]> What would you save from a burning internet? | Gijs van Dam

Gijs van Dam


What would you save from a burning internet?

What would you snatch out of a burning house just before you ran out?

There was a time when whole tribes would have responded to that question that they would risk their lives to save the photo albums out off the conflagration. That was before digital photography, before all your photos were safe on Flickr. 

@bindermichi probably thought he had his affairs in good order with more than 4,000 photos on Flickr, until the Flickr service desk accidentally deleted his account in a way that made it impossible to undo the mistake. There is no cure for immeasurable stupidity. Eventually it ended with a fizzle, when some thumbscrews were tightened on a number of programmers from Flickr as to prevent even worse damage to the reputation of Yahoo!, Flickr's parent company.

It's up for debate whether Yahoo! had done its best to restore the account, if @bindermichi had failed to mobilize the entire blogosphere. My guess is that he would have had to live with those 4 years pro-subscription, initially offered by Flickr. With that in mind, there is a lot to be said for requiring greater control and certainty over what you post online. How big and widely accepted a service like Flickr is, it stays, in a way, a single point of failure. Even if Flickr was designed well enough so that accounts are not directly completely removed, you remain at the mercy of the whims of a company that attaches, by definition, a different value to your profile and the data you store in it.

End of 2010 it was again Yahoo! that announced that the Delicious bookmarking site would be "sunsetted" in the near future. The pr machine of Yahoo came promptly to the rescue, issuing a statement in which it explained that this was to be interpreted as a search for a future outside of Yahoo! and that nobody needed to worry. The leaked slide and the bullshit-bingo press release were enough for me to look for a bookmark service that I currently have more confidence in.

You can not blame companies that evaluate their services in terms of profit and loss - and act accordingly - and not in terms of personal value that users attach to it. It would be naive to think otherwise. And because of this, users should demand that the service is designed in a way that protects your interests automatically without the operator of the service being the single point of failure.

For those with enough discipline, the ability to export a backup of your profile information regularly may be sufficient. An option that Delicious offers. For me that wouldn't be remotely sufficient, since I'm not one of this group of disciplined people. I want an opportunity where I do not have to think about making a backup. I want integration with Dropbox.

Dropbox is the more than brilliant service to synchronize files across multiple computers. Everything you put in your Dropbox folder, gets synchronized through the cloud (Dropbox uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud) with all other computers you've installed Dropbox on. Dropbox has an API that allows integration. Dropbox would be ideally suited to integrate with services like Flickr and Delicious, but also with Facebook. Imagine that everything you liked and shared can be found in a simple feed one or more computers you have installed Dropbox on, regardless of whether you've found the time to make a backup.

The creators of Frenzy were probably on this line of thought. Frenzy is a social network based entirely on JSON feeds that exist within your Dropbox folder. Your network consists of the people with whom you share your Frenzy folder. Sharing a folder is a feature of Dropbox anyway, so besides the Frenzy app you need nothing more than a Dropbox account. Unfortunately the Frenzy app is only available for the Mac. 

Frenzy clearly shows that more and more people are starting to worry about the mountain of information we publish online and where, apart from all the privacy issues,  we have too little control over. Frenzy is designed from the onset to give that control, and more online services should follow their example. A profile that lives on your computer, can not be removed by a service desk employee who hasn't had its cup of coffee yet. If your computer crashes, you just have to install Dropbox on your new computer and all profile data is neatly synchronized. If you don't like where a company is going, nothing stands in your way to take your complete profile to another provider of the same type of service.

That last advantage is obviously also the catch, because the lack of portability of your profile is an important part of the business model of social networks. The cost of switching is so great in a social network like Facebook and those costs only increase as you use more of their services. Because of that the Facebooks of this world are not inclined to make portability intrinsic to their networks.

But there's a growing awareness among consumers that they are trapped in information silos in which they are at the mercy of the whims of the silo owner. In time there will be more alternatives, like Frenzy, where control over your own profile and your own data is rooted in their design. Dave Winer is one of the people engaged in building and writing about such alternatives. About his minimal blogging tool, Radio2, he writes: "The important thing is that you and your ideas live outside the silo and are ported into it at your pleasure." Perhaps he says it even better in his post on the topic of Dropbox: "There's a new kind of software coming online. Just beginning to see the outlines of it. [...] It feels like a new Internet is springing to life inside a corner of the Internet. It's like opening a jewel box and finding a universe in there. "

If anything, this new Internet ensures that if your house is on fire, you just have to get out as fast as possible.


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