Remembering a Time When the Web Was More Open…?

Way back when, when I was full of hope for social feed architectures constructed out of RSS and Atom content syndication feeds, I used to advocate the use of Yahoo Pipes as a means by which folk could start to develop their own content wrangling solutions. At one point, I even started dabbling with the idea of doing a simple recipe book, something I might even be able to make a bit of pin money from. But a completer finisher I am not, so…

Anyway – as the summer break turns into email nightmare catch-up, and I dream of a life not this one, I started pondering the recipe book idea again. Flicking through the Pipes related pages I’ve posted, and some ideas I never got round to adding in, I noticed that many of the recipes that I’d sketched with over the years are now defunct because the open and accessible technologies they were built on have been closed off.

So for example, using Twitter search feeds (JSON, I think, though RSS used to be an alternative too?) for mapping tweets, or discovering colocation communities. Or a twitter to audio pipe; or a pipe for serendiptitously discovering content related to a Twitter stream; and so on…

These pipes are not even pining now – they’re dead; Twitter gave up on RSS/Atom, opting for JSON instead; and while this wasn’t a problem – Pipes handle JSON just as well as XML based syndication feeds – the addition of authentication as a precursor to accessing Twitter data kills off the easy flow access to the data that Yahoo Pipes made such good use of.

Authentication also killed off a whole range of Amazon related mashups (remember mashups? I used to play with what used to be called mashups all the time;-): an Amazon Book Search Pipe, for example, or Looking Up Alternative Copies of a Book on Amazon, via ThingISBN; or even Amazon Reviews from Different Editions of the Same Book.

I also seem to remember making use of Amazon Listmania lists – for example, in support of the feed powered StringLE (String’n’Glue Learning Environment) riff on disaggregated MIT courseware using RSS feeds – although there again, I note that RIP Amazon Listmania.

Way back when, when the web was still opening up, services like Amazon – and then Twitter – help me cut my teeth on wrangling with web tech and near friction free information flows. Those services grew up, closed themselves off (or at least, added more friction than I care to work around). And just as I gave up playing with Amazon – and ceased taking an interest in pondering the flow of book information from Amazon sources – when authentication hit, so too I’ve now given up on playing with Twitter data (and as a result, cut down on my Twitter usage too; I don’t really care for it as much as an information space any more).

Such is life, I guess. The web has moved on, and I have got stuck. So maybe I need to move on too? Offers…?

PS see also Google Lock-In Lock-Out

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

3 thoughts on “Remembering a Time When the Web Was More Open…?”

  1. It’s a sad state of affairs. Maybe we were complacent when funders were more happy to pour money into projects with no immediate route to profit. Now those projects have established themselves, the funders are demanding a return and that means enclosure and Being Evil. On the upside, the NSA stuff has created a bit of a groundswell for free software, federated alternatives to the monopolistic services (e.g., We need to seize this opportunity to raise awareness and start being small-p political about openness on the internet.

  2. Offers? Yes :-) Why not pursue some of your original hopes/dreams by pushing or drafting some of the missing bits for those (like you?) who still believe in these information flows?
    For instance and more precisely, I am looking for some open standards to perform content curation in a decentralised manner.
    I host my own Web RSS aggregator, some of my friends do the same or use various commercial Web RSS aggregators. It would be nice to link these together in a decentralised manner, as to highlight the “hot” stories (just like e.g. Feedly does using internal data supplemented by Facebook likes and Google +1s). Of course there are a bunch of challenges, such as when people are not subscribing to the same feeds but still read about the same stories from various sources.
    Just some thoughts…

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