On Dragons

November 19th, 2009 3 Comments

Photo by davidseth on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Photo by davidseth on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Since last week’s post on the interwebs and fear, a couple other un-related posts have come across my reader that have me pondering the future of our beloved intertubes.

First was Chris (#mrhashtag) Messina on “The death of the URL“, followed by Tim “What is Web 2.0″ O’Reilly on “The War For the Web“.

Both are well worth the read and both have a very clear takeaway in common, i.e. keep the Web open and independent. They also have Facebook and the App Store in common as examples of how freedom has been eroded in favor of a sanitized and monitored experience.

The App Store is a pretty common target for this argument, since Apple decides which apps make it (and more famously, which do not).¬†Facebook isn’t as common, but last week, they were in the news because links were removed from the News Feed for a time.

This was reported as a bug and fixed, but the new part, at least for me, was the injection of a happy little Facebook warning about clicking short links. As Messina puts it “on the internet, thar be dragons”.

I rarely use Facebook at all and definitely not for finding links, so this may or may not be a new thing.

Anyway, the point is increasingly valid. As more companies produce sanitized and dumbed-down interfaces, the power of the Web diminishes because these interfaces could be used to censor the Web at large, and as people use these interfaces, they may not even know (or care) that they’re getting a censored experience.

Case in point, what if the war of ads between Verizon and AT&T leads to filtering out of each other’s sites, i.e. if you’re on AT&T’s network, you can’t view the YouTube video of Verizon’s ads or visit their web site.

The one thing that has been protecting the independence of the Web is the browser, but as interfaces take away the ability to view the URL of a given web page or app, that power is lost.

Looking back, the URL itself has always been under fire. From the beginning of the WWW, mainstream sites have tried to collect links and index pages to make finding information easier because those pesky URLs were too hard to remember.

Anyway, in my post last week, I advocated training for n00bs to protect them from the dragons, but even if this were the right answer (and I’m not convinced it is), it would fail because sanitized interfaces do this for you. Most people will gladly accept a smaller amount of freedom for an easier interface because it’s, well, easier.

But is there anything wrong with that?

I don’t think so, as long as people know what they’re getting and why. More importantly, the Web needs to stay accessible to those of us who are fine with the existence of dragons.

What do you think? Find the comments.


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3 Responses to “On Dragons”

  1. oraclenerd Says:

    I know a (Dave) Dragon.

    The URL shorteners are bad for the web just for the reason they hide the true destination thus allowing people with bad intentions to possibly do bad things…or the mischievous can rick-roll people.

    Then again, I don't use Windows anymore, so I am not really concerned about some virus and I will not give my SSN, bank account # and pin code to anyone just because they asked.

  2. Jake Says:

    Sure, we can protect ourselves. I guess people like Messina and O'Reilly are suggesting that people like us who understand why dumbing down the Web is bad for everyone should be speaking out against it.

    I have a feeling this general issue (whether focused on URL shorteners or sanitized, dumbed-down, closed interfaces) will become a much bigger deal in the next decade. I wonder if the Web itself ends up fragmented as a result, like in a sci-fi movie where there's a bubble city and outside it, everything is gritty, but real man (a la Demolition Man, Total Recall, etc.)

  3. Jake Says:

    Sure, we can protect ourselves. I guess people like Messina and O'Reilly are suggesting that people like us who understand why dumbing down the Web is bad for everyone should be speaking out against it.

    I have a feeling this general issue (whether focused on URL shorteners or sanitized, dumbed-down, closed interfaces) will become a much bigger deal in the next decade. I wonder if the Web itself ends up fragmented as a result, like in a sci-fi movie where there's a bubble city and outside it, everything is gritty, but real man (a la Demolition Man, Total Recall, etc.)

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