The Web and competition
Posted by Chris @ 7:55 PM
I live in the UK, and a big part of our economy is competition. Industry and services alike are opened up to competition to improve service and value to the consumer. Our government is such a fan of this the rail network, gas and electric, phone network, broadband, banks, etc. are all out there touting there wares and getting you to switch to them. And for all of these the process is pretty painless. Overseeing this are various commissions and official bodies to make the companies work together to allow us to switch, and so improve the competition in the market place.
Competition like this is in effect on the Web, but not as much as it should be. The most obvious example is in the web mail area, when GMail came along and offered GBs of storage, and an improved interface, compared to Hotmail which at the time offered MBs of storage, and was ridden with ads and a not perfect interface. The competition forced Hotmail to up its storage limits and make things a bit better for their users. But switching wasn't easy, you got a different email address, and Hotmail stored address books and archived mails with no easy way to transfer them to GMail.
That is the problem with today's Web 2.0 services, they are geared to getting you in the door, once signed up you're part of the community, and can't leave. Photo sharing sites encourage you to enter tags, titles, descriptions, comments, as do video sites; rss readers store your subscriptions, tags, favourites. All of the services are perfectly fine, they work, but there is no easy way to switch. In the last couple of weeks I've discovered a couple of new photo sharing sites similar to Flickr that looked quite good. However because I'm tied in to Flickr, there is no way way for me to try these services out.
Perhaps if I could export my photos, tags, descriptions, titles, comments, sets etc in one easy method, switching might be more of an option. I could give the new site a go, see if it works for me, and if not, switch back, be quite nomadic rather than loyal to a site, shop about, with my data set, for the features I want. And if everyone started doing this then the sites would take note - they would have to innovate further, improve customer service, lower prices, make switching to them easier, think of new ways to get us to stay. Competition would drive Web 3.0!
In my opinion this competition approach applies to several keys parts of the web today; photos, videos, mail, rss readers and blogs. All the meta data we provide around the source item, be it a photo, video, email, feed subscription, or our entire blog, needs to have a simple easy way to be packaged up and transported from site to site along with the source data item. At the very least, and this is happening, web sites should offer tools that import content from competitors into their website, the downside being the competitor doesn't export all of the data you've entered! APIs help, because clever developers like myself can then access all of this data, package it up in nice xml file formats (or something like it) and pass that onto the new website for them to import. And finally, you could do it manually, using tutorials or similar to help you speed up the laborious task, the downside, it takes so long, you want to know its worth the switch!
What we really need is an agreement in place, a standard drawn up that stores all of the common information we assign to a piece of data, that websites can then export to and import from. That way, the users are free to shop about, and competition wins the day! Obviously such data sets could be quite large, and that presents some logistical issues, but I think if the Web is to continue to evolve, it has not got to be just about the new users, websites will have to start thinking about their existing users and how best to keep them from straying to the next new thing!
There, my stream of consciousness is complete, I'm sure it is not perfect, but basically give us a way to let us swap web sites willy nilly, and let competition build the best web sites Web 3.0 will have to offer.