Anil Dash has quite an remarkable post titled the “Web We Lost” (thans for the heads up Tim). I really like the bit below because it gets right at the heart of the Domain of One’s Own pilot we are running at the University of Mary Washington.
In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company’s site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.
That’s beautifully stated, my only problem with that post (like many eulogies about the good ole days of the web five years ago) is that nothing is lost. Sure folks might have fallen into the corporate silos, but there is plenty of time to re-examine those choices and re-imagine the future. To this end I recently ordered (and just received) Jon Udell‘s Practical Internet Groupware because I’m increasingly inspired and fascinated by the ideas that started to break open both the thinking and reality of web as distributed platform. I want to get a sense of the thinking more than a decade ago in this realm in order to approach this particular bullet point by Anil Dash with a larger and deeper context rather than through the omnipresent apocalyptic ruins of the now.
Udell’s thinking represents a refreshing, optimistic approach to understanding why the web we are working towards is anything but lost. In a recent post on the Wired blog, “Goodbye Fax, Hello Personal Cloud,” he uses a story of sorting through the quagmire of medical bills and insurance claims to unpack the vision of a personalized domain as far more than an online address, but as an aggregator, syndicator, and router wrapped into one wherein we control and streamline the processes of connecting and communicating our personal information:
I authorize them to access my personal cloud. And the authorization is granular. The auto insurer has write access, so it can poke the Exhaustion of Benefits (EOB) token into my cloud data store, but no read access, because it doesn’t need that. The hospital and the clinic have read access to just that one document. (Separately they have write access so they can poke bills into my data store.) The hospital and the clinic can also subscribe to notifications, so when the EOB token hits my cloud they know it’s there and can access it. Since all access to my cloud is audited, I know when that happens — or if it doesn’t.
We’re faced with myriad problems that impede effective communication on a daily basis, how can a more intelligent design and architecture of the web help us solve some of those problems? This is the basic question Udell seems to approach most issues he faces ona regular basis, and it’s why I find myself returning to his work. There’s no doom and gloom sensationalism, rather its equal parts pragmatism and idealism, and all class. I want to be compelled to think long and hard about how we can teach for the future so that Johnny Can Syndicate—not play forlorn so that we can stop taking responsibility for what’s happening to the web.