Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Web 2.0 and referencing

Web 2.0 was a fairly simple, but slightly fuzzy, idea that has already become very complex. Today there is a big high level conference on it -- the third Web 2.0 conference. In my (probably excessively) simple-minded view the basic idea is that NOW, about 10 years after the web got going, it is possible to build new types of web appliances, objects, communities, information systems and processes. New, new stuff in which the web is taken to be the primary platform and action space. Web 2.0 sees new and wonderful environments blooming in which the users and service providers are intimately involved in a collaborative and rapidly evolving richness.....Before we were building the web, now we 'stand on the shoulders of giants' and deploy web tools to do all kinds of stuff that nobody every thought of (like build an artificial world, or have a 3D zoomable atlas of the world to the resoluton of a sun lounger or flowerbed, or grow an endless, multilingual and ever improving encylopedia).

The Exact Editions system is not dependent on Web 2.0 -- magazine back issues needed to be archived even in Web 1.0 -- but in one crucial respect the Exact Editions platform helps Web 2.0 to flourish. Our system is one in which every print page from a magazine or newspaper has an equivalent and uniquely corresponding web page. No other newsprint or magazine system works in this way (although Google Book Search and Amazon Search Inside do work in this way -- for books). Magazine and newsprint systems all put a digital download inside a browser or onto your hard disk, they do not lay it out on the web as a sequence of referenceable pages. This is crucially important in the world of Web 2.0, because anything may be usable for some other person for purposes that may not have been considered. Everything in Web 2.0 should be componentised, referenceable and isolable. That is what we do with urls -- reference them, they are after all 'Uniform Resource Locators', and it is by engineering and manipulating existing web resources that Web 2.0 weaves its magic.

It took us quite a while to see that this 'referenceability' might be our USP, but about 6 months into our evolution we made a presentation to Jonathan Newby at CMPi, a trade publisher. When he had heard our presentation he said simply: "You mean every page can be referenced, that is an important and distinctive feature." At the time I thought he had made an interesting observation, but perhaps it was really the heart of the matter. We knew that in the Exact Editions platform all our pages were urls, but we had not seized on the importance of this citeability/referenceaility issue -- an observer told us that this was really key.

The more that stuff can be referenced, the more it matters and the more can be done with it. Web 2.0 can roll all over it and mash it up. Magazine communities, membership blogs, readership wikis and tagged publications all can use the url-to-equivalent-page convention.

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