Time, History and the Internet

I’ve read through Gavin Bell’s slides from his BarCamp London 2 presentation “Time, History and the Internet” a couple of times now, and they’ve certainly provided food for thought. Gavin’s asking questions about how we describe and search for content based on both its own time of origin, but also the events to which it refers.

His references to documentation around the current war in Iraq are probably easiest to digest, how do we distinguish between reporting from 2002, reporting about 2002, and information from 2002 that has only come to light in 2006 or 2007? How do we show the build up of information, the layering of understanding, in a now-centered internet culture.

It’s a complex topic, and while necessarily a little abstract, it also has very real consequences for how we understand the world. I’ve several times written over on my non-tech blog, about how as a conflict looms in Iran that is based on the same mesh of weak arguments and over-stated intelligence reports that led us into Iraq, we need a better collective memory of the west’s relationship with that country.

The hundreds of feeds in my newsreader go a long way to present me with perspectives on each new development, and some of those stories offer some historical context nestled in their copy. But if I wanted to track the implications of Operation Ajax (nothing to do with xmlhttprequest, and considerably more sinister) over the past fifty years, I’d have my work cut out for me.

It’s a fascinating set of questions, and one we would do well to work through carefully. Answering them seems to be within reach, but it will push at the limits of all the modelling and visualising tools we currently have.

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