Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Age of Epic Battles Raging Over Location

We are now beginning to see the signs of the raging battles over location picking up all over the place. By location, we don't mean physical land, water, or any other physical resource. Instead, we're talking about the physical location of an individual who is a potential consumer of resources.

Up until very recently (and I mean that literally, in the sense of saying 'up until a few years ago'), it was fairly easy to control the physical location where many of the coveted resources (i.e. products and services of the current economy, or cultural artifacts of the current civilization) were to be consumed. For example, just as devout religious practitioners are expected to congregate in a physical church or other places of worship, so were consumers of cultural goods, who expect to enjoy works of art or plays or concerts, expected to congregate in a physical location (such as a concert hall, or a theater, a museum or an art gallery, etc.)

Similarly, movie goers are expected to consume the motion pictures at a very specific physical location, such as a movie theater. Same goes for people who enjoy going to the circus, or to the country fair, etc.

The ability of the businesses (who produce and publish products to be consumed by the market) to fully control the exact physical location where the act of consuming is to take place, is the vital part of the profit making model that such businesses pursue. Thanks to the virtue of the fact that such physical locations are enclosed in wired fences and walls, with only a single point of entry where the business can charge the admission fee, the businesses can ensure that only consumers who pay the fair price get the privilege to enjoy the offered products and services.

What we're talking about here is the good old world of 'haves' and 'have nots', which is the time honored way that human civilization works. The elites (the 'haves') find themselves in a very fortunate situation where they are in the possession of an upper hand, meaning they have sufficient means at their disposal to go ahead and produce things and services that the underprivileged, the 'have nots', cannot produce. This arrangement then creates sharp and extremely lopsided inequality, where the underprivileged (who by far outnumber the privileged elite) are starving and craving for the products and services that the elite can offer. And the elite is indeed offering these thing for a fee, often by charging what we call the 'admission fee'.

For example, if I wish to enjoy the much ballyhooed movie "Avatar", I have to make a trip to the local movie theater, where I'll be expected to pay the admission fee before I'd be allowed to get in and watch the spectacle.

If I then, upon finishing watching that movie, leave very impressed and the next day decide I'd like to see that movie again, I must do the same thing all over again: make a trip to the movie theater (a physical location where that movie is playing), and pay the same admission fee yet again. The business that's running this operation (i.e. the movie theater) doesn't care whether I'm their regular patron or that's my first visit ever -- the admission fee is the same for everyone. No discrimination there.

That same model applies to many other businesses, such as museums, art galleries, circus tents, Disney Lands and Disney Worlds, theaters, concert halls, stadium, and so on. All those business ventures operate on the 'admission fee' model, which, of course, implies the necessity to make a trip to the actual physical location where the event is taking place. And once there, it would be extremely difficult to cheat and beat the system by gaining the entry without paying the admission fee. There are physical barriers that are legitimately erected for the exact purpose of preventing anyone from cheating and getting in for free.

If you were to pay closer attention to how does the above system actually work, you will no doubt notice that it is all based on the assumption that end user, the actual consumer, has no other ways or channels whereby he or she could consume the content. The consumer is forced to make that trip, to visit the designated physical location, otherwise he or she won't be able to experience the event.

Where this model breaks down is in the cases where the consumer gets to be sufficiently educated and self-reliant. For example, let's talk about a consumer who is literate. Armed with solid education and a healthy does of self-esteem, such consumer now gains extra freedom and can get a book and can then consume that book in ANY location. All of a sudden, we see that certain resources, such as books, magazines, newspapers etc. do not require people to visit an exact physical location before they can consume these products.

As the technology keeps maturing, we see more and more of such liberating instances being offered to the general public (to the typical 'have nots', the unwashed masses). The invention of radio, for example, with the supporting wireless technology, was one of the mold-breaking advancements that allowed the unprivileged masses to consume a play or a concert or a sporting event without having to make an actual trip to the physical location. Of course, the invention of television brought that liberation to an even higher level, where it was now possible to enjoy movies and cartoons and all other kinds of motion picture products, without being expected to make a trip to the exact physical location.

