Sociologists have long known that the quickest way to form a community is to create a common enemy or adversary. That is to say, that the mind seems to most easily “define” something when it can position that something against something else — there is not here, we are not them, web 3.0 is not web 2.0, etc.

As such, there’s always a constant force pulling on us as we talk about Defrag — “web 2.0.” From the earliest conversation, Brad and I were in agreement that this wasn’t “yet another web 2.0 thing” (YAW2T); that it was somehow different in kind, a little off to the side. However, you see the rub, we’re still defining ourselves against something else.

Wanting to get out of that circle is what led me to thinking about the Defrag topic as analogous to a brainstorming session. In this analogy, I liken the build-out of the internet to the recreation of the plumbing of the brainstorm:

  • we’ve solved the need for everyone in the same room (place)
  • we’ve solved the need for simultaneity of communications (time)
  • we’re even working hard on knowing who’s in the room with us (identity)

The piece that’s missing is that “aha moment” — that flash of insight that occurs when people mix together and think of something that they would’ve had a hard time thinking of alone; technology that can “accelerate” or “augment” that moment.

And so, you find us talking a lot about tagging and augmenting networked information and visualizing social intelligence, etc. In other words, you find us bringing together a whole bunch of ideas (bits) under the idea that they’re all related to a common theme (defrag). I’ve spoken about the essential acts of discovery and assembly. I can also identify some of the really big topics of Defrag — attention, social intelligence, discovery, tagging, relevance and context, networked information, etc. But still, there are some times when you read something — something to define *against* — and well, it is just a bit easier than speaking out in empty space.

This morning that something was this Wired piece with Tim O’Reilly regarding the upcoming Web 2.0 expo. In that piece, two quotes jumped out at me right away:

That goes back to a major theme of web 2.0 that people haven’t yet tweaked to. It’s really about data and who owns and controls, or gives the best access to, a class of data.
As far as I’m concerned, web 2.0 is still in it’s really early stages, and the reason is because the data isn’t all owned yet.”

Now, to be fair, when you read those quotes in context they don’t make Tim sound like some Darth Vader overlord that “wants all data to be owned” (insert vader breathing apparatus here). But the “defining against” moment became quite clear for me when I read this: Every one of the companies that I’m talking to in the “defrag” space is working on the problem of sharing information, not owning or controlling data.

And the brainstorm analogy brings us back to this.

At no point in a brainstorming session are you trying to own or control data. You may be trying to classify it. Or discover it. Or (most likely) share it. But its not about control – its about getting that information out into a shared space, and then turning those huge loads of information into discrete bits of *insight*.

That is Defrag. That is what I think the companies involved with Defrag are working on. Of course, I hope that they’ll speak up and tell me where I’m wrong.