I suppose what I am aiming for here is to bring disparate bits of my online persona together. Flickr, del.icio.us, last.fm and dx13 all live in different corners of the web. Tools are beginning to appear which allow you to bring different aspects together into a single online display — a start page for the self. This site will be the start page for me; a place where I will attempt to bring my online aspects together.
As I build up collections of interesting things online, it becomes more important to be able to use these collections outside their original sites: specifically, on my own site. It’s fun to bring portions of yourself online and exhibit them to the world in one place—perhaps someone will find a new band from my list or enjoy some of the photos I put on flickr. Putting these things together in one place facilitates this sharing and the tying of the collections to one person.
In many ways, it’s exhibitionist; the div holding the sidebar on the site is even called “stalking”. But people enjoy showing off and, similarly, seeing into the lives of those around them. I may hate big brother, but I’m still prey to enjoying the lives of others. I can join in, showing my own peacock feathers.
Making this display possible are, in the grand tradition of the Internet, admirably simple technologies. Based on exchanging text, the barrier to entry is incredibly low. Binary, opaque formats may at times be more efficient — on the Internet, however, interoperability rules—at least when computers talk to each other. At some point, I’ll detail how I’m pulling my data together, but for now lets talk a little about text.
Text is the most interoperable format there is: every general purpose language out there can handle text — it’s logical as most programs tell the user about something and the best way to do this is, usually, with text. Now they can easily communicate with other computer programs using the same medium. If you can output to a user, you can output to a program. At first it was another program on the same computer, now it’s a program half way across the world. In a fundamental way, computers are all talking the same language.
Of course, the world isn’t perfect. Many sites are so-called walled-gardens, hiding your content behind a barrier. My facebook data springs to mind. For a company, getting people to visit your site must conflict strongly with allowing people to build an online persona in their own space. I find facebook less engaging than, say flickr, because I can’t share what I produce with anyone outside the facebook ecosystem—my flickr photos are public, my facebook ones are not.
In the end, companies which facilitate easy data sharing will succeed. People want to share their creations, and to show them off. Companies which allow you to create, but not easily share, will fall by the wayside, whilst those which encourage you to share in your own way will win. The way to facilitate sharing in your own way is to provide simple building blocks people can bring together. The tools we are seeing now are the beginnings of this, the future can only bring more ways to preen oneself online.