Spiral Bound

Notes that are Spiral Bound. A collection of clips that catch my attention at at point in time; reposted - no editing with my own title and categorization.

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Spiral Bound: Jon on Infoware

September 13, 2004

Jon on Infoware

The other day, Jeremy Zawodny asked:

Is it just me, or is Flickr (currently in beta) one of the best examples of next generation web services?

Note that in this context, I mean "web services" in both senses of the term:
  • A web site that provides some useful service that I can interact with using a web browser.
  • An application with an API that has been exposed over HTTP using REST, XML-RPC, or SOAP.
[Jeremy Zawodny's blog]
Nope, not just you. I've been using Flickr, and writing about it, for the same reasons. Likewise del.icio.us. Among other virtues, both exhibit a really important one I haven't mentioned yet: you own your data.

What reminded me of this point was Steve Mallet's blog item entitled Applying Distributed XML to The Open Source Paradigm Shift, which says in part:

So, what happens when the software I depend on slowly shifts to Infoware that I can never really touch and that while still immediately practical gives me no assurance that it can't be taken away or misused at will without any recourse available to me?

I think we can apply the same principles to the data as we have to the source code. Google, eBay, Amazon, et al. are really only as useful as we allow them to be through the information we give them. We still hold the cards here which means we have options.
Exactly. When I think about meshing my own data with an infoware-style service, there are two key strategies I need to consider:
  1. The entry strategy. In the case of del.icio.us, it was easy to weave my own stuff into the service. Using the procedure I detailed here, tags that I maintain on my blog entries are automatically sprayed into del.icio.us. With little effort, I was able to create hundreds of integration points between two complex information surfaces -- my blog and del.icio.us. This was so effective that I decided to use del.icio.us for tag surfing of my blog.

  2. The exit strategy. With first-generation infoware services it's hard or maybe impossible to retract the information you've given them. Second-generation infoware challenges that notion. You can't delete reviews you write for Amazon, which is why I've never written one there. (Instead I write about books on my own blog where services such as All Consuming can find them.) But you can delete links you submit to del.icio.us or photos you upload to Flickr.

From the user's perspective, del.icio.us and Flickr support near-optimal entry and exit strategies. You can deeply and automatically mesh your own information with them. And you can undo that meshing. Participation in the services is thus an "at will" arrangement. If you maintain well-structured information, you can as easily mesh it with another comparably-equipped service. So the switching cost, as economists say, is low.

Now to be sure, deletion of links from del.icio.us and photos from Flickr is currently a manual affair. Neither API offers explicit support for wholesale automated retraction. And that would be a scary thing for any service with commercial ambitions to contemplate. But I'd love to see competition based on the value that's wrapped around the portable data we choose to mesh with infoware services, rather than on data lock-in.

[Jon's Radio]
Posted by Stuart, September 13, 2004 3:47 PM
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