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Not Your Parents' Internet: Are We Taming the Web?

The battle of the Internet giants continues with Google+ trying to take on social networking king Facebook. Meanwhile, apparently undaunted by a two-front war, Google is also engaged in a show down with Apple over exactly how cloud computing will shape up. All of this rumbling between online heavyweights makes great fodder for tech journalists and geeks, many of whom have taken to their blogs and Twitter accounts to predict winners and losers and generally enjoy the show.

While many may be cheering on their favorite company or product, others are taking a more holistic look at developments and wondering, when the dust settles a bit, how the Internet will have changed. For crystal ball gazing of this type, where better to go than a conference of futurists, which is just what rolled into Vancouver this past weekend. Among the discussions at WorldFuture 2011 was a panel on youth trends where blogger and Googler Lisa Donchak offered her take on the future of the Internet.

Donchak lays out the essence of her argument in three interesting posts on her blog, outlining a trio of handily alliterated trends that she believes are going to shape the Internet of the future: real names, reputation and regulation. She sums up the interplay between these three ides in her final post:

Organizations are holding end-users accountable for real names and for confirming their identities. End-users are holding organizations accountable for their actions, and making decisions based on the reputation of those organizations.

The third trend deals with regulation -- governments holding organizations accountable for their actions. Going forward, the internet is going to be a much more regulated space. It will be far less of a Wild West, and much more of a New York; a big, full, mature city, with regulations guiding actions of both organizations and end-users.

To support her claim of a coming wave of regulation, Donchak cites new European rules including an E.U. directive requiring websites to get permission from users before installing cookies and proposed "Right to Be Forgotten" legislation, which would allow users to request sites delete all their information (it's being discussed a bit in the U.S. as well).

As an overall vision of a shift from a Wild West of anonymous users, relatively unknown companies and hands off regulatory sheriffs to a settled and safer future, Donchak's predictions on the Internet seem compelling. But not everyone is embracing a tamer web with open arms. Some tech types have publicly fretted that putting real names to our online identities will force people into adopting a unified, and relatively sterile, online persona whose comments and actions are acceptable for viewing by everyone from their grandmother to their boss. That's great for commerce but might be worse for community-building and creativity, and it's also worth wondering whether social networking would have played such a large role in the recent uprisings in the Middle East if real names were required at all times.

All in all the future internet envisioned by Donchak sounds safer and more business friendly, but certainly there will be those who are nostalgic for the dangerous, freewheeling early days of the Web (after all, when it comes to the real Wild West, plenty of folks pine for wide open skies and personal liberty and forget deprivation, violence and an abundance of mud and manure.) Do you buy the evolution of the internet Donchak is offering and, if so, are you looking forward to it?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user John Drake Flickr, CC 2.0)