I'll take this opportunity to rant a bit. First, I am
becoming increasingly disillusioned by the world wide web.
I used to think that it was the coolest thing since sliced
bread. But, overcommercialization is killing it. It is
becoming harder and harder to find the actual information
that I want, because searching was tacked on as an
afterthought. I think that the world-wide web can be broken
down into 4 categories:
- Community sites: Things like Advogato, Slashdot, K5, etc. Sites that are too broad or with too great a userbase are really showing it. Slashdot used to be great, but now it is barely worth going to, except that it is habit. Advogato in my mind strikes a great balance. I think the 2 big reasons for that are that it has a focus (free software developers), and the trust metric. The trust metric is great, and has a ton of uses.
- Services: Things like expedia.com, ticketmaster.com, and buy.com are all pushing a "web application" and are pretty useful. But I think that they can probably be revised in terms of metadata to be much cooler.
- News sites: salon.com, cnn.com, etc. These are all useful, but it is annoying that I have to go to the front page to see if there are even any articles I want to read. Another candidate for metadata magic, or client pull.
- Research Material/Public domain works:This stuff was the original purpose of the WWW. It is really lacking though, because the nature of research is that you have to be able to find it. But, as I said before, searching is kind of weak right now. This is also a huge candidate for metadata magic.
The problem is that people are trying to make the desktop more like the web, where I think the opposite should be true. Web sites should be seen like any document or application. Mozilla should not be an evironment for me to do anything. It should be a rendering engine for the content that I asked for. I think that a nice unified search system should be how I find what content I want. Same with things I want to buy. News should be client-pulled for me and put into my desktop environment (like a "News" subdirectory in the gnome menu). Why "browse" unless I'm trying to kill time? It seems kind of dumb.
Now my rant will break out from just technological complaints to general intellectual property complaints. I completely agree with Ankh that people should be focusing their investments on Museums, Libraries, and other public repositories, rather than hogging important works to themselves. I can understand the joy of owning an original painting, or a first edition (and would definitely love to be in a position to be able to afford such things one day), but I'd like to think that it would be better to give or loan such things to museums, and just buy the print for my own enjoyment. Some things are too important to be held privately. However, Museums and libraries need to shape up. They don't display anywhere near 20% of their holdings. What isn't on display is packed in crates where no one can enjoy it, research it, or do anything with it. This isn't in line with the function of a museum. I think that they have an obligation to supply electronic versions of everything they have. Imagine the boon to research that this would represent. Or even just personal enrichment. It would be an admittedly enormous task, but even doing things piece by piece would be beneficial. The arguments that this would discourage people from actually seeing the real thing is foolish. I am thrilled that I can go to webmuseum and look at Van Gogh's amazing paintings, but that just makes me want to see the real things even more. And, when I do get the chance to see them, I appreciate it that much more. All of this stuff should be readily available.
I am thrilled to see organizations fund projects like ibiblio.org - it is an excellent collection of knowledge. But, while browsing it yesterday, I couldn't help but think how great it would be if all of that information had accompanying metadata. And then the development of a distributed filesharing system that has places like ibiblio.org as permenant nodes. It would be truly great. It frustrates me that the technology is there, but it is just not happening yet. Hopefully I can help make it happen a bit faster. Incidentally, a filesharing system that uses servers like ibiblio.org as permenant nodes would be virtually impossible to stop - the government couldn't help but fund such an effort eventually. It would be a quantum leap in the usefulness of computers and the internet. Being able to do crossreferencing on the fly would be cool as well, but I could live if that were a later feature. All a project like this needs is a lot of people willing to spend a little time adding metadata to things. After a while, it will be easy to maintain. To some extend, computers would be able to generate some of the metadata for us, leaving us to fill in the blanks as we have time. A guy can dream. ;-)