Here is someone who agrees with my mumblings about communication, which can be found here.
One of the things that improving communications are doing is adding a new level of contextual chaos. Especially in an environment where the context could literally be anything.
If I'm in Second Life, and I talk about a terrorist act I am going to commit, I could be talking about within SL, or about real life, or just about a dream I had, or anything. It's impossible for someone to tell, without having all the context-establishing information.
But given the breadth of communication channels, that context-establishing info is going to be hard to gather. Even if I only talk on SL, in order to have the context someone will not only have to have all the dialogue I'm saying right now, but any dialogue I've said on this matter before and any in-game objects which might be relevant. However, these people do not limit themselves to communication within SL - conversations via forum, email, IM - all are common, all establish context. If Darren called me right now, I might put a post up here about what we talked about - but the actual conversation would be lost.
Nate Combs of Terra Nova seems to believe we're moving towards some kind of integrated "super-world", but I don't believe that's true.
Right now, in every market, there is a slow migration towards niche services. In software, in cars, in freaking SOAP, companies are starting to lean towards products which proudly serve only a small portion of the population. I expect this to continue as markets get larger and more diversified. In fact, I expect it to spread - by 2040, we'll have several massively different computer hardware bases, each of which has massively different (but communicating!) software systems. For example, in 2040 I expect we'll have the kinds of computers we have now plus:
Massively parallel computers (using tons of weak processors).
Quantum/Optical computers (calculating on a level we don't even understand yet).
"Soft" computers (using pattern recognition).
Wetware computers (my arm is mechanical, and it loves me).
Networked microcomputers (my ID is talking to my shoes, and they are conspiring against me!).
Obviously, each of these has radically different software needs and a radically different set of the audience.
What part of this vision of the future implies a 'monolithic' or even compatible set of communication methods?
No, monitoring the '4th generation' of communication is impossible. Instead, your best bet is to track attention. By determining how many people are paying attention to something, you can track the primary method of 'force', and, in turn, tell what is going to reach a boil.
By tracking the exact nature of the things getting the attention, you can even tell what way the popular opinion is going and, in turn, what the extremist's actions will be.
This only works in places which have moved into the 4th generation, of course, but that includes Europe and America, at the least. In these countries, simply by tracking interests, you can conclude what the early adopters think... and how long you have until it becomes a mainstream opinion.
This is a lot simpler than it sounds, because people are already doing it. Let's take a short jaunt to Technorati. Obviously, this is a somewhat biased example, but lets see what we can see.
Lets see the most popular posts are. Just by glancing at the front page, we see popular news items:
The Rude Pundit is ranting - and people are listening - so it might do to get an idea of what he talks about. People seem to think suicide bombers were behind the London attacks - although why they would think that, I can't begin to imagine, and it would seem that the ranter in question agrees with me. By looking at the popular books, we see that people seem to be tending towards "work less, get more" books, and that they haven't caught up with the more recent publications as of yet.
With only fifteen seconds of work, we've gotten a bit of a cross-section of where the attention is. We can also see, to our surprise, that the Rude Pundit has more than SIX TIMES the relative audience as the War of the Worlds posts. We see that Boing Boing has, uh... sixteen thousand divided by five hundred... thirty-two-ish times the amount of audience!
If we want to go more in detail, we pick what we're interested. News? Sure. Blogs? Sure. Of course, these are all early adopters. But the early adopters lead the mainstream.
Anything attention touches will burn if it is flammable. War of the Worlds isn't particularly juicy. In a few weeks, it will die down. Other small targets can be highly flammable, such as London's "Suicide Bombing" bit. You can expect those to burn merrily for a little while. But the mainstream is only interested in the big stuff. The mainstream stuff. And that takes a long time to set on fire in most cases.
So what you really want is a long-term list of topics which are steadily gaining momentum. I, well, I don't think Technorati can do that. But there probably is some site that can, and I would love to see it.
But by tracking these longer-term lists, we should be able to tell - with more and more accuracy as the internet becomes more and more mainstream - what opinions are going to become mainstream. With even just the short-term lists, you can track what soft targets are likely to go up in flames, although popular bloggers can quickly and erratically focus on new targets. Heck, you can focus them on new targets.
But our focus here is the mid-to-long-term stuff.
For example, I would bet from the continuous undercurrent of heavy liberalism that in the next decade or so we're going to see a further rise in socialist behavior among first-world countries, continuing to rise until the 4th gen communicators suddenly realize that it doesn't work. Depending on the technological options available, we will then see either horrible, horrible revolution or a lot of people leaving.
While I see a lot of anti-W stuff, I don't see much in the way of actual THREATS going on, so it's a safe bet that W will survive his term and probably live a long and happy life until his clogged arteries kill him.
That is the sort of thing I think can be determined by watching how much attention is being paid to what. If you were a wikkid kewl government superagency, you could even track what areas paid what kind of attention, and know where the 'hot spots' were.
Meh, it's an idea, at any rate.