Web 2.0 As Closed and Redundant as it is Cool and Creative

I admit that I use, and like, a number of so-called Web 2. 0 applications. The blog you’re reading is actually hosted at WordPress.com. The good folks there let me make it look like it lives somewhere else if I want to, and as an added bonus, WordPress is a downloadable, open source application in its own right, and if I wanted to go it alone and run my own wordpress blog, I could download the software, then export all of the data associated with this blog, import it into the new one, and I’d be on my way.

WordPress isn’t completely alone here, but it seems to be more the exception than the rule, and it’s been annoying to me on occasion. On one of my sites, I wanted to add a book review section. I wanted it to work *almost exactly* like lib.rario.us, but I wanted to alter the theme to make it fit seamlessly into my site, and I wanted the book cover art to link off to Amazon so I could collect a (miniscule) referral fee from Amazon, which would offset some of the cost of running the site. lib.rario.us doesn’t appear to have any intention of serving that purpose, so I went another route completely. I even emailed them to ask if they had any plans to support integration or export of data, but I’ve gotten no reply whatsoever. Guess that’s a ‘no’.

In general, it seems that Web 2.0 startups (well, the ones that aren’t just planning to be bought out) are working under the assumption that their value-add is primarily in presenting other people’s data. That’s really only half of the story. Sure, there will be some people who will go for that, but the value of a 2.0 company isn’t collecting my data so I can’t get at it, and then locking me into a presentation of that data that I have little or no control over. The value of these new companies has to be facilitating the end user to do whatever the hell they want with their data.

And by the way, RSS doesn’t qualify as access to my data. That’s a way for *other* people to access my data, at best. I want *all* of the data.

To make matters fuzzier, Web 2.0 is still new enough that there are at least 10 ways to do the same exact thing. In fact, if you go and peruse the Web 2.0 directory (which is, itself, pretty nicely done if you have the requisite Flash plugin), you’ll soon realize that real innovation in this space is exceedingly rare. There are at least 10 photo management sites, at least 10 email sites, at least 10 social networking sites, at least ten ways to manage your bookmarks, and an endless supply of searching interfaces, either specialized to a specific need, or just the opposite – aggregate sites that provide one interface to get results from a million other search engines.

So my plea is simply this: let me at my data! It’s the reason I’m using the 2.0 applications I currently use. I’m not saying hand me a tarballed SQL dump of my data (er, wait – can I ask for that?), but at least allow me to easily integrate these wonderful-but-highly-specialized solutions so that I can build a wholistic solution that fits my brain. I should be able to, say, create a site where my family can go to show off their library and see the family tree and read/write reviews of movies or restaurants, and post pictures. More than that, I should be able to build this site from independent components like Google Calendar, and Flickr, and lib.rario.us, and Geni.com, etc.

Web 2.0 has done much to improve the usability of the web. I’m glad it happened. I just think that some of the hype has to eventually give way to an overwhelming and somewhat scary sense among users that their entire lives are fragmented across the ether because there’s no common framework that users can plug all of these data interfaces into. Have you run into this issue? How have you dealt with it? Were you successful at getting what you needed?

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