Welcome to the Internet, as told by your older, cooler, sister. In her first book, Lurking: How a Person Became a User, Joanne McNeil presents a short history of the Web as we know it, and how it has gone from an obscure hobby to a near-necessity at the hands of large corporations. Like a great oldies radio station, McNeil plays the hits and goes into the stories behind them: AOL Messenger, Friendster, Facebook, Myspace, all make appearances as her experience as an Internet user builds from edgy and defining to ubiquitous.
McNeil begins reminiscing on the whys of someone would go on the Internet back in the days of yore. She paints a picture of the communities that existed, like Echo or East Coast Hang Out, when the Internet consisted of people posting on message boards, and less, well, everything. Net users had various interests and they would meet up to chat and share info. Eventually many community boards (not Echo) fell prey to the dot com crash after everything moved onto the Web, but that sense of community stayed. Much of the book chronicles the potential of giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as what they can or should do with their enormous power.
For all the warnings against the power of the corporate overlords, McNeil strays from the real sense of fandom that warms up the first half of the book. It quickly turns jeremiad when she begins chronicling the sins of Google mass documentation projects or the ways that Facebook alienates users that it hopes to connect. When McNeil feels forced to admit that efforts have been made to resolve some of the problems she lists, she feels equally reluctant to trust any of these companies again. But, as she points out, more open source, less viable alternatives simply can’t seem to compete.
Technophiles with penchant for nostalgia will devour Lurking. For those who don’t remember the beginning of the millennium quite so well, it can serve as primer for terms we’ve read about a million terms as well as why we can’t trust Big Brother. Doubtless the best “user’s guide” I’ve read in a long time – written by an actual user.
Three stars out of five
Pages: 304 pages
Favorite quote: “Anonymity is the state of being public but unacknowledged, while privacy refers to protection from intrusion from the public.”