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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Chapter 6. The Sociosemantic Web

Man’s achievements rest upon the use of symbols. —Alfred Korzybski

In 1988, sociologist Susan Leigh Star coined the term “boundary object” to describe artifacts or ideas that are shared but understood differently by multiple communities. Though each group attaches a different meaning to the boundary object, it serves as a common point of reference and a means of translation. A dead bird may be the catalyst for communication between amateur bird watchers and professional epidemiologists. A vision of sustainable development may inspire politicians, environmentalists, builders, and business leaders to engage in negotiation and collaboration. The magic of the boundary object lies in its ability to build shared understanding across social categories.

In the 1990s, the Internet emerged as a powerful boundary object, uniting early adopters in a global conversation about the future of information, communication, and commerce. Back in the text-only days of Gopher and WAIS , the Internet was a special club. Only a few belonged. Most of the world had never heard of the Internet, and many who did casually dismissed it as a playground for geeks. This rejection only strengthened the bonds of the inspired. We were amazed by the Internet. We could download software from Berkeley, send email to Moscow, and retrieve documents from Sydney. We wanted to learn everything about the Internet: where it came from, how it worked, and what it could do. We imagined the future ...

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