In 1994, in the wake of Tim Berners Lee’s work, the World Wide Web was officially born. A global web, wide in its dimensions as in its contents. Over the years, these contents have literally exploded, imposing to all of us the use of search engines to try and sort out this fertile chaos on the basis of the principle of a classification ‘by relevance’. The main issue, when initially managing the web, was developing the addressing of documents. To find them, and to find them again, the documents needed a physical address on the network. The answer was given in particular thanks to the "http protocol" (hypertext transfer protocol) as well as via the naming system which enables to identify and classify web sites on the basis of their domain name (DNS). This addressing system is still somewhat problematic nowadays and must face the constant evolution of its contents, hence the appearance of new extensions (‘mobi’ for sites dedicated to mobile telephony, ‘museum’ for museum web sites, etc) and the open question of widening this protocol to all languages of the planet. This was the first documentary age of the web.
Then came the World Live Web, i.e. an instantaneous web, a web giving the latest published information in real time. Google News service was, as such, one of the pioneers of this second documentary age, but it also enables to refer to what is called micro contents, e.g. comments on blogs. Indeed, the relevance criterion used by search engines remains crucial, but there is also another important criterion, i.e. the capacity to account for the evolution of documents published on the web whatever they are. Where the mainstream search engines only indexed pages, the world of blogs search engines have started indexing blogs as snippets of documentary as soon as they are published, indexed and accessible.
For some time now we have entered a third documentary age, the World Life Web, in particular with the extraordinary boom of social networks (Facebook, MySpace) and of virtual worlds (Second Life). After the addressing of documents, after their level of granularity (increasingly thinner), the main issues of this new age are the sociability and the indexable and remixable nature of our digital identity as well as its traces on the network. In these digital worlds and networks, everyone can provide the information he/she wishes and this information can equally fall within our public sphere (e.g. our occupation), our private sphere (our relations, our friends) and above all our intimate sphere (our political, religious and sexual preferences). An increasing number of social networks enable the huge catalogue of human individualities, which compose them, to be indexed by search engines. This necessarily poses the question of the relevance of human profiles. A question which is still in its beginning stages, but whose scale of problems raised can rightly make one shudder. Effectively, it is an established fact that each user of these systems, far from having at their disposal a unique profile freely granted and containing only information of a public nature (a bit like our identity cards) have several different profiles on different sites in different public or private spheres. And that many users enter these social networks through nicknames (which mask their real identity) or avatars, also making up identities which are sometimes entertaining, sometimes reconstructed, sometimes deceptive, and often idealised, but always sketchy. The confidentiality policy of the websites gathering the generally freely granted information has already been the subject of many criticisms, mobilizing institutions and associations on the niche of the defence of a right to erase in the digital world. If it is possible to make people aware of a logic of industrialization of the private sphere which underlies these worlds, if it is possible to appeal to their vigilance and their responsibility, it remains impossible to control what will become of the remixing of all the traces, once displayed for instance on a search engine. The questions which must be considered today are the indexable nature of the human being, the question of whether Man is or is not a document as any others, the question of being equipped with a comprehensive and uncontrollled digital identity. This identity will be defined and has already largely been via my journey on the net, my purchases, the (controlled or not) expressions of my identity display as well as by the reflection of the whole such as it will appear remixed in the search engines, the social networks or the virtual worlds. The urgency of this question calls for another one: why ? Documents and key-words have gained a trading place. They are sold and bought on the market place of the Internet which largely regulates Google search engine. Will our digital identity traces also be mere commodities in future ? Welcome to the World Life Web.
Traduction du texte original publié ici même et repris sur Ecrans.fr
Merci à Fabienne Portier (McF Anglais) pour la traduction, et merci également aux étudiants de l'IUT qui , sous sa responsabilité, ont durement planché sur la traduction de ce texte.