Behind with the Times

This is a bit of an unstructured brain-dump of where certain techie things are in my head right now.

I wrote about my use of Twitter a while back. One of the boons of this has been watching the inspiring little comments of an old Bathonian friend of mine.

My friend (I won’t name him unless he reads this and decides he would like me to) is…well…I don’t really know what he does now. I think he used to work for the Institute of Physics or something, as a web designer, and he seems to have continued in a similar line of work. And now, in the absence of anyone else, he’s my personal guru for all things web design, Web 2.0, blogs, social networking and so on. I guess he inspires my inner-geek.

And I do have a part of me that thrives on this stuff. I love the interesting ways that people make innovative use of technology to achieve useful, and sometimes beautiful things. Here are some other little web-based things that I’ve come across since following this person: – great way to discover new music – my current bike logger – open alternative to Twitter – update multiple statuses/micro-blogs from one place
Opera – a rediscovery of the old alternative web-browser

But not just those practical things. My curiosity about the way people are using the web to communicate and interact has been roused. I’m intrigued how people are creating web sites that are simple, functional and well-designed. Things not only of purpose but of beauty.

I’m feeling behind and afraid though. I barely know Java and have heard only rumours of Ajax, let alone other “next big things”. I’ve been toying with client-side scripting, servlets, application frameworks, but not digging deep. I have an excellent grounding in Computer Science and an inquisitive mind, but there’s so much to learn and I don’t have time enough to invest to satisfy my curiosity, let alone learn anything of much use. And where would I start?

I’m afraid because of security, the nature of my online identity. I’m generally very open, as readers of this blog would know, but there’s stuff that I don’t want out there on the internet (mostly about other people and work, but sometimes about me). Can I throw myself into the online world of sharing so much with so many in safety? Do I want telling everyone where I am all the time?

And there’s the issue of time. My feed list in Google Reader continues to grow and reading, as well as writing, is a chore. Could I read the Twitter entries of more than about 20 people and have a real life too?

I’m also uncertain about who to take on the journey with me. In many ways I’m a long way ahead of my peers and I’d love to be able to introduce others to my personal world of customised web sites, RSS and Atom feeds, alternative browsers and web presence because I think these things are useful tools. But would they get it? How confusing is it to a non techie? There are so many places to be with new networks and tools appearing all the time. If I can barely keep up, how will they?

I think the web is an exciting, fun, and hugely creative place to be at the moment. Yet it’s a big place. A scary place. A confusing place. An ever-changing and unknown place.

My online interaction with the friend I mentioned above is a fine example of how the web can bring together people with a common cause or interest. It can be a very negative place, but it can be inspiring and friendly too. With my friend’s help I hope to continue to be a part of this strange world, and to introduce others to it, and maybe, one day, to be responsible for a small part of it.