Nearly a month ago I left a comment on Jason Kottke's weblog, in response to a post about his upcoming Web 2.0 conference workshop called Design for Web 2.0. He had listed 15 questions that were to be discussed in that workshop and one in particular caught my eye. It was:
"Right now, Web design feels like talking to the del.icio.us API and blending Flickr RSS with Upcoming iCal subscriptions. What happens when design(ers) has little to do with what's on the page?"
"This is a fascinating question and it reminds me of a recent Tim Berners-Lee interview, where he talked about how the Semantic Web is all about re-using information. Yes I know TBL always talks about SemWeb, but there were some gem quotes in this one. eg:
"The Semantic Web is just the application of weblike design to
data; it will be many more decades before we will be able to say we have really
implemented the Web idea in the full, if ever we can."
As I wrote a week or so ago about that: Nowadays it's not just about designing a beautiful website, it's about designing for re-use of information. In a way, that's what people are already doing with RSS - designing with data."
A few days after that, I submitted an article proposal to Digital Web Magazine on this topic of Design for Data. The proposal ended up getting lost due to the email woes Digital Web were having at the time, but I re-submitted it a couple of weeks later. In any case, I still haven't quite put my finger on what my approach would be with the article.
Then tonight I read a new Digital Web article by Joshua Porter called Home Alone? How Content Aggregators Change Navigation and Control of Content. This excellent article got me thinking about Data Design again. So I thought I'd note down some highlights from Joshua's article, then post some of my notes about Data Design - and maybe people can give me some feedback or pitch in with ideas for us all to explore.
Distributed Navigation and Death of the Homepage
Firstly, Joshua makes a distinction between human-aggregated content (e.g. blogs) and machine aggregators (e.g. search engines). He says:
"Aggregation hinges on gathering content from other domains. This dramatically affects the search for content. Users no longer need to start their search in the domain where the content lies. In fact, they almost never do."
...and then he asks the logical next question: "With all these aggregators providing new places to start our searches for content, what will become of the home page?"
So we're getting into 'death of the homepage' territory, which I think is currently one of Steve Gillmor's hobby horses (but I couldn't find a link tonight). Joshua notes that the homepage is traditionally the top page in a website information hierarchy, but content aggregators often bypass this:
"...users navigate completely outside the site containing the target content. The only page they see is the one that the aggregator links to. So the IA that ends up getting users to the target content page isn’t the one on the site they end up on, it’s the aggregator’s site’s IA."
Nicely put! I think this is one of the reasons I've gone off the boil in regards to weblog ontologies and taxonomies - it's because RSS and syndication technologies have completely changed the rules. It's now less about the website as a "place" to organize information - it's more about how information flows, is aggregated and re-used.
I like how Joshua has put the 'death of the homepage' syndrome into the context of traditional IA (information architecture) - that ontologies are now just as important, if not more so, on the "aggregator's site" rather than the content producer's site. Joshua calls this "distributed navigation".
He goes on to say that it's a user-centered IA - the user makes your content work for them. Which is how it should be on the Web. Further, aggregators are "promoting a shift in the control of content" from the producer to the consumer. Again, a user-centered paradigm. Joshua lists some ways that web designers can tackle this issue - but it's at that point that I'll tack away to a different perspective.
Joshua's focus in his article is on the web designer and how distributed navigation is "bypassing much of what we’ve built for them [users]". My interest is more in the underlying technologies - RSS, Atom, syndication - and their affect on web publishing (...which makes me wonder if my article will be suited to Digital Web's audience?).
My initial notes on Design for Data
So what should I look at in my quest to understand Design for Data? I've noted down these things to explore:
- Attention.xml - Steve Gillmor and Dave Sifry
- The latest features in Blogdigger and other content aggregators
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee's "semantic web is a program" theory
- The results of Jason Kottke's Design for Web 2.0 session at the Web 2.0 conference (does anyone know if that workshop was blogged? I haven't been able to find anything on the Web about it and I even emailed Jason himself, who said he wasn't aware of any coverage)
- Probably get back into XML - e.g. Jon Udell's XPath experiments.
I'm sure there are a bunch of other things to consider. What else do you suggest I/we explore for Data Design?