HailStorm training wheels

HailStorm training wheels.

Many folks wouldn't want to be reminded how easy it is to convert
sparse input into a detailed profile that includes a phone number, a
street address, a satellite photo, and driving directions. Re-entering
the basic facts each time perpetuates an illusion of privacy. Yet the
reality, for many of us, is that these facts are public.

Since I haven't told Google (or any other directories) to
delete my records, I've implicitly given permission for Web
applications to use that data. Let me now make that permission
explicit. I'd be happy if a Web form made intelligent use of public
information about me.

I'd be even happier if I could control the source of that
data. Public information is a poorly defined concept, after all. There
are online directories that still remember an address I vacated five
years ago. I'd like to maintain the facts about me that I deem public.
When applications need those facts, I'd like to refer them to a service
that dispenses them. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

In theory, it would be straightforward for business homepages to adopt
a similar approach. They all do the same stuff: About, Company,
Products, News, Contact. There's an obvious XML format for News — RSS
— but not for these other things. It's easy to imagine a virtuous
cycle. Companies publish their facts in a structured form. As a result,
more directories list them — and do so more correctly. As a result,
more companies are incented to publish XML facts. And yet in practice,
this hasn't happened.

Agreeing on a format is, of course, always a huge obstacle. But I
suspect the Web design reflexes that we carry forward from the 90s are
also getting in the way. It's been a very long time since I visited a
company's home page and thought: “Wow, get a load of those DHTML menu
effects!” Or: “Nice font!” I'm there for the information, and I'll
shred the site trying to find it, grumbling the whole time. I know I'm
not the only one who feels this way.

Of course I'm not wholly insensitive to aesthetics. In fact, I
worship CSS wizards who can dress a skeleton of structured information
in beautiful clothing. But people really hate looking at, or thinking
about, that skeleton.  [Jon's Radio]

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