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Why the Web Isn’t Dead – A Few More Points

At the risk of beating a dead horse and becoming bona-fide member of the slow media, I want to make a few more points about that recent Wired cover story. Some of this may seem like semantics or nit-picking, but I think the details here are important for understanding what is and isn’t happening to the web. (My previous thoughts are here).

What are the defining features of the web?

“It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule.”

Anderson keeps mentioning HTML, HTTP, and port 80 as the key features of the web. I don’t think that’s the case. Quite a lot of apps for iOS, Android and Adobe AIR are built using HTML and, presumably, access data using HTTP over port 80. Even apps that aren’t just glorified shortcuts to a company’s web site (TweetDeck, feed readers, and Instapaper are good examples of great apps that change how we consume web content) don’t seem far off from the typical web experience – they’re just custom browsers, still using the same old ports and protocols. (I could be wrong about those specific apps, but the tendency remains.) What’s really happening is that the browser is becoming invisible – it’s becoming the OS. Which is what web people have been saying would happen all along.

But what, at its core, is “the web”? To me it’s about hypertext – the ability to link and be linked. Interconnectedness. So apps can either be walled gardens – with no way to link or be linked to – or they can incorporate links. If it’s the former, then they’re no longer part of the web. If it’s the latter – isn’t it still the web?

It might not be this way forever, but the New York Times iOS app (at least as it runs on my iPod Touch) has outbound links (which open within the NYT app), and the ability to e-mail, text, Tweet or copy permalinks to the stories you read in the app (but if you open the links from your e-mail on your iOS device, they open in Safari and not in the NYT app). So even if it’s not using HTML, HTTP and port 80 (and I’m pretty sure it actually is), it’s still providing a rich hypertext experience. It’s still, all in all, the web.

Facebook is searchable by Google

“It’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule.”

It should also be noted that Facebook is searchable by Google now. So are Twitter, Tumblr, and most other big name social media sites. Mobile and desktop apps aren’t, but again – most of the apps there are still pulling content from or pushing content to the open web, where it’s being crawled by Google. Facebook has been pushing to make profiles public specifically to court more search engine traffic. Certainly there’s a lot of data that Facebook generates that it holds onto itself – all that data that’s going into its Open Graph project. That’s how it generates value. But it’s still an ad-supported system that depends on getting targeted traffic – and search seems to be a part of its strategy.

It may also be worth noting that The New York Times shut down its previous walled garden experiment in order to get more search traffic. The current semi-permeable wall idea is designed in part to encourage search traffic and link sharing.

Of course others, like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, both of which have had semi-permiable pay-walls, are going the opposite direction. So it remains to be seen which model will win. It seems likely that pay-walls will work for some content but not for others. It’s hard to imagine the Wired article in question getting so much traction and generating so much debate in a world of walled off, stand alone apps with no links.

The link is still the currency of social media

“Facebook became a parallel world to the Web, an experience that was vastly different and arguably more fulfilling and compelling and that consumed the time previously spent idly drifting from site to site.”

I’m not sure this is entirely true either. What exactly do people do on Facebook? A lot of different stuff, but one of those things is sharing links. The same is true on other social media sites. “Giving good link,” as Jay Rosen calls it, is still the best way to be popular on Twitter. Links – whether to articles, videos, or whatever – are still what generate activity on social media sites. True you can do more and more within Facebook without ever having to refer out to any external content, but it’s hard to imagine the value of the link diminishing enough for it to vanish from the social media ecosystem altogether any time soon.

The social graph only goes so far

Social media is a key way to find new links, but it’s not the only way and isn’t always the best way. Some of the “search is dead” sorts of articles that have been floating around about Google lately seem to believe that you can replace search with your “social graph.” You just ask your friends “Hey, where’s a good place to get a smoothie around here?” or “What kind of cell phone should I buy?” and you get your answer.

But that just isn’t the reality of the situation. I recently bought a Samsung Vibrant. If I’d been depending on my “social graph” I’d never have bought it since no one I knew had one. I had to depend on search engines to find reviews. I did an experiment the other day – I asked if anyone had an ASUS UL30A-X5 or knew someone who had one. This laptop wasn’t as new a product as the Vibrant. Also, it was part of the line of laptops Engadget called laptop of the year in 2009. So it seemed plausible that in my network Twitter followers and Facebook friends (over 1,000 people combined), including lots and lots of geeks and tech savvy people, SOMEONE would either have one or know someone who did. But no one did. Or if they did, they didn’t say anything.

