Oct 25, 2005

web fatigue

I've been hit by web fatigue three times now. The first time was way back in 1994 or so. Usenet and email were my first passions. I used them extensively. At some point though there was information overload as well as a redundancy in the information I was retrieving. My usage plummeted.

The second time was towards the end of the dot.com bubble. There were tons of new websites offering all kinds of things. Most of them actually were either interesting or useful. But again at some point I was overloaded. I remember distinctly realizing we had a bubble on our hands when I realized there were simply too many websites to fully garner my attention. If I visited the sites I was interested in it would either consume my day or I wouldn't be able to give each one the kind of attention I wanted to give them.

I'm slowly but surely hitting that point again. While there are some useful additions during this current renaissance (blogging & website creation tools, web feeds & aggregators) the bulk of the attention right now is on AJAX/Web 2.0/computing platform type stuff. There are lots of new sites, mashups, add-ins, etc. based around this idea of the web as a platform. And as of late I've eagerly sought out these new developments through the usual channels - TechCrunch being one of the better sources.

But I'm coming to the conclusion that almost none of these Web 2.0 ideas has any lasting power for me. I learn about a new one. I try it out. I say, 'cool'. And then I notice that a week later I'm not using it at all. Worse, I've forgotten half the names of the sites I used to glow about. Even worse, there are too many of them to remember. More each day. Themes have emerged around what you need to do to make a Web 2.0 'thing'.

Tagging. This one just escapes me. Flickr and Delicious have seemingly ridden a wave of what can only be described as anal retentiveness. And mark my words, I am very anal retentive. I watched the well distributed screencast of how to use Delicious and it slowly dawned on me the author didn't actually show you how Delicious was useful he showed how an anally retentive person would go about categorizing and recategorizing web links he found interesting. At no point did it show how this might improve productivity. The one useful aspect of that site is that the information is server-based and accessible from anywhere. Strip that tagging out and it's equally useful to me. Flickr is the same. The tagging aspect is useless to me. The one useful aspect, storing photos online, is terrible. The photos are so small.

Social networking & participation. I'm sorry. I mean how connected do I need to be. I don't really need things to allow me to socially network. I don't need new friends that badly. And I don't really need to exchange photos and music on a regular basis with the ones I have. I spend my hours on the subway avoiding social interaction. I don't want anyone participating in my commute to work or anything else I do for the most part. That's called a back-seat driver. I have a blog clearly but it's more for my own personal use than anyone else's. It catalogs a number of things for me. This can be evidence by the complete lack of comments. No one is interested in my shit. I already knew this and am cool with it.

Feeds & aggregation. This one I'm bought into. This one improves my productivity to an extent. But there seem to be so many feeds now I'm constantly culling my aggregation list. I'm asking myself, 'what really is important'. I'm becoming a slave to it at times. And how many aggregators do we need?

Extension and customization. Taking what's out there and incorporating it into a new 'product'. The many mashups of Google Maps is the best example. I used to love trying these out. I use none of them today. I no longer even try out the new ones. Why? They are not useful.

Localization. Customizing something so it pertains to my geography, my interests, etc. The search engines are the best example here - local search. It could be useful but it isn't. Unless you've got exhaustive data and perfect information retrieval it is useless. Besides I just type in something I'm looking for and add the geography or interest as a modifier. Searching for "fresh produce Brooklyn" works well.

The problem with all this seems to stem from the exceedingly low barriers to entry. Two people made an IM aggregator I mentioned once before (I haven't been back). That's a low frickin' barrier. To get started in Web 2.0 you need 2 coders. To get started in semiconductor manufacturing you need lots of people and $2 billion and intellectual property. Everything is getting thrown against the wall. Some of these ideas will stick but most are going to die the way things did during the popping of the bubble. Today it seems Google wants to give me a database. I'm on the borderline of not trying this thing out. I've never needed a database on my desktop so why am I going to need one online. I probably don't. The one AJAX-y tool I do use is Outlook Web Access (OWA). And the reason it is useful is that it recreates my experience on the desktop and that experience is sometimes desired when I'm not at my desktop. It's a complement to what I do on the desktop. Anything that is going to be useful on the web is going to be owned by the company or organization that owns my desktop version. I use Microsoft Outlook so I'm going to use Microsoft OWA.

Another example of ridiculous ideas - these companies that create these desktop applications like online word processors and spreadsheets. They are dead in the water. It's not the application that is useful when I'm away from my desktop, it's my data. And if I access to their websites then I most likely have a computer with a word processor or a spreadsheet program on it. The more useful app is to make my desktop data available on the web or that other computer and do it in a form that is similar to my desktop experience. In this case Excel and Word could extend their capabilities online and allow me to access the Excel and Word files I have on my desktop. Microsoft will own this as well although I doubt the ultimate usefulness of it.

At the end of the day I guess I'm slowly drawing away from Mr. Web 2.0. I unsubscribed from TechCrunch today because I largely don't care about any of the things that site talks about now. It's probably easier to let the hype deflate and see what is left standing and try it out then. Less investment on my part and more time to read a non-virtual, non-socially networked, non-aggregated non-tagged, non-localized piece of content. In other words a book.


Anonymous said...

Great post - agree 100%

Anonymous said...

You bring up some very good points. I've had it with aggregators and feeds myself. I now want my blog to just be a personal, entertaining chronicle of my life. I'm writing my blog for myself.

Great Blog by the way.