All Your Control Are Belong To Us

If you’re interested in this Web 2.0 thing, and you haven’t yet read Abe’s thoughts on it, you should. His distinction of the insiders (those who build the tools) and the outsiders (those who use the tools) is reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s use of Eloi and Morlocks (click and scroll down a bit) as a way to distinguish between the hackers who build our technological systems, and the people who use them.

And while I find Abe’s views valuable, I feel the need to question two of his many claims. The first is this idea of the early Web as one where “anyone” could build. I simply don’t think that’s true. Because not “anyone” could master HTML, not “anyone” could understand the arcana of registering domain names and pointing them to a server, not “anyone” could figure out how to upload something via FTP. Many people recognized Blogger’s early success as simply putting a friendly interface on FTP. So for however easy those earlier approaches seemed, these publishing tools have made them much much easier — and allowed a far greater audience the ability to contribute.

Later on, Abe references my essay on relinquishing control, and claims,

“In the end he’s not just arguing that companies should relinquish control, rather he’s arguing that they should relinquish control over to him, his company Adaptive Path, and others that share their philosophy. Reliquish control over to the professionals, those that know what they are doing, know how to control things on the internet.” (Emphasis his)

As the author of that essay, I feel confident in saying that Abe’s take, on this point, is balderdash. One of the challenges facing Adaptive Path, and anyone seriously pursuing designing in this space, is that we as designers, we as professionals, we as those who think we know better, we, too, have to relinquish control. And that is exactly what I meant in my essay. If I were to truly believe what Abe claims I meant, I would be hypocritical. I don’t want companies to give control to me. I want them to give control to their customers. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, those of us who “know what they are doing” often don’t.

That said, Abe provides some remarkably cogent critiques. He’s right to have called into question my use of Netflix in my original essay, because, clearly, Netflix isn’t relinquishing control, but shifting how control is levied. And I think this suggests a potentially interesting path of investigation — what are appropriate forms of control in this space? What control are people willing to give up, as long as they receive it elsewhere?

Web 2.0 – Your Technology is in my Experience

It’s interesting seeing the web 2.0 discussion bifurcate. The technologists seem to feel that “Web 2.0 is about making websites machine readable so that content can squirt seamlessly between unrelated sites. Technologies like RSS, RESTian APIs, and XHTML/CSS are the core of Web 2.0.”

The designers are waking up and saying, “No! It’s about the improved experience!”

Considering the technologists got there first, this is one of the reasons that, in the back of my mind, I’ve been nervous talking about “Web 2.0″ when I refer to the trends we’re seeing. My initial effort to label it something else (“designing for the sandbox“) understandably didn’t take root (it’s too opaque, and requires a concerted marketing effort).

It feels like the phrase “Web 2.0″ is definitely here to stay. And with it, the challenge for designers to make technologists understand that Web 2.0 isn’t interesting because it makes “the Internet useful for computers,” (as Jeff Bezos said), but it’s interesting because it further empowers *users*. This is the underlying theme to Josh Porter and Richard McManus’ recent “Web 2.0 for Designers” piece.

And I think a way for the technologists and designers to hold hands is to go a level deeper and realize their shared philosophies. In June I wrote an essay for the Adaptive Path site on relinquishing control (and giving users the power to dictate their experiences). A month later, DeWitt Clinton, a software developer, wrote, “Web 2.0 is giving up control.” He then gets jiggy with acronyms (REST, SOAP, API, etc.) but, truly, we’re talking about the same thing.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Web 2.0 conference as an opportunity to explicitly bridge these worlds. The challenge then being, how do we spread the word?

L.A. for a few days

I’m heading south on Sunday the 28th, and will be there until the morning of Thursday the 1st. Should we hang out? Email me: peterme at peterme dot com.

User Experience Week Wiki

Adaptive Path is experimenting with having a public wiki during our User Experience Week conference. (Courtesy of our pals at Socialtext.)

On the wiki, you can read notes from each of the sessions (say, Ajax, a case study on Wells Fargo’s content efforts, and field research), find attendee’s weblogs, learn about jobs in the DC area, birds of a feather discussions on intranets and cultural change, and photos from Flickr.

It’s worked out… pretty good. Not great (it’s not clear *when* you should use the wiki, not everyone has a laptop, etc. etc.), but I think for those who have used it, it’s been pretty beneficial.

