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Online Trend – People not Pages

October 5, 2009

Something fundamental is happening online. Perhaps the most profound and disruptive change in the short life of the web is upon us, and it is more transformational than social networks and mobile devices.

Data is being restructured around people rather than location (page or URL). Although this may seem obvious, have you taken a moment to consider what this actually means, and how fundamental a shift such a transformation is? Lets take a practical look:

Google is considered by many synonymous with the web, it certainly is a principle gateway to much of the web’s content and a perfect litmus test for change. Google is page based. It indexes pages (URLs), it awards them a PageRank, results are listed by page, advertising attached to pages and content, keywords and metadata (where used) are also handled at a page level. Perhaps you can see how a web that is moving away from a page driven system could be disruptive for Google, and for most other established systems. Yet that is exactly what is happening!

Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (better known as AJAX) is one of the forces bringing about change. AJAX is both a philosophy and a collection of interrelated development techniques that enable an ‘interactive web’. Specifically AJAX refreshes elements as required at smaller granular level than pages. This means that a page is less relevant and increasingly a window to functional elements that are flexible and changing. Metadata, hyperlinks and other stored page information is no longer an effective catalogue of what happens within the framework of a page. Websites that previously had thousands of pages may now be reduced to a few templates with elements collecting, processing and rendering data as required (in small sectional parts). YouTube for example, contains millions of digital assets through only a few portal pages. The retention of page URLs for deep-linking and search is really only an accommodation of the legacy systems that depend on discrete pages for effectiveness. Granularity is increasing and the form of web content is becoming more variable. Twitter for example, is a collection of 140 character posts, each currently with its own URL, again to accommodate the page nature of the web. This ‘accommodation’ won’t last forever – already this blog has widgets that bring data from elsewhere and the page paradigm is increasing being forced to fit a more complex model of web assets. Pages are really out of place when we look at rich media (video, animation, and sound) where they do not suit the form and linear data flow of this content. For a long time, the web struggled to ‘fit’ all types of content into the page model – now another wave of online evolution is washing through the web.

Before we look at the future, lets take a moment to explore the past. Although blasphemy is some quarters, pages are a throw back to traditional publishing – literally the pages of a book. With no other model at hand, the ordering of online content followed physical publishing and to some extent, a static screen and a printed page seemed a shared model that made sense. In reality the web was never simply static screens and the digital data (1’s and 0’s) could always be reassembled, re-purposed and escape the physical limitations of a ‘page’. The applications (browsers and access points) we use, and the links in content, could transport us somewhere else on a whim. Online content is also consumed differently to physical (printed) media and the reason is about more than just back-lit screens, hyperlinks and browsers – we never really equated web pages with printed pages or websites with printed publications.

The contemporary online environment is increasingly about how content is connected to the ‘real world’ and progressively less about how it is connected (hyperlinked) to other online content. The web is coming to life because it is being connected to humans – connected to us. Social networks do more than connect us to each other and expand classical network behavior and human interaction, they also connect our content to each other and open correspondingly rich dialogue and feedback loops. We are seeing some of these changes with blogs, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIN, MySpace and hundreds of other socially aware sites, applications and filters. Advertising can now be connected to people rather than pages. Instead of PageRank as a global simplification, variable content ratings that take into account interests, personal connections and intelligent filtering will be part of our digital future. The ‘killer applications’ will be built around trust, authenticity and human connection – the way they should be.

Give this shift some more thought and you will see how fundamental it is. The web is increasingly about people not pages and you need to apply this to any strategy you are creating. Forget the semantic web and machines talking to machines – guess what – humans are social animals and online is becoming humanized (lets not give it a version number)! This post will be explored further in a future media article, so please comment and help me refine the conversation. Hope you took something from it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2009 4:05 AM

    I guess this is the crux of the much-hyped ‘web2.0’ – that the web is becoming as important a gateway as a library.

    I like how you have identified it as ‘people not pages’, it reminds me of recent discussion with some very techie types of the shift from IPv4 to IPv6, enabling a unique IP address for every object on earth. A similar paradigm shift as the one from the landline (phone number for a building) to the mobile phone (number for a person).

    A few thoughts snatched through the very small random gaps in a busy day…


  2. October 6, 2009 10:58 PM

    Even AJAX is limited by the page model since it must use the page paradigm of ‘reading’ a page of data rather than subscribing to a data source. This means if you are interested in some piece of data (such as twitter or a blog) you have to keep requesting the data at some interval. It’s akin to reading the front page of the newspaper every couple minutes to see if it has changed or not.

    A lot of talk lately about PUSH technology where you subscribe to a data source and the source tells the interested party when something has changed, but this has been around for decades and is simply a rebranding of the event model. I guess to continue the analogy then rather than re-reading the paper continuously the paper boy throws a new paper at your window when their is more news (he’ll get quite tired and rich I guess).


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