Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Edgeio and creeping kippleisation

Kipple is the word Philip K. Dick used in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? to describe the entropic detritus generated by the modern techno-industrial complex. Kipple is the stuff that made eBay famous: people realised that in eBay they had a place to file all their leftover unwanted stuff they'd stashed in the attic, and even get rid of it to people who did want it. To dekippleise their kipple, if you will.

Now Edgeio is positioning itself to enter the classified listing market with an aggregation service that indexes listings that anyone can put on their site - thus the name, referring to the so-called "edge" content which is not centralised on the aggregator's servers. Business Week has a stab at decoding the jargon.

Although Teare's demo was on blogs, that doesn't appear to be the only target. He says this will work for single items on blogs all the way to millions of items from Web stores like Amazon. He contends that RSS feeds reduce the usefulness of centralized repositories of information--most big Web sites today, in other words. "EBays and Craigslists become unnecessary and the tolls they charge become unreasonable," he says.

I respect Michael Arrington and Keith Teare and the other heavyweights behind the scenes at Edgeio, but I have a few issues with this argument. The first is that what Edgeio is trying to do is follow that old dictum for building a successful small business: start with a big business. In this case, Edgeio is trying to start with Craigslist. The problem with that is Craigslist used that strategy too, with newspaper classifieds as the big business. Does it work twice in a row for the same concept, especially when Craigslist hasn't finished killing the newspapers yet? I don't know. What I'm saying is that this concept might be a bit ahead of the curve.

My second gripe is from a reader's perspective. When I read a blog, I wish to immerse myself in wondrous prose: beautiful words which transport me to other worlds of the author's construction, where I am entertained or educated or astounded by the strength of the creator's craft and/or the power of the thinker's thoughts. I do not wish for this narrative of intellectual discourse to be interrupted by an ad for Just saw 10:20pm a Black cat with White neck-Franklin Str.btw Cal&Sac, or a listing of ATTRACTIVE, MATURE WOMAN IN HER 50's(40's), SOUGHT BY 36 YEARS OLD MAN - 36.

I haven't seen a demo of what Edgeio is like in practice, but I hope its RSS implementation is not intended to be included as part of the prose content of users' feeds, as has been the case with Technorati. I am sick of seeing tag lists at the end of posts, not just from Technorati but its imitators. Recently many blogs have started including links to automatically vote for the blog entry on Digg. It is kipple, from the user's point of view. It's the reverse of eBay: instead of getting rid of all of the rubbish in your life, you inject it into your thoughts as they appear on your blog. It's like reading a fiction novel where every 10 pages you have to take out a Post-It note containing the author's shopping list. It gets in the way of the user experience, to use a phrase of Mike Arrington's.

Not that I'm against structured blogging in general. What I hope someone does - if not Technorati, then Edgeio or someone with enough influence to start a trend - is to shift all that structured data within RSS feeds to enclosures. I would like the description tag of RSS to be confined to prose. Enclosures should be where structured data is placed. I don't know if there are any technical issues holding that back, but if there is then I'm sure those with power in the field could see the value in separating unstructured prose from structured data in the interests of users.

What the structured blogging folks are trying to do is extend the RSS spec beyond what Dave Winer locked it at in 2002 at version 2.0. I don't see the need to develop quasi-tags within the description tag, especially for structured data which could be much more elegantly expressed as an enclosure, like podcasts which themselves are structured (although somewhat differently!). With Dave himself as an advisor to Edgeio, I hope he is arguing for what I am saying.


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