And consumer electronics are a relatively un-obscure interest of mine. If I’d asked my social graph if they knew of any essays comparing Giotto’s Allegories of the Vices and the Virtues to the tarot, would anyone have been able to point me towards this essay? Maybe, but sometimes it’s easier to to just fucking Google it.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of answers through my friends via social media. But it’s not a replacement for Google. (And while there might not be much room for Google to grow its search business, it’s far from irrelevant.)

How open has the Internet ever been?

First it was getting listed by Yahoo!, then it was getting a good ranking in Google, now it’s getting into the Apple App Store. In each case, the platform owner benefited more than the person trying to get listed. This is not new. That certain sites – like Facebook at YouTube – have become large platforms is certainly interesting. That Apple, Facebook and Google have a disproportionate say over what gets seen on the Internet is problematic, definitely. But there was never any golden age when the Net was truly open. The physical infrastructure is owned by giant corporations, and ICANN is loosely controlled by the US government. And the biggest threat to openness on the Internet is international agreement that has nothing to do with the shift to apps.

Furthermore, even the App Store is open in a certain sense. It’s important to remember that Apple didn’t invent the app store – or even the mobile app store. They’ve been around for quite a while. I had a plain non-smart phone on Verizon that had access to an app store. Part of what made Apple’s app store successful though is that anyone could buy the SDK and submit apps to it. You didn’t have to be invited, and the cost wasn’t prohibitive. Very few developers could develop apps for that old Verizon store. In that sense, the app store is extremely “open.”

What do we need to do to ensure the app and post-app ecologies are “open”?

Even if we are going to see the end of the Open Web, replaced instead by an app economy or later an object ecosystem, we don’t need to have a closed Internet. Here are some of the keys to an open future:

-Open Data
-Open APIs
-Data Portability
-Net Neutrality
-Disclosure of data collection and usage
-Open-source apps and objects
An independent Internet

China Likes “Microblogging,” Not “Twitter”

Not surprisingly, China still supports the so-called “Great Firewall” approach to controlling and censoring Internet content, but also oddly mentions Twitter as a favorable development for Chinese Internet citizens. Why is that odd? Because China routinely blocks Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social networking services from being accessible to Chinese citizens.

The Twitter mention, cited by a number of news agencies including the AP and WSJ, appeared in the English language version of the document released on Tuesday. It appears to have been a translation error since the Chinese language document only touted “microblog” services, and did not specify Twitter specifically. (It also appears to have since been removed on the document hosted here.)

ReadWriteWeb: China Likes Twitter (What?), but Will Still Censor It

See also:

How the Net aids dictatorships

Read-Only Facebook Coming to Your Company?

Everything you need to know about who’s using Twitter

black people are over represented on Twitter

The Business Insider provides an Edison report on Twitter demographics. It’s quite interesting.

One surprising finding: black people are overrepresented on Twitter: “black people represent 25% of Twitter users, roughly twice their share of the population in general.” BI has a separate article that speculates as to some reasons why:

Black people (and Hispanics) are much more likely to access the Internet from mobile devices. Twitter is well-suited to mobile use, and its users are more engaged with the mobile Internet than the general population by a wide margin.

More black than white celebrities are active Twitter users; Shaquille O’Neal, Oprah, 50 Cent, and P Diddy are all among the most followed accounts on Twitter. That’s great publicity for Twitter, and could be helping Twitter become more mainstream among black people.

(via Disinfo)

The New York Times is tweeted at least every 4 seconds

NY Times tweets per minute

The New York Times is a customer of the bit.ly Pro service. That means NYT-shortened links are assigned under the nyti.ms domain — and this behavior holds true for anybody shortening a link to NYTimes.com. Now, it is also true that bit.ly is not the only URL-shortening service out there, but it remains the predominant shortener. At the very worst, my choice to limit this to bit.ly means I’m underestimating and thus erring a bit on the conservative side (although I do not know how to measure how big of a margin of error that is).

New York Times: How Often Is The Times Tweeted?

Twitter works on technology to evade censors in China and Iran

iran internet cafe

Twitter, the internet social network, is developing technology it hopes will prevent the Chinese and Iranian governments being able to censor its users. […]

Mr Williams, speaking at the World Economic Forum, said he admired Google for its decision last month to confront China over censorship and cyberattacks on its service, but said Twitter was too small to take a similar stand.

