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TECH TALK: Disruptions: Info Access, Publishing

July 13th, 2005 · No Comments

Info Access: HTML, Search to RSS, Subscriptions

The last decade has seen the rise of the HTML Web. To navigate this web, we first used a mix of our memory and bookmarks. Then, we migrated to Yahoos directory as the number of websites exploded. Then, we had a brief love affair with the first-generation of search engines, followed by disillusionment. And finally, we found our true love with Google, so much so that we have ditched everything else! Search has become our interface to the HTML Web. But this is about to change.

The new kid on the block is RSS, an XML format that makes subscriptions easy. Microsoft embraced support for RSS across its forthcoming Longhorn OS and browser effectively making subscribing, via RSS, join browsing and searching as the third leg of its information-access triangle, as eWeek put it. RSS is a format that lends itself easily for display on mobiles also.

The holy grail lies in connecting information seekers to information providers. Today’s solution to the problem of information overload is Search (just like it was a Directory during 1995-1997). Search is good on PCs but suffers from spam. Also, destination sites are HTML pages. Business model for the reference web on PCs is contextual advertising. Search cannot be easily transplanted on mobiles and is also not good for the incremental web. Subscriptions are user-defined filters on the web. So, they are spam-free. Subscriptions equate to Personalisation. Everyone becomes a publisher and subscriber. Content owners will need to focus on permission marketing. As such, there will be no advertisers. Users can, of course, continue to search for information (on PCs) but when they find a website/source with useful and relevant information, they will subscribe to that source.

Publishing: Top-down, Broadcast to Bottom-up, Narrowcast

Business Week called it The Power of Us. Umair Haque calls it Peer Production. Whatever term we use, publishing is going mass-market with the rise of blogs, podcasts and the like. All one has to do is to look at Wikipedia and the rise of open-source software to get a feel for the power of the sharing economy.

Yochai Benkler puts this in perspective [in an interview to Business Week]: With the steam engine, the archetype of the Industrial Revolution, we moved to industries where the physical capital was relatively concentrated. You had to have financial capital in order to enable effective collaboration between individualsWhat we’re seeing now is cheap processors, which put computation on our desktops and in our laps, cheap storage, and ubiquitous communications. It’s this combination of a low-cost personal computer and the Internet…that allows this aggregation of behavior. Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures come to have some persistence as economic products. This departs radically from everything we’ve seen since the Industrial Revolution.

Tomorrow: Software, First Markets, Putting It Together


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