Image representing John Battelle as depicted i...
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In an interesting blog post, John Battelle talks about the emerging “Dependent Web” and the receding “Independent Web.” And, no, it’s not about Net neutrality. What Battelle is getting at is what I’ll call the “personal Web” and the “impersonal Web” — basically, the Web that presents itself knowing something about you and curating itself in response vs. the Web that doesn’t differentiate based on who you are.

The problem, as Battelle sees it, is that because everyone is gravitating to services that mimic or leverage the Dependent Web, we may be reducing the overall value of the Web:

I see a threat to the overall value of our industry – if we continue to graft a Dependent Web model onto the architecture of the Independent Web, we most likely will fail to deliver the value that we all intuit is possible for the web. And that’s not good for anyone.

After all, if the relatively crude algorithms and tracking devices we have now come to dominate the architecture of the Web and set customer expectations, we may retreat from it. After all, the Dependent Web’s abilities will be in some ways limited by their supposed precision — an imperfect approximation at best. And who will revel in a Web that somehow feels pedantic and demanding?

. . . our presence and the identity model the system has made for us stands in. . . . Because there is no infrastructure in place for us to declare who we might want to be in the eyes of a particular site, the response to that query makes a ton of assumptions about who we are. Much more often than not, the results are weak, poor, or wasted.

Battelle’s final point is that perhaps there’s a third way — the Revealed Identity. We shape our identities to serve various purposes in every setting we find ourselves in, so why not online, too? Who I am on my bike is different than who I am at the office in many respects. My “parent” mode diverges from my “friend” mode. Why think of me as one person? Instead, think of me as someone with many interests who manages a set of Revealed Identities.

What would that infrastructure look like?

The entire essay is worth reading if the area of social media and a more complex future of information provision interests you.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


9 Thoughts on "Should Our Information Experiences Be Dependent or Independent?"

The problem with Battelle’s solution is that it is in direct opposition to the needs of Google, Facebook and every other company trying to capitalize on the “dependent web”. His solution requires withholding information, clear and easy tools for retaining privacy, for selectively releasing data to the miners.

Compare this with every change Facebook has made in the last few years where there’s been an enormous push to make all information public, to make more and more of your details available for sale to an advertiser.

How can you reconcile these two opposing forces? There’s (at least theoretically) a business model for the dependent, all-revealing web. Is there one for the “revealed identity”?

I think Battelle’s vision isn’t in conflict with Facebook’s initiatives, just in conflict with lazy technology adoption. For instance, why do all these sites leverage Facebook’s login API? Not because they care who you went to college with, but because it’s easy, it seems modern, and it seems social. But add the nuance of people managing a plethora of identities, and suddenly you see how wrong it is to assume that your FB identity is the same as your professional identity for your journals or books online, for your lab site, or for your professional organization.

It still strikes me as letting the user have too much control for Facebook’s liking. I might not want to admit that I dearly love Chick-Fil-A, or I might be really tired of receiving ads and constant spam from them. If I can manage my identity to exclude my deep addiction to fried chicken sandwiches, then that’s one less client for Facebook. If you offer people the ability to only selectively reveal info to specific advertisers or only about specific subjects, most aren’t going to opt-in to full disclosure.

So that means less data to sell to fewer advertisers. It may result in more accurate data, to be sure, but I’m betting Facebook would prefer bulk.

I agree, but if people wise up and stop adopting the LCD technology and think a little more, Facebook’s approach may meet some needed complexity.

Absolutely, I agree that as a user, this is vastly preferable. But user needs seem to come a distant second to companies like Facebook, Google, etc. As I noted above, there’s money to be made in catering to the marketers, not so much in catering to the users who expect everything for free.

As the now famous quote states, if you’re not paying for a service, then you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Facebook and Google are pretty clear on who their real customers are.

Plus it’s all-or-nothing. Battelle is advocating for a nuanced approach, and all-or-nothing is not nuanced.

What about the possibility, which you hint at, of people using their Second Life avatars as stand-ins for their real selves? We could have a proliferation of identities on the Web that are manufactured and that the Dependent Web would not be able to distinguish from our real identities. In that way, one could presumably game the system in interesting and endless ways.

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