“We are partially blocked in China and other places and we were in Iran as well,” he said. “The most productive way to fight that is not by trying to engage China and other governments whose very being is against what we are about. I am hopeful there are technological ways around these barriers.”

Mr Williams said Twitter had an advantage in evading government censors through operating as a network of internet and mobile applications, rather than as a single website. “Twitter is a network that is accessed in thousands of ways.”

Financial Times: Twitter works on technology to evade censors in China and Iran

(via Wired)

Interview with @dangerousmeme

Dangerousmeme is a subversive art project with a coterie of followers on the fringe.”

We are naturally drawn to hyperbole. I take furtive pleasure assuming the role of Cassandra or a ‘ Henny Penny‘. I ask people to question the source of their beliefs. We live in a soundbite-sized world where complex ideas are distilled as reductio ad absurdum. While my overarching themes tend to be dramatic, I also see humor in the outrageous, ominous ideas in our midst. I hope my followers they can muster a smile in the face of this dire information, have a better understanding of when it matters, and formulate their own informed opinions about the true nature of things.

I find irony in the number of people who follow me because they quickly read my tweets and accept them as truth, at face value. This is the tiny conceit in my concept. The net is wide, much greater than it would naturally be if I simply tweeted my own personal beliefs. However, by catching these ideological sleepers and gradually exposing them to a breadth of ideas, I hope I am ultimately not only preaching to the converted.

Globatron: Interview with @dangerousmeme

This sounds a lot like my philosophical approach to Technoccult for a long period of its existence. For various reasons, this has become more and more untenable and I’ve started to editorialized more and more.

New York man accused of using Twitter to direct protesters during G20 summit

A New York-based anarchist has been arrested by the FBI and charged with hindering prosecution after he allegedly used the social networking site Twitter to help protesters at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh evade the police.

Elliot Madison, 41, from Queens, had his home raided and was put on $30,000 (£19,000) bail after he and Michael Wallschlaeger, 46, were tracked to the Carefree Inn motel in Pittsburgh during the summit on 24 and 25 September. […]

The FBI said that as well as the computers and radio scanning equipment discovered at the motel, they also confiscated from Madison’s home 11 gas masks, five pairs of goggles and test tubes and beakers. They said they also took away anarchist books and pictures of Marx and Lenin.

Guardian: New York man accused of using Twitter to direct protesters during G20 summit

Unconscionable.

Why there’s no such thing as a Twitter revolution

It’s certainly exciting to see technology being used in ways that amplify and extend the impact of movement organizing. I think it’s easy, however, to misread the technology as the cause of the movement rather than as simply a tool of it.

Fire, for instance, was a society-changing tool. Its revolutionary potential, however — cooking food and thus making it more digestible, nutritious, and lasting — was only realized through its strategic use.

Some people, awed by the fire, seem to confuse it with the food.

And besides:

In fact Twitter did not play that big role. The story is quite simple — young and active bloggers decided to have a flash-mob action, lighting candles and ‘mourning Moldova’ because of Communists victory, which nobody recognized due to the multiple violations before and during the campaign. They agreed on the time and place of the action through the network of Moldovan blogs (blogs aggregator blogosfera.md), and social networks like Facebook/Odnoklassniki, etc.

Rootwork: Why there’s no such thing as a Twitter revolution

(via Tara)

Top 10 Reasons Your Company Should Not Tweet

1. every Tweet has to be approved by legal.
2. you plan to use Twitter like a giant RSS feed,
3. you think using Twitter is a social media strategy
4. you think it’s a good idea to have someone tweet as if they are the president of the company.
5. you are not going to respond when people direct tweets at you.
6. you think paying for followers might be a good idea
7. you think all that matters on Twitter is getting a lot of people to follow you
8. you want to protect your updates.
9. you plan to track Twitter with Google Analytics
10. You think you can market to people with whom you have no relationship

Full Story: BL Ochman’s blog

Eight oddball Twitter utilities

Several creative Twitter hacks:

PIMPY3WASH
Trackthis
Botanicalls
London’s Tubes
Twitddict
Twitsay
FuelFrog
Remember The Milk

Full Story: CNET

(Thanks Mac Tonnies)

Plus: 140+ Twitter tools (via Clifford Pickover)

Related External Links

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