Saturday, September 09, 2006

To Browse or to Download? That is the Question

I'm still a skeptic about whether RSS is a good idea or not. RSS emerged at a point where there was still some doubt that Google and others could essentially capture all networked content and make it searchable. Now RSS and "Search" are not seen as competing technologies, but in my mind they are in a way, and Blogging, Vlogging and Podcasting (which if we were consistent would be called Alogging) can each be assigned to one camp or the other as well. The division I'm talking about is the division between things we "browse" on the Internet and things we "download".

I've subscribed to hundreds of RSS feeds over the months and I've used half a dozen ways to manage them at least. They all have one thing in common, which is that data is gathered from the target web sites that I may or may not (and in fact most probably never will) look at. Doesn't the waste of all this bother anybody but me? I think we are fortunate that Joe Average user is blissfully ignorant of his computers ability to collect all manner of information that he is not interested in.

Apple of course ruined all of this by making this “syndication” concept easy to turn on in iTunes. So easy in fact that these background downloads of disk-filling-never-to-be-seen/heard/watched content can be turned on quite by accident. New computers and even laptops with minimum disk sizes of 60G or so mean that it will be two years before a user will slink into his Apple store and ask why he can't do anything on the computer any more without getting disk-full messages. That is, unless the Tiki Bar and RocketBoom episodes don't vastly accelerate the process.

There are, of course, things you can listen to while doing something else, and I've downloaded boring old tech podcasts of one kind or another to burn to CDs that I can take in the car. I could MAYBE even see clear to downloading videos to take on an Internetless plane ride or hike through the Himalayas, but those are exceptions.

The as yet unrealized full beauty of the Internet is that content should be ON DEMAND, always new, freshly spell-checked and corrected so that when I DO go looking for something I'm getting the latest, greatest, most “correctest” version of it possible.

While there is a rightful place for things such as the Wayback Machine, Google Books, and the like, I don't see the future of the Internet as turning us all into more efficient pack-rats. Just the opposite, the certainty that “it's all still out there somewhere” should free us to just use what we need at the moment and not burden ourselves and our hard drives with a lot of copies of things.

Somehow the industry pundits and a-listers haven't gotten over the Gee Whiz factor of easily produced and acquired multimedia, an attitude that is shared among normal people only by teenagers who don't have to earn a living yet. I think what confuses the pundits is that they think this demographic is going to change. I suspect it won't. When these kids (hopefully) mature, they will lose interest, and only be replaced by more kids who have the luxury of spending 6 hours a day socializing without the need to actually produce anything. Orkut, Myspace and maybe YouTube will appeal to these kids, but I think it a huge mistake to think that the rest of what we do on the Internet will “evolve” to look like these products.

Instead, I see traditional modes co-existing for a long time with the new. One way or another my TV set will continue to get (well, if I actually watched TV that is) a standard set of “premium” content that can be referenced as (among other things) chanel numbers. But I also think we will have “radios”, “TV sets” and maybe even “Newpaper machines” that will draw content on demand from a near infinity of sources that we might also refer to in some shorthand form, programmed possibly in advance from URLs. Will these “channel buttons” that replace RSS and other forms of syndication even be worthy of an acronym?

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