Sorting through the hype 2.0

The hype-laden rollout of Flock has got me thinking about all of the stuff that is being rolled up and paraded about under the umbrella of the what’s-cool-now ‘Web 2.0’ moniker. Having lived (and worked) through this the first Internet gold rush, it’s a bit puzzling as to what is at the heart of this and if it is really paying attention to other dynamics in the web-space.

There certainly have been some improvements in the end user experience through the evolution of CSS and the ramp up of AJAX interfaces, but this, in and of itself, hardly seems a revolution (sort of reminds me of when web design evolved from frames, to tables, to CSS with a brief detour through detestable flash-only site interfaces).

In addition to more dynamic interfaces, another attribute that most of these new apps share is some sort of an API which allows them to be extended, mixed and aggregated in ways that the original developers never intended or imagined (think google maps). This appears to be another expression of the growing traction of web services and it’s underlying emphasis on interoperability. Besides, once I have my information on the wire, I want to be able to selectively share it at other venues as well. Not that I make use of APIs explicitly to do so, but one of the driving reasons for creating this site was to have a place to link in all of the ‘stuff’ that I have on the web (aka my InfoCloud).

Being able to share and replicate ‘my stuff’ is one of the things that was initially attractive about Apple’s .Mac offering. I could keep bookmarks, calendars, etc in synch between various systems and have them available via the web. To do so, I also need to have my data bottled up in and dependent upon .Mac (and pay an annual fee). Now that reasonable substitutes are appearing, I can see making more use of them and becoming less reliant on the .Mac offerings.

Many of these ‘2.0’ apps seem to be simple-minded extensions of the web-based email systems that have been around for years — except now with a focus on news feeds. How many newsreader applications do we need? It seems that every week a new one is being announced. Thus far, the only newsreader that I have seen that makes a difference is searchfox. Searchfox pays attention to what I pay attention to and presents my feeds based upon what I really want to read. With close to 200 feeds, that is a big value add for me. The relevance seems to be a bit more intelligent than the recommendations wherein you buy one CD by, say, David Sylvian and it recommends you all of his CDs rather than artists that are similar to or related to him (as if you couldn’t find all of his CDs by searching by name for them). The creator of searchfox, Esteban Kozak is also genuinely interested in feedback (and very responsive in implementing the best suggestions). I like this app enough that I am in the process of going ‘cold turkey’ with NetNewsWire lite on my Mac at home and Sharpreader at work by converging all of my feeds into searchfox.

Following in the parade after news readers are calendar, events and to-do apps. The best one of these that I have come across is rememberthemilk (which I have commented on previously). I find this app to be truly useful and elegant in its design and execution. The ability to share the lists via the web is of great value. One of the things that the site needs is an API to make it easy to integrate its functionality with other apps (as mentioned above).

Unfortunately, what most ‘web 2.0’ developers seem to miss is the ever growing mobile population in the world. Just try accessing one of the sites on a mobile phone. Prepare yourself for a ugly and frustrating experience. It seems obvious to me that one of the reasons for web-based tools is that I can have access to my information just about anywhere via a browser. The next (obvious) step is to make it available to me anywhere I have my mobile phone/device. Having the functionality of a site available through an API creates an opportunity to create a mobile version (or mashup) of the site.

Another apparent mis-step is around ignoring the aging of the population. I wonder what effect this new style of development will have on accessibility, particularly those who are blind or have low sight that might need a machine reader to be able to take advantage of the Internet at all. Is this, perhaps, where microformats and other tagging technologies take a role in providing a richer experience for those with sight impairment?

In a cynical moment, I could believe that this is just the same greed and me-to attitude ten years on, with developers trying to create something/anything and flip it for a profit. For the time being, I plan on seeing how it evolves and figure out how to apply the best of it.

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