Off To Our Nation’s Capital

Tomorrow morning I head to the land of the security lockdown, where we’re hosting our User Experience Week.

On Tuesday, August 23rd, we’re hosting beers at Fado, 808 7th Street NW, from 5:30 until we cannot stand no more. Please join us!

Yahoo! – Walled Garden or Commons?

This week’s Economist features a story on Yahoo!’s Personality Crisis. (scroll down a very little bit — it’s a cut and paste into someone’s blog.)

It very much touches on the philosophical issues of Web 2.0 bandied about of late. The story’s main thesis being that while Yahoo! attempts to match Google in terms of openness (acquisition of Flickr, etc.), such openness is in direct conflict with its business model — which is one of a media company that seeks to be “The only place anyone needs to go to find anything, communicate with anyone, or buy anything.”

I’ve argued before that Yahoo is not a sandbox company. I was refuted with calls of, “But what about these APIs? What about Flickr?” And in response to the Economist’s article, folks like Jeremy Zawodny plead, “Look at what we did with My Yahoo!. Check Yahoo! News. Not to mention the bazillions of RSS feeds we’ve been pumping out: News, Search, Flickr, Finance, Groups, 360, My Web, and more. Yahoo! is probably one of the biggest f’ing aggregators of third party content in the world.”

But that’s exactly the Economist’s point. There’s no personality crisis if Yahoo *isn’t* attempting openness. But these refutations strike me as small potatoes in the megalith that is Yahoo! And endeavors such as bulking up Yahoo’s presence in southern California strikes at the very heart of this conflict. Hollywood is not known for its open philosophy when it comes to content.

Clearly, it will take time before Yahoo figures itself out. But in the meantime, I encourage people at Yahoo to take the Economist’s article seriously. If you can’t recognize this inherent internal tugging, then you’re simply fooling yourselves.

No. Really. It’s not *about* the technology.

[[Hello, Scobleizers! If you like this post, you might want to read:
Web 2.0 - It's not about the technology
Designing for the Sandbox - slides from my presentation
Designing for the Sandbox - the original post
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Relinquish Control
]]

Rashmi challenges my philosophical bent with her writeup of the web 2.0 panel:

In my opinion, the logic (philosophy if you will) of Web 2.0 reflects its technological underpinnings. A good example is the open source movement. Now, we even have open source beer. But initially, to understand the philosophy of open-source you had to understand developer speak. As Stewart Butterfield noted at the panel, Flickr wanted rich interactivity (refreshing parts of the page at a time) so they had API hooks – they kind of went with it, rather than fighting it. The API’s facilitated the openness. Currently, the logic behind Web 2.0 is baked into API’s, RSS etc. Also, I question whether any business will move to this approach because it is a compelling philosophy. They will shift because it is an attractive business proposition, or because technically it makes sense/is unavoidable, or a mix of both.)

But I think this is exactly backwards. Open source didn’t require developer speak. As Eric Raymond showed, he had to get *developers* to understand open source by using metaphors of cathedrals and bazaars. The conceptual underpinnings are not predicated on the technology.

APIs facilitate openness, but they’re meaningless if your organization doesn’t have the conceptual underpinnings to take advantage of it. And while the “logic” of Web 2.0 might be baked into APIs, RSS, etc. (and I’m not so sure about that), the approach is not.

If business shifts to this approach *without* appreciating the compelling philosophy, well, they’ll fuck it up. They’ll fuck it up the way that Barnes and Noble did when they simply tried to copy Amazon’s features. The point isn’t the features, it’s the underlying philosophy of relinquishing control. Since Barnes and Noble as a company didn’t appreciate the philosophy, they invested a lot of time and energy into features that then languished. Same thing with Blockbuster. They tried to copy Netflix’ policy of No Late Fees — but because they don’t have the philosophical underpinnings in place, they fucked it up, and now have to post big “End of Late Fees Terms” links on their home page, because customers were getting confused when, after having a DVD for a week, they found out they were then charged the COST of that DVD.

As Ross made clear, simply adopting Web 2.0 technologies does not make you a Web 2.0 enterprise.

In fact, I’m a little distressed that the program chair for BayCHI (the “H” stands for “Human”!) would express such… technological determinism about this. As Paul Rademacher said on the panel — these technologies have been around for at least 5 years… They’re being adopted *because* the philosophy is starting to spread…