What The Internet Needs Now

I’ve been blogging a fair bit lately about metadata, archiving and dealing with the masses of information that we produce and consume today.

It all comes from an idea that has been alternatively percolating and distilling in my mind. It’s the idea of stability.

The internet age is highly energized and highly transient. The next big thing comes along, is adopted by huge masses of people, and is discarded in a matter of months or years. Examples abound, but my working example is waning interest in Facebook.

I recently printed a PDF of my entire facebook history because I’m a dork and find that type of thing interesting. I just kept scrolling down and clicking “Older Posts” until I reached the “Andy joined Facebook” post. Here are my findings:

Okay, it’s a silly game, but I find it alarming that we invest so much time into something that is probably doomed to extinction or, more likely, habituation. Facebook has become an e-mail replacement and when is the last time you were truly excited about e-mail?

The tool has become stable: less exciting, but stable. The end result is a tool that is far less robust and stable technically than the one it replaced. E-mail may be getting archaic, but it is a completely open and robust mechanism that is largely independant of any specific implementation. Facebook on the other hand is completely tied to corporate interest and a locked down API.

I think we must all make a conscious effort to aim for stability in the turbulent age we live in. To research the tools we use and what the long term strategy is for them. And for those who are in the business of creating the tools, to think long and hard about how robust the system is in the long term. Is a locked and site-specific format necessary? (no, never!) Is your user policy going to limit the long-term viability of the system?

In the case of this blog, I’ve made a conscious decision to keep control of the content. The site is just the publishing medium, the actual product, for me, is just a folder of plain-text files on my hard drive in chronological order. It may not look flashy with fixed-width fonts and markdown formatting, but it’s simple, stable and guaranteed to work long into the future.