Technology myths and human realities

Q: Why is this query so amazingly cool?

  1. Because it searches a database of the blogs I read using a combination of freetext, structured, and regular-expression technologies
  2. Because it uses XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0
  3. Because you can subscribe to the results as RSS
  4. Because you can modify it to create your own customized and RSS-accessible view of my database of feeds
A: All of the above. And what?

Two essays that showed up this morning remind me that it isn't about technology, or about how we think people should use technology, or even about how people themselves think they use technology. It's about what people actually do.

Here, for example, is Lucas Gonze deconstructing podcasting's origin myth:

  1. There was a story about the need to transfer files to an iPod. This story was false -- podcast listeners are overwhelmingly office workers or students using desktop computers. However, following this story got content makers to abandon the developer-hostile RTSP protocol and to embrace the user-friendly MP3 format.
  2. There was a story about feed formats like RSS being needed to pre-fetch large files. In reality download time had become a non-factor since the perception was established in the mid-90s, but few people knew it. Though the use of feed formats to control download times was pixie dust, it was just the right pixie dust to clear the perception that online audio was too slow to use.
  3. There was a story about RSS 2.0 enclosures being necessary to allow integration with blog readers, even though the most popular blog readers were (and are) web applications which can't do anything more with an enclosure link than they can with any other link. What blog readers really needed was an open format to free them from the quicksand (like ASX and RAM) that audio and video were trapped in before podcasting. It didn't matter whether the link was in an enclosure element, it was crucial that the link was in an open data format.
[Lucas Gonze: An alternate history of podcasting]

Indeed. I do not own an iPod1, have never pre-fetched large files with RSS, and have never used RSS 2.0 enclosures. Yet I have benefited from, and contributed to, the renaissance of Internet audio.

Now here is Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah on a pair of essays -- Barry Briggs' The Decade of Process and Jamie Zawinski's Groupware Bad -- that led him to this conclusion:

Groups, communities and organizations often embody processes, and when using software in support of them, aim for unobtrusiveness and, most crucially, leverage this great network architecture that we have. As for the rest, well that will sort itself out, Darwin and Adam Smith have a lot to say here. [Koranteng's Toli: People, Processes, and Things]

Lucas Gonze warns me that some things I find compelling -- that 99% of the ill-formed blogosphere can be made well-formed, that new database engines can mine and reconstitute well-formed content in powerful ways -- might not be the big deal I imagine them to be. But Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah suggests that, if this stuff can be made to support and amplify the human network in the right ways, it just might be after all.

1 I do, however, own a MuVo, and while transferring files to it is not a problem for me, user-friendly synchronization will be necessary for most people to experience the drive-time (or walk-, hike-, or swim-time) revelation. So I quibble with Lucas here: the enshrinement of the iPod in the name "podcasting" is part of the myth, but mobile listening is a profound reality.

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