[Updated 20/10 – tidying-up, response to Adam, Malik quote ect ect]
Through the various link services, last week I found that my RSS entries were being published to a GreatestJournal site. I’d never heard of GreatestJournal, and when I went to contact the site to ask them to remove the feed, there is no contact information. I did find, though, a trouble ticket area and submitted a ticket asking the site to remove the account.
In reply, “GreatestJournal” (whoever they are) told Shelley that her RSS feed was in the public domain, so they could do whatever they liked with it. (“You might wish to take your feed down if you don’t want people to use it.” That’s helpful.)
One other thing: the email in which they conveyed this information had a copyright notice at the bottom. (Shelley reprinted it anyway.)
Coincidentally, I’d recently been reading this post on EconoMeta, in which Adam talks about our changing relationship with our personal data:
one important part of Web 2.0 is the separation of user data from the applications that use it, and the idea that users should own and control this data.
the switching costs imposed by Web 1.0 companies to get a competitive advantage are being replaced by different switching costs created by the *users* of Web 2.0 companies … [e.g.] the switching costs created by the value of a social network at MySpace or a reputation on eBay, as opposed to the switching cost created by the email address and “walled garden” at AOL.
Separation of user data from applications? Check. User ownership and control? Um, not so much.
It seems to me that this is (depending on how charitable you’re feeling) a naive oversight, a lurking contradiction or a dirty little secret at the heart of the “Web 2.0” vision: it’s not about the users. Here’s Tim O’Reilly, no less:
Let’s close, therefore, by summarizing what we believe to be the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies:
- Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
- Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
- Trusting users as co-developers
- Harnessing collective intelligence
- Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
- Software above the level of a single device
- Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models
So we’ve got software companies harnessing collective intelligence, leveraging the Snaggly Fence* – and, of course, exercising control over unique data. Unique and hard-to-recreate data. Unique data that’s continually enriched by its users. We’re talking social software, aren’t we?
It seems increasingly clear that there are two sides to Web 2.0. The sunny side – the ‘social software’ side – is where we ask questions like:
Q: How will the data sources become unique and impossible to recreate?
A: By being enriched!
Q: How will the data be enriched?
A: Through being used by people!
Q: How will people use the data?
A: Quickly, easily, intuitively and in their thousands!
That’s also the easy side of Web 2.0 – there aren’t too many posers there, as you can see.
But there’s another side, where we ask questions like “Who will own those data sources?” – and, increasingly, “How will they get hold of them to begin with?” Which, I think, is where GreatestJournal comes in. In comments at Shelley’s post, Roger Benningfield made the Web 2.0 connection:
I came across a whole swarm of Web 2.0 stuff in my aggregator. “Microformats, XHTML, death to walled gardens!” they cried.And I thought, “Oh, you guys are *fucked*.” Because ultimately, the business models they’re envisioning are going to make GreatestJournal’s response look friendly in comparison. If they ever manage to build any momentum (questionable), they’re going to hit a brick wall of posts like this one… a *big* wall.
Case in point: a thoroughly odd development called Sxore. Adina: “The idea is that if a user signs up to comment on one blog, they’ll be able to comment on other blogs. … Sxore creates an RSS feed for each user. Presumably you can follow comments made by that user across different blogs. So, if you think someone has good ideas about blog visualizations, you get to read what they also think about President Bush.” Hmmm. What was that about users owning and controlling their data again?
Om Malik has been having similar thoughts:
if we tag, bookmark or share, and help del.icio.us or Technorati or Yahoo become better commercial entities, aren’t we seemingly commoditizing our most valuable asset – time. We become the outsourced workforce, the collective, though it is still unclear what is the pay-off. While we may (or may not) gain something from the collective efforts, the odds are whatever “the collective efforts” are, they are going to boost the economic value of those entities. Will they share in their upside? Not likely!Take Skype as an example – it rides on our broadband pipes, for which we a hefty monthly charge. It uses our computers and pipes to replace a network that cost phone companies billions to build. In exchange we can make free phone calls to other Skype users. I have no problems with that. I had no problems with Skype charging me for SkypeIN and SkypeOUT calls as well, for this was only a premium service only to be used if and when needed.
However, now that it is part of eBay, I do cringe a little.
It seems to me that the Web 2.0 hype is about social software, but only in the sense that it’s about monetising social software: in Marxist terms it’s a form of primitive accumulation. In non-Marxist terms, it’s enclosure: appropriating something that exists outside the circuit of trading and ownership and managing the supply so that it can only be obtained within that circuit. Or: stealing it and selling it back. I don’t know what the GreatestJournal business model is, or how Sxore are planning on making their money; probably something perfectly obvious and straightforward. But it seems to involve turning our work into their assets. I’m not too keen.
In response to Adam (in comments), my concern isn’t that it’s impossible to draw a line where the benefits of social software can coexist with monetisation (I myself use and endorse the fine products of Blogger.com, after all). What worries me, firstly, is that the drive for monetisation is producing pressures for closure (and enclosure). Secondly, that half the people who advocate Web 2.0 seem to share the company perspective to the point of positively welcoming these developments (see the O’Reilly sermon linked above) – while a lot of the rest are so committed to the vision as to be spectacularly ill-prepared to put up any resistance.
My immediate reaction to Shelley’s GreatestJournal post was to leap to the defence of walled gardens – “Walled gardens are full of people!”. It’s a nice line, but on reflection I don’t think it’s quite right. What we’re hearing is a sublime (although far from unprecedented) example of chutzpah – a critique of barriers by advocates of enclosure. The blogosphere isn’t a walled garden, it’s a wide-open common where nobody has ownership rights. An enclave which can’t be strip-mined isn’t walled in; all that’s happened is that the predators – who would put their own fences around it if they could – have been walled out. Long may they remain so.
(The Americanism in the title is deliberate, incidentally.)
*There Is No Long Tail