Reinventing the Web II
Updated 19 Jun 2016 Why isn't the Web a reliable and useful long term store for the links and content people independently create? What can we do to fix that? Who benefits from creating spaces with stable, permanently addressable content? Who pays? What incentives can make Web scale permanent, stable content with reliable bidirectional links and other goodies as common and useful as Web search over the entire flakey, decentralized and wildly successful Web? Here's a good Twitter conversation to read:
60% of my fav links from 10 yrs ago are 404. I wonder if Library of Congress expects 60% of their collection to go up in smoke every decade.— Bret Victor (@worrydream) June 15, 2014
How the Web was Won
I believe Tim Berners-Lee's original HTTP and HTML protocols succeeded beyond his original vision of a globally scalable, loosely coupled network of Web pages that anyone could edit.
Berners-Lee's original W3C protocols appeared at the right time to open clear field opportunities for distributed publishing, marketing, sales and advertising that fueled the Web's growth and evolution.
The idea that any sensible person would rely on a global hypertext system where links on one computer pointed at locations on another computer which would break whenever the remote computer was unilaterally moved, renamed, taken off line or abandoned seemed absurd.
The idea that you would have no way to know what incoming links would break when editing or refactoring content seemed just as bad.
The Word Wide Web protocols looked like they would work for relatively small cooperative groups like CERN who could keep things from breaking by having shared goals, and using peer pressure plus out of band communication to keep distributed content alive.
Actually that intuition was pretty good, because the World Wide Web took off in a direction based on other incentives compatible with those assumptions - and grew like crazy because unlike alternatives, it was was simple, massively scalable, cheap and eliminated the need for centralized control.
1) The Web became a distributed publishing medium, not the fabric for distributed editing and collaboration that Tim Berners-Lee and others envisioned.
2) Search engines spanned the simple Web.
3) People and organizations learned how to converse and collaborate over the Web by making it easy to create addressable content others could link to.
4) Search engines, syndication and notification engines built over the Web's simple, scalable protocols connected the Web in ways that I don't think anyone really anticipated - and work as independent and competing distributed systems, making rapid innovation possible.
Tim Berners-Lee made an inspired set of tradeoffs.
I believe it's possible to provide what TBL calls "reasonable boundaries" for sharing sensitive personal or organizational data without breaking basic W3C addressable content protocols that makes linking and Web scale search valuable.
Building a better Web over the Web we have
Telephone companies used to call their simplest and cheapest legacy service POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).
One answer to "who benefits?" and "who pays?" are the businesses who benefit from a richer and more stable Web connecting the systems they use to get work done.
Museums, libraries, and archives such as Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive, the Library of Congress and others have a mission to collect and curate our cultural heritage and knowledge.
Commercial publisher monetize their archive, but have weaker economic incentives to maintain stable links to content outside their own domain.
Commerce sites and providers of consumer-focused Web services may have the greatest economic incentive for deep linking with stable references and relationships spanning devices you own, your home, your health and healthcare providers, your car, your family - and your work, see Continuity and Intertwingled Work.
If I'm right, there are economic incentives for Web content creators to make their work more linkable, visible and useable using straightforward, decentralized, and non-proprietary upwards compatible extensions of Plain Old Web Services.
I believe that indices spanning permalinked locations as well as incoming and outgoing permalink references to content in "stable islands in the storm tossed sea" can be created and maintained in near real time at Web scale, preserving the integrity of links to archival content distributed across the Web.
For example, any domain could publish an index to its permalinked content.
Domains that agree to implement the same protocol, and use permalink (URI) references for content in other compatible domains then have a more stable, decentralized model for permanent links.
I don't know who has suggested this before; it seems obvious, and is a straw man not a solution.
Update 19 Jun 2016 See the Internet Archive Decentralized Web Summit, 8-9 June 2016 Locking the Web Open.
Reinventing the Web (2009) Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee and the evolution of the Web.
The Internet's Original Sin by Ethan Zuckerman, The Atlantic, Aug 14, 2014.
Intertwingled Work (2010) No one Web service or collection of Web servers contain everything people need, but we get along using search and creative services that link content across wildly different sources.
Dark Matter: The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/
Continuity and Intertwingled Work (2014) A level above an Internet of Things: seamless experience across devices for you, your family, your health and trusted service providers, at home and at work.
The Web of Alexandria (2015) by Bret Victor "We, as a species, are currently putting together a universal repository of knowledge and ideas, unprecedented in scope and scale.
And Victor's followup post "Whenever the ephemerality of the web is mentioned, two opposing responses tend to surface.
Update 13 Jul 2014 Added new section headings, added the inline recap and economic benefit examples, added a link to a Jul 2014 Reinventing the Web III Twitter conversation on the same topic.
Update 23 Aug 2014 Added link and brief note on Ethan Zuckerman's fine essay on advertising as the Internet's Original Sin.
Update 29 May 2015 Added links to Web of Alexandria and followup by Bret Victor on why the Web is a bad medium.
Update 19 Jun 2015 Added link to Brewster Kahle's summary of the Internet Archive's Decentralized Web Summit of 8-9 June 2016.