Thanks for submitting my post to programming.reddit.com
, and all of the other “social bookmarking” sites. I really appreciate knowing somebody likes what I’ve written.
But you know, as much as I love these places
, I’m getting a little worried by where we’re headed. The thing is, these aggregation sites are taking the value that the web provides and concentrating it in proprietary databases. They operate on the Internet, but not on the web.
Let me give you an example. A popular blog post can generate hundreds of comments. When those comments are attached to the post, you can read them right on the post. Anybody finding the post finds the comments. That’s value added to the post. Search engines can index them. If there are links in the comments, search engines can make inferences about the relationship between pages and ideas.
Likewise, if you follow-up with a comment on your
blog, your words are forever available to anyone reading your ideas. Search engines can make inferences about the relationship between pages and ideas. Words and links on the web add value to the web.
But when the comments are in programming.reddit.com
instead of on the blog post, what happens? I hope that search engines are smart enough to index those comments as if they were attached to the post, but I’m not so sure they do. And what if the company owning the comments blocks search engines, or goes out of business? The value is lost forever.
The web is composed of pages with contextually relevant links between them. Social bookmarking applications subvert this basic structure. They are unravelling the web itself.
Those comments are on the Internet, but they aren’t on the web. The web is composed of pages with contextually relevant links between them. Social bookmarking applications subvert this basic structure. They are unravelling the web itself.
This isn’t just a problem with the value of comments and discussion being redirected off the web and into Internet applications. It’s a problem with the basic link structure of the web itself. As much as I love the convenience of del.icio.us (I have a special tag just for links to fold into my weblog’s feed
), it’s a culprit as well. Recently, I read something very interesting
by Carl Lewis. I posted the link to my weblog feed and to programming.reddit.com. Traffic followed for Carl. Great.
In Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig argues that the the Internet is being steadily regulated and controlled by businesses and governments. Are we going to sit on the sidelines whilst others decide its fate? Or will we get involved and participate in the creation of the future?
This is a must-read for anyone passionate about the Internet, the web, and its role in society and business.
But you know what isn’t great? There’s no context for these links. There’s one-time traffic to Carl’s post, but although that happened on the Internet, it didn’t happen on the web
. There’s no permanent link to Carl’s post on my weblog. There’re no words, no matter how brief, explaining what I thought of the post and why I liked it. Sure, search engine providers can add a page’s number of del.icio.us links to their formula for calculating popularity.
But now, the smarts about what a page represents and the relationships between pages have gone from being embedded in the pages themselves to the tags that reside in a proprietary Internet application. Once again, the inherent smarts of the web are being leeched away.
The web has its faults. But it’s open
. Anyone can write a new search engine. Sure, the big “Do as we say when we say do no evil, not as we do” company has a tremendous competitive advantage in their massive S^Hk^Hy^Hn^He^Ht^H computing network. But in principle, all the data they’ve collected from pages and links can be collected by their competitors, or by you in your garage.
Not so with the tags in del.icio.us or the rankings in digg.com. All it takes is a EULA at the bottom of each page and they slam the door on us.call to action
And do you have something to say about a post? Why not put your comment right there on the post? Or better still, why not publish your own blog post with your words and link back?
I know all your buddies are on reddit or what-ever, but your words will be (relatively) immortal on the post.
It’s our web. Let’s keep it that way.update
: Thanks for some of the early feedback, I’ve tried to clarify something: I don’t want to hog your comments on my blog where I can moderate them or get Google-juice from your words or even sell books to people searching for your words. What I want is for your words and links to be freely available to everyone to read, search, index, and add value.
They’re your words, put them where you will (I obviously do). They’re your links, aggregate them where you will (again, I do). But words on the web are more open and more valuable than words in a social aggregation application. And links that make up the web are more open, more valuable thank links in a social bookmarking site. I just want to encourage us all to keep growing the web.Update II
: After thinking about it, I see the issue as being congruent to the walled garden
syndrome. It isn’t about taking content behind a log in or sign on, but it is about taking information that used to be open and distributed (like links and relationships) and putting it into proprietary Internet applications.
And it happens for the same reason: a true commons requires more work and has messier connectivity than a walled garden. When a city grows organically, it will always have icky bits and inconvenient bits. A “planned community” with a reasonably benevolent dictator will always offer a much more attractive vista, with more convenience and better looks. Naturally reddit has more convenient commenting. And also naturally, Condé Naste owns its database.
In Toronto, we have vibrant neighborhoods, and we have corporate spaces like shopping malls and nightclubs. Each have their place, but if I could only have one, I would have the public spaces. I don’t want to wake up one day and find that we can have any Internet we want, as long as it’s proprietary.And update III
: Is raganwald leasing space in Blogger’s walled garden?Update IV
:Joel Spolsky on why comments are bad for blogs, especially anonymous comments
. Worth reading. This does not affect my thinking about the importance of having web pages link to web pages rather than using bookmarking sites.