Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Web Sharing

What I'm looking for in annotation is just one example of increasing the number of ways to make web browsing a shared experience. The simplest things in the world -- mailing a cool link to your friends, sharing your bookmarks, sharing your opinion of a web page, having a discussion, using web links as references for written material -- are clunky, poorly integrated, or held captive by specific web sites. These should all be organic parts of the experience, and should be natively provided by the web browsing platform (I'll be momentarily agnostic whether that means a browser or something else).

Other things are just impossible for the basic loadset; for example, let's say I'm visiting an interesting dynamic web site, and I want you to be able to follow along on my trip. Without wholesale slaving my display to yours, I can't do it. It's also irritatingly difficult to point into content, such as a non-anchored web page, a PDF file, a Shockwave animation, etc. These internal links are at the whim of the media creators, which is a fundamental violation of the idea of the web, that no coordination is necessary to create links.

Finally, it's becoming difficult to wrap up the state of a web session in a shareable way. I was having a problem with cookies on a webmail site I use, but it was extremely difficult for me to inform Mozilla or the web site owners of my problem, since the problem only arose once I had logged in. Unless I wanted to file my user id and password on bugzilla, I couldn't really share enough information to make the bug reproduceable.

These are all small things individually, but they are all part of a pattern of an isolating trend on the web, that user experience on the web is increasingly tied to an individual rather than a social group. This is not even to mention the increasing use of customization. Of course, customization is a good thing, but it does come at a cost. I remember being sort of excited when Amazon would feature a favorite book of mine on their home page, but now I know that I'm probably the only person seeing that book now. Or even if I'm not and it really is globally displayed for all visitors, I have lost the sense that Amazon's home page is a shared space. Maybe not a big deal to Jeff Bezos '86, but with enough of these privatizations of space, we lose an important sense of being interconnected.