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I read a lot about social networks, the semantic web, web services / SaaS (software as a service) and all kinds of things. It’s clear that under the surface, the web is becoming far more than the old analogies allow.

In many ways, the analogy of there being web ‘pages’ works well; in part it’s helped people understand the web. This allowed users to get their head around links, which is a web-specific term, which splits from the page analogy.

With people using various social networks and a rise in popularity of other forms of content consumption through RSS (often through RSS aggregators), sites like Digg or newsvine, through widgets or social apps; how can the average Joe find an analogy for these new ideas?

What used to be a page can broadcast it’s content via RSS, so the content can be openly syndicated. Another ‘page’ (such as Google Reader) is a service that can pull in these broadcasts into your own content channel. The closest analogies are radio or TV stations; many regional stations would pool content from a variety sources to form part of their output. With this in mind, do we have co-existing analogies of accept that the old staple of ‘pages’ no longer suits the fluid mature of the modern web?

Web services often refers to be access and consumption of data (or content) through APIs on websites such as Amazon, eBay, etc. Through these a ‘page’ of your own can use data or content from multiple sources, in a ‘mash-up’ along with your own data or content, then potentially have this syndicated and available through your own API.

As the combination of many technologies or methodologies allow content to be less static as the page model suggest, does the lay person need to even consider the shift under the surface?

The social layer interests me; and judging by the moves in OpenSocial (spearheaded by Google and a raft of SocNet related companies), OpenID (a central point for managing your identity on the web) and the Data Portability movement, which has recently got pretty much every big web company on board – most people seems to be seeing the pointless and endless ‘sign-up’ processes for sites and services are restrictive. Using a combination of existing methods and formats, the DataPortability group shows that, with effort, we could all have a central source of identity and share our data, content and media across sites far more easily.

The breaking down of these silos of data and close-walled gardens of social networks needs to happen but I guess my concern is that it needs very non-technical people to get on board. Offering a simple way of doing this stuff and have people use it shouldn’t be a problem so long as the level of knowledge or experience expect of the end user is kept to a minimum. A vast number of people using the web are not security conscious or understand fully the privacy implications of using e-commerce or social networks. How can we make the technical shift we need to as developers and not have a loads of fancy services no-one embraces?

It should never be about the technology – it’s always about the users.

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16th February, 2008