

The two-way web concept was certainly ambitious, but not necessarily revolutionary – more aptly revolutionary. Collaboration is actually the core essence of the foundation of the internet (this was a science project initially to enable scientist to share information near real time). Static page concepts are simply an easier means to achieve a informational end, as one-way as it is. Paperairplane was trying to go back to the early days, at least the concept. The goal of making a browser server – a virtual server at a minimum, was a technical challenge at the time and would actually still be today in reality. Instant interaction, including the building of an instant site, which are the goals of Paperairplane, are realities on the social networks today (pages on Facebook are created in just a few clicks), but the browser is merely a visual input/output passive device.

Indeed if you look at the way a Facebook page is created, commented upon and even liked, shared and how the news feed and wall works, this is just what Paperairplane envisioned. Check this video and think about the concept of the two way web and how it clearly has, at least in certain ways, led to the social networks such as Facebook which is the topic in this video.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook was not a intellectual in pursuit of an idealized concept but a practical developer of a better mousetrap (specifically better than MySpace, but also better than what Harvard offered locally at the time). Indeed, not sure what the thought providers behind Paperairplane would think of the pursuit of Facebook likes or even the idea of buying likes on facebook as they clearly possessed a sharing ideal sort of akin to the original web concept of sharing scientific studies rather than commerce (the two way with internet commerce is buyer/seller not collaborator).

The idea of Paperairplane was to merge the server and the browser. Interestingly, the social networks achieve this goal (for the most part) in a fairly seamlessly way, but not necessarily in a way envisioned by the people behind Paperairplance. Take Instagram, for example. You can update the site with a new photo almost instantly from a smartphone and it can then be viewed and liked by the uploaders Instagram Followers (buying instagram followers has become an element of this that is not necessarily consistent with the ideals of the two way web and you can see that cheap instagram followers providers are now prolific) almost the instant the upload occurs. All from the smartphone on both sides. Sort of a browser and a server, at least functionally if not actually. This video shows how easily this is accomplished and you can see how this is not far from the vision of Paperairplane:

Indeed, in the studies published by the Paperairplane innovators, there is a discussion of this browser as a “smart browser.” Clearly a precursor to the smartphone – as there was no such thing at the time of the Paperairplace browser project.

Of the social networks they all seem to have some dependence upon the migration of the movement to the so-called mobile web – some more so than others. Instagram is very much a mobile centric social platform and very in-tune with the browser as server model. One of the concepts that appealed to the developers of Paperairplane was IM (instant messaging) an idea that goes back to the Netscape Communicator (which was squashed by Microsoft’s use of its monopoly on the pc operating system and its development of a really lousy Netscape alternative, Internet Explorer. Now, Twitter, the microblog social network has clearly taken IM to a new place one maybe not anticipated by the progenitors of Paperairplane, but one they would probably appreciate. Very much a smartphone or mobile device social platform and share only amongst one’s followers, which does have some relationship to the collaborative web (in this case on a group basis – your followers). People use Twitter for all sorts of reasons both informational and conversational but it can be highly interactive and share at amazing speeds. It is so prevalent that people go to lengths to get followers including buying followers on Twitter and getting cheap twitter followers just to appear popular. These sorts of almost anti-social activities would engender the wrath of those working on Paperairplane (fake collaboration is not what these thinkers had in mind). But the methodology behind the technology of Twitter and how it reaches people would be applauded by this group. Here you can see how Twitter works:

In the end, Paperairplane was an intellectual exercise that ran its course, but prompted much response and interest at the time. From a technical perspective, the social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so many others are not really browser as servers, but they are, literally, virtually the same thing. This early excercise in developing the concept of the two way web is exactly what the social networks have become, the blend of browser and server producing instant collaboration. Truly a great (and certainly influential) concept.