Distributed media - through vendors or standards? by jgn on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 in Technology

Fred Wilson rightly asks that his content be distributed in chunks which are spread across the web, and might be reconstituted through software. One of his concerns is that comments should also be distributed, but aggregatable (since "aggregatable" is not really a word, let us say: collectable).

[Optional digression: Let me just point out that this fantasy of assembling all of the little bits is an old fantasy: As John Milton put it in Areopagitica (1644), we must remember

how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. [Project Gutenberg] Tough job! Now back to reality.]

Wilson's strategy is to think about aggregated comments by using a particular service or vendor, such as Disqus. Or, it would seem, if there is a better service, he would use that.

What is strange to my ear is the attempt to find a solution through a vendor or a particular implementation. Let the marketplace supply particular solutions, Fred would say, and we pick the best ones. Maybe we invest in them, too.

But maybe because Wilson is a VC and not an engineer, he can't pose the challenge as a request for a new standard, supporting broad interoperability. I.e., were a commenting mechanism built into the structure of the web or some higher abstraction, then there would be a basis on which to mix and match these kinds of products. I'm sure Disqus is great, but surely Disqus will be something of a walled garden, where the data is accessible only through their API, even if you can export the content to get out of their particular garden.

Another example of this would be transclusion. Great idea, and the people at Purple Wiki explain it as well as anyone. But wouldn't it be something if this was built into the web itself?

Now I have myself in a corner, because I know the reality of standards. If the community calls for one, it gets created by a committee, and it will frequently suck. The great standards were, for the most part, written by one or two people, and typically came from the frontiers of the commercial Internet (if not prior to the advent of the commercial Internet), e.g., academia. I'm thinking about HTTP ( Tim Berners-Lee) or MIME ( Nathaniel Borenstein). And transclusion would fall in the same category, since it was thought up by Ted Nelson in his research era.

So Norman's Request (if I might be so humble) would be: When you find you need something in the distributed plumbing of the network, ask a smart person to write an RFC. Then flog that. But if you go after the vendors, you'll find yourself in another cycle altogether that starts with walled gardens, and then after a long wait you get a Frankenstein-like standard that no one but rich companies can support (and at that point, they're the only ones who get to contribute to the standard!).

comments powered by Disqus