Archive for October, 2008

Consumer power

Techmeme had an interesting link today, to a startup which does some type of link-controlling implementation of current HTML pages, with title Take Back The Web. Like lots of Techmeme, there’s a whole bunch of text, which doesn’t quite say much (take it back from what? how?), but I did like the opening:

When Tim Berners-Lee conceived the web, he dreamed of inter-connected documents, of surfing along from one person’s page to the next, following a fluid path rich with information and discovery.

Instead what we we got is a big honkin’ billboard, as commercial interests hijacked Tim’s vision. Just look at any popular web site today and you’ll find only two kinds of hyperlinks — paid ones and self-referential ones (that keep traffic from leaving the domain). The only relevant links come from portals like Google that monetize search. So instead of deeply browsing the web, we search and click, search and click, search and click… So much for friction-free information and serendipitous discovery.

The web will remain captive to publishers until users exercise control over the hyperlinks that define the web’s structure.

I disagree with the Google-canonization in there (aren’t they based around commoditizing creative content to serve as fodder for Google’s proprietary advertising network?), but do agree that many website publishers reacted to the actual structure and incentives of the web, rather than to the original “universal hyperlinked documents” vision behind HTML. Unfortunately, you have to install something to learn what the entrepreneur intends to do about it — a blogpost that’s pitch, without punchline. But I did like his article’s setup, and the attention paid to the dynamic between publishers and consumers.

The HTML-based World Wide Web is merely one application of The Internet. It uses familiar network addresses, and layout suggestions are provided by HTML markup. Any user agent can do anything they want with those layout suggestions, and as those layout suggestions become more complex and difficult-to-implement (HTML5’s gonna be a doozy), publishers should expect that their work will be repurposed in ways they did not expect. Where only the file formats are specified, and the runtimes and data policies are left to chance, the work you publish will always be editable and republishable by others.

Nothing wrong with that consumer-centric view of the publishing transaction. But it clearly doesn’t satisfy all needs of all creators. Sometimes you want to assure the presentation, not merely suggest a presentation. Today’s commercial web, in particular, won’t like its adlinks stripped out. Video producers generally don’t want to be locked into an atomistic file format… their production investment tends to requires a trusted presentation layer.

Internet-based communication shouldn’t be “captive to publishers”. It shouldn’t be “captive to consumers” either. We need a diversity of publishing models, so people can reach their own agreements. A single model won’t do it.

Specifying the runtime complements the greasemonkeyable web. We need a variety of tools to be able to express all communication needs. We need to resist the authoritarians who insist on only one “true” model.

Summary: Go, Greasemonkey! Go, Flash! Go, AIR! We need ’em all.