Web 2.0 fails and how systems should be

There was, and continues to be, a big fuss about Web 2.0, but what has it actually brought the end user? From where I stand it doesn’t appear to be that much.

We’ve ended up with a reliance on cumbersome widgets and closed systems, although the appearance of more and more dynamic content on sites is nice and swish, has it resulted in more exclusion and fairy lights over content?

With the work I do in e-learning and learning systems I end up hitting a lot of new sites and reading a huge amount about emerging technologies and concepts, more often than not my research hits on the terms Web 2.0 and now Enterprise 2.0. As well as that my work on Filmstalker is forever keeping me at the sharp end of what is claimed to be Web 2.0.

So from that view, what has it actually delivered?

What I feel we’ve most ended up with through Web 2.0 are a bunch of closed systems that require the user to sign in before they get access to anything, and find it hard to get anything back out of it, unless they’re signed in.

Sure, the systems in themselves have been useful, but closed and cluttered are the words that really describe this phenomenon.

If you look at many of the new systems and sites that have started up under this banner you’ll see that they require a sign-on to see any of the content held within it, content that probably belongs to you as well.

Other than some cursory feeds or more traditionally the information clogging email, there’s not a lot of ways to interact with your content, or to pull it out and use it elsewhere.

These systems often perform specific tasks, often just one, and they are solely focused on that task. There’s not a great deal of thought put into how others will want the information to be sent to, or presented from, the system other than in the usual Web 2.0 icons and styling, and there’s no thought to integration with other systems that the user runs or is signed up to.

These are the aspects that are going to really hurt as Web 2.0 is touted as Enterprise 2.0 to organisations. Right now, it’s not a great advert.

What we should be seeing is all the information the user could want or need provided by the system in the form of standard feeds. A system could do well to also providing details in simple HTML, JavaScript, and other such widgets, making the information available to the user when they aren’t actually logged into the system.

Take the example of Facebook, one of the largest systems there is at the moment, and a prime example of the new systems on the web. The only information I can get out of Facebook is an email notification with nothing more than a name of the sender and the type of notification, anything else and I have to visit the site and sign in. Once you’re in there’s an ocean of information, some would say too much information.

Another aspect of these systems and sites is that they are often over cluttered, and again Facebook is a prime example of this, as is MySpace. They are a mess of information and features, and navigating them to try and find something worthwhile is a long and laborious task.

With sites that aren’t so wide in their scope there are just as many issues, often because they are two narrow minded. They focus directly on their task and once again don’t think of how to provide the information to the user to allow them to use it effectively and link it with other systems.

So what should it be like? Well the model is close currently the Internet has stores of information, such as Facebook or Google Calendar, and systems that alter information, such as Yahoo Pipes, and the idea is that the stores of information can be accessed directly or fed through the systems that alter information to provide the end user with.

However because the stores of information such as Facebook are very restrictive, and others such as Google Calendar are selective in their outputs, the user just can’t get the range of information that they require.

The ideal model is for these information stores to offer feeds for everything, in whatever format the user would like, and likewise for them to allow take information in from a standard feed.

For example, in Facebook, why can’t I pull out my mini-feed and have that displayed in my feed reader of choice so that I get updated on the latest happenings? Why can’t I get a feed of the status changes of all my friends, or a select group of friends?

What about a feed from Google Calendar of the coming week’s private appointments tagged with the word “Filmstalker”?

Perhaps a feed from the online TVGuide to give me the programme times for all CSI programmes, or all films in the coming week.

Taking this concept a little further, why can’t I have a feed from XBox Live friends to show their latest purchased games, or latest accomplishments? Why can’t I get a feed from the Playstation Store to tell me the latest games, demos and videos available since my last visit?

You’re getting the idea. You can suddenly see how powerful these stores of information can become. I could pull these feeds in together in a feed reader, or perhaps another application.

Getting this information is all well and good, but it ties you to a feed reader at the moment, or a service that pulls feeds together into a Javascript, HTML or similar widget to be placed on a web page. What if I wanted to do more than this?

I would want applications and other systems to allow the import of feeds. This might need a little bit of work on standardising feeds, or perhaps in implementing a standard interpreter that would map incoming feed fields to the actual systems fields, but it could be easily done. Let me explain.

I switch on my Playstation 3 and without searching it shows me that there is a new driving type game to download from the online store, what the weather and news headlines are, what stories have appeared on Filmstalker today, the videos available on my local PC, the websites I visited on my PC through my Opera and Firefox browsers, what were the last games I played on my Xbox, and so on.

Or I switch on my PC and instead of starting up individual applications I can see all this information in a single application, in a web browser, or even on the desktop. I can see the latest unread email messages from Outlook, those waiting to download, my appointments coming up, the latest MP3’s I’ve downloaded from online, my Playstation 3 and XBox Live statistics, the last Word, Excel, Access or OpenOffice documents I’ve accessed, the last phone calls I made on my mobile, all this kind of information.

Just using a feeds and feed interpreters, a single application on any platform could pull in information from multiple other applications, websites, devices, etc. without having to start them up.

So that is what I thought Web 2.0 should be delivering, more open systems that provide feeds in different types for all the information they contain, the model of information stores and interpreters. Really, this is what I expect Enterprise 2.0 to deliver, except I know it won’t.

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