For the last few days I have back-burnered the problem of automatically generating a weblog-style HTML page from RSS. There are existing ways to do this on the server side, and it’s not a hard problem in any case (I’m thinking I could crank out the XSLT to do it in a couple of hours), but I’m not at all sure yet that I want to spend money and time on hosting in order to get it done.
Anyway, as I ponder the problem this afternoon, the more I realize that, fifteen years on, the World Wide Web has not added all that much in the way of information access to the internet infrastructure that preceded it.
The blogosphere amounts to a huge, disorganized, massively redundant, incompletely connected, badly indexed clone of Usenet. Web-based electronic commerce is essentially an elaboration of what was available on Minitel, only less secure. As a community-oriented bulletin board service, Craigslist and its legion of ilk were long anticipated by Fidonet, Gopher, and local Usenet hierarchies. The Webworld has still not come up with a better implementation of chatrooms than IRC (which, incidentally, is where I met my wife).
You’ll note that there are a lot of links to Wikipedia in the last paragraph. Wikipedia is one of the relatively few web applications that would have fit well into the old internet; well-organized, unified, non-redundant, well-maintained.
The blogosphere is a mess. In the old days, you could be sure that your post to Usenet would get plenty of exposure to eyeballs, most of whom were at least peripherally interested in what you had to say. If they didn’t want to read your post, they would have to take action in order to “killfile” you – filter your identity or your article’s topic out of the stream of posts. By contrast, it’s quite possible (probable, in fact) that this post will never be read by anyone but me.
These days, information consumers have to actively scour the web for information. Every website you use has functional equivalents which differ in only minor ways and serve to split off some of the audience you wish to interact with. Beyond that, there are yet more websites that do some or all of what the one you use does, and more besides (for example, I’ve yet to figure out what the difference is between Technorati and Feedburner, or even exactly what either is good for). Sorting useful, non-redundant functionality out of the forest of .coms is a full-time proposition.
digg and reddit.
youtube and tmz.
del.icio.us and ma.gnolia and furl and spurl.
expedia and travelocity and orbitz, and if they’re too pricey for you, hotwire and priceline.
orkut and friendster and myspace and facebook.
monster and hotjobs and dice (and, God help us, gadball).
match and eharmony and true and dodgeball.
wordpress and blogger and typepad and livejournal.
Google and Yahoo and Live Search and ask.com and altavista and dogpile and…
I miss the old internet.
(Gah. ‘proceeded’ where I meant ‘preceded’. stoopid.)
Read Full Post »