The ever-quotable Tim O’Reilly is fond of saying that in Web 2.0 “data is the Intel inside”. He is right, but I think his forward-looking phrase is set to become inverted.
To start at the start, Tim’s (correct) point is that data is the special sauce in Web 2.0 software. It isn’t the logic; it isn’t (necessarily) the UI. What makes Gmap/Flickr/del.icio.us great is the data. Granted, the data can come from all sorts of places, ranging from community contributions to licensed stuff, but it is still the data that puts the bums in the Aerons.
So here is the problem: The more people that figure out that it’s not about proprietary applications, but about proprietary data, then we merely move from one walled garden to another. Because a walled garden of data, however pretty, still has walls, just like old algorithmic garden of shrink-wrapped software. All that we are doing by over-focusing on data being the Intel inside is ensuring that data becomes the Intel inside in every sense — another proprietary layer for litigation, instead of something that can be readily extracted and combined to create better apps & services.
Where should we be going? Call it “data as the Intel outside”, where the innovation engine is how easily data can be recombined outside any one application. Turning things inside-out should be the Web 2.0 goal (or Web 3.0, as Steve Mallett puts it on his DataLibre site). We have open-source software messing up markets for shrink-wrap vendors of proprietary software, why shouldn’t open-source data vendors mess up the market for would-be Web 2.0 vendors who are trying to Balkanize things by locking up data inside their own apps?
Scott White has a nice proposal related to this. He is calling for a kind of EnergyStar seal on Web 2.0 apps, one that shows the vendor is playing nicely with others and sharing data so that people can freely mix data across apps, pulling together Amazon reviews and auction ratings and news and geo-tagged data. That is a much more interesting path forward than where we seem currently headed, which is toward a new world of proprietary apps, albeit one based on data not binary installs.
Anyone want to take up Scott’s challenge and start agitating for an Open Data seal on Web 2.0 apps? The time to do it is now, not later.