Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Fragile Rotting Web

Today Michael Arrington said what the rest of us were thinking. The title of Michael's article is "They Screwed Us. Right Before They Screwed Us Again. #poohead". The TechCrunch story just scratches the surface for me.  Dude - where is my internet?  The answer is that it is rotting from the core.

The rotting internet goes beyond just the mechanics.  We sign up for things expecting we deserve to use a service for free on an indefinite basis.  Think of MySpace.com.  At one time the most popular internet destination, now a ghost town.   Never before has history shown us the focus of a planet shifting at such an incredible pace.  Companies that back ventures like MySpace want to eventually earn revenue for their investment.  Sometimes this means redefining licenses and terms of use or imposing certain limits of the free versions of their offerings.  Michael's rant was legitimate IMO but there is a second side to it.  We're getting what we pay for.  Consider this.  Have you ever paid money to Twitter, Facebook, CraigsList, Wikipedia, Skype, MySpace or Instagram?   No?  As a society we expect the services for free?  The fact is we might all need to ask ourselves why Google is giving us free email services, free blogs this one included), an online alternative to Microsoft Office and more.  Google is driving advertising revenue via these items of course.  Facebook, Twitter and others will need to follow eventually.   The various legal systems we have in place to protect our real world rights are sadly lagging far behind the capabilities of the internet and the evolution of social media.  The overwhelming resistance to control via acts like SOPA and PIPA have shown the while we do complain a lot, we also like our wild west frontier justice.

The internet is rotting from it's technical fragility.  Link rot is most prevalent  caused by the very basic architectural patterns of the web.  Anyone can link to anything else in a unilateral manner.  I can simply type in <a href="http://somelink.com/resource.html">anchor</a>  and I have made a link.  The resource I have linked to has no responsibility to me to ensure that the link target does not change.  When I make the link, I assume all the risks.   The problem is that the protocols and standards used to build the web allow this sort of linking with no heart beat mechanism.  If the link is taken down or the site redesigned and factored differently, my link is now leading to a different resource or is a null pointer.  I highly suspect that my blog contains hundreds of broken links that result in 404's.   The basic architecture is flawed by design yet was the best choice.  The alternative, tightly coupling resources would also be problematic. Nevertheless, it might be a good time to re-examine the basic architectural principles of the world wide web.  While Tim Berners-Lee and others run off in pursuit of their semantic web ideals, the core upon which they build continues to become more and more fragile.

Redirects should save us though right?  No!  Redirects cause time lapses and are like temporary bandaids.  I redirect is similar to forwarding your mail when you move.  I just ran the W3C link validator and checker on my former employers site and found many redirects.

The conclusions is inescapable.  As the web grows, domain ownership changes and resources become more intertwined with each other, we will experience more fragility.  The social media giants of today will strive to redefine how far they can push users to extract the maximum revenue from their investment.  Those who push to on user too hard and reconfigure features and functionality will fail like MySpace.    Those who offer simple, one dimensional services and are out to capture marketshare will proliferate overnight like join.me, forsmtr and others.  

1 comment:

Do not spam this blog! Google and Yahoo DO NOT follow comment links for SEO. If you post an unrelated link advertising a company or service, you will be reported immediately for spam and your link deleted within 30 minutes. If you want to sponsor a post, please let us know by reaching out to duane dot nickull at gmail dot com.