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The Erosion of Distributed Development

Moleskine, Kindle and coffeeBernie Goldbach in Clonmel | Photo of morning reads  

ON THE TABLE in front of me sits tools I use to actively gather information presented to me through a system of distributed development

In several academic modules at the Limerick Insitute of Technology, I show how things have changed since I first taught adult learners in the pre-Y2K era in Ireland. Back then, you needed to leverage computer programming and communications technologies. It was clunky and most of the experience was not portable.

The dotcom boom at the turn of the century was great for copywriters who produced web pages and downloadable files to promote things. When I first started teaching multimedia at third level in 2002, we talked about reformatting and republishing "rich data into packets that fit the capabilities of readers, viewers and listeners". We promoted the smart use of ICT [1] for syndicating multimedia content. "A smart producer ensures the content passes through the production process once, while exporting many different format types", we advised. That maxim holds true today.

In an Edventure extract from 2003 [2], Dan Gillmor explained how the time had arrived where "users manage web content, not just personal content, for themselves." That happened because blogging had emerged, newsfeeds were easily accessible, and people were pulling down content by thematic topic, by specific writers or by geographic area. Tools had arrived to give users more power over content than ever before.

Gillmor believed "with blogs and RSS, they can construct personal news or commerce portals for themselves or for third parties, track multi-person blog conversations across the Web, or figure out other ways to control their digital environment that we have not thought of yet."

I'm with Gillmor in the belief that giving people control over this active flow of content is good for the internet. "As the World Wide Web showed, things really take off when users build out their own real estate rather than relying on vendors," Gillmor wrote 10 years ago. "The success of the Web was due not to mass production and economies of scale, but rather to distributed development of local content and economies driven by individual passion". Twitter's new rules threaten this distributed development of content.

I remember how wonderful it was to move from inside the Compuserve bubble to explore the far corners of the web. Ever-improving search engines gave people access to information in a wider range than ever before. Sites with RSS enabled readers to manipulate how they received and distributed information. And all sorts of useful, innovative, and surprising applications evolved.

Now Twitter is trying to reverse the flow, reducing the ability to easily search, removing the capability for newsfeeds and severely constraining how information vendors can display information from Twitter. 

Simultaneously, App.net is setting up a platform where none of Twitter's restrictions will constrain the community. It will be very interesting to compare and contrast the Twitter echo system to the App.net ecosystem. That's one of the topics on the Emerging Trends module taught this semester.

1. Richard Bailey -- "New alphabet for PR" was a post I read in 2003. He closed his blog last month.

2. Dan Gillmor -- "Weblogs, RSS, and the Rise of the Active Web" available from Release 1.0 for $80. Dan Gillmor used to write for the San Jose Mercury News.