The trend was slowly becoming apparent: the more an individual is educated and the more the technology had matured, the less was that individual forced to make a trip to the specific location in order to consume an event. Conversely, those who lack education and access to the mature technology, had no choice but to make the trip and pay the admission fee, if they were to participate in the scheduled event.

For example, with the advent of the recording technology, people who have access to the playback equipment could obtain the desired recording and enjoy the performance in the comfort of their own homes. Or, in the comfort of their own vehicle.

The ones who were left behind were basically uneducated on how to set up and use the playback equipment. But as soon as they've upgraded their education, they too could then afford the luxury of enjoying the performance in their own homes.

The music recording industry didn't follow the model of the movie making industry. Instead of setting up music listening halls, where consumers could gain admission by paying the admission fee and then listening to the recorded albums, the music industry opted for manufacturing a product (a vinyl record) which is then being sold to the general public. This was a significant shift in the battle for location, as the control of the location has now shifted from a particular physical building or stadium, controlled by the business, to the individual homes. Just as long as an individual had legitimately purchased the product (the vinyl record), that individual was free to listen to it in his or her home. But the significant game changer here also was the fact that the consumer could consume the product more than once.

This game changer had, of course, opened a can of worms. Not surprisingly, the movie industry followed suit by issuing products that contained recordings of the movies and TV shows, suitable for playback in the comfort of the consumers' homes. No longer were the consumers expected to make a trip to the movie theater in order to watch the movie. And even more significantly, once they obtained the recording of the movie, they were free to watch it over and over, and thus enjoy limitless playbacks at no extra charge.

Such is the liberating power of the constantly maturing technology. What once was scarce is now abundant. However, not everything in this arrangement is positive and optimistic. There are flies in the ointment, and we'll examine them next.

The first proverbial fly in the ointment stems from the newly won privilege to enjoy the performance unlimited number of times, all for the same price. Under the old regime (the one that were forcing people to pay the admission fee each time they wanted to enjoy the performance), businesses were guaranteed repeat income from their consumers. Under the new regime (the one where people can enjoy the performance unlimited number of times for a single admission fee), this repeat income has been lost. Furthermore, thanks to the technological advancement, the consumers can now not only enjoy the performance unlimited number of times, they can also lend the product to others, who then get to enjoy it for free.

To curb that undesirable consequence of the maturing technology, the businesses came up with the hair-brained concept of residual income. What that concept states is that, even though someone can obtain the rights to enjoy the performance by purchasing the container (a record or a VHS tape or a disc) containing the performance, that arrangement still does not entitle the purchaser to further freely distribute the container in question. In case the original purchaser wishes to further distribute the artifact, that purchaser is obliged to pay the royalty fee to the maker of the product.

This royalty fee is a very problematic concept, as it is incapable of enduring any protracted logical scrutiny. In a nutshell, royalty fee is based on the concept of intellectual property. Unlike objective, tangible property, such as real estate, or vehicles, furniture, clothing etc., intellectual property is a very nebulous concept that gets applied in a wishy-washy fashion, and is thus entirely indefensible.

For example, if I have an idea for a song, and I then work on writing that song and recording it, once I publish that song, it is protected under the auspices of the laws governing the intellectual property. Anyone who wishes to use my song, either in its entirety or a portion of it, is requested by the law to first contact me and obtain the permission to do so, after which each subsequent use of my intellectual property is followed by the user paying the royalty fee to the owner.

In a way, the above arrangement is all fine and dandy, but the problem lies in the fact that it is governed by the double standards. And any time we have a situation where the law does not apply equally across the board, we know we have a serious problem on our hands.

To illustrate the inequality of the laws pertaining to the concept of intellectual property, suppose I'm an artisan cabinet maker. I get an idea on how to make a completely original chest of drawers, for example. I do it, and then I sell that chest of drawers. Where's the problem, you ask? Well, in case of a chest of drawers, my original idea, my intellectual property, is not protected by the law. In other words, the law claims that an artisan cabinet maker who expects to receive any residual income after the initial sale of his product is simply dreaming.

But why? Why am I, as a creative individual who happens to make armoires and shelves and chairs and tables and chests etc. not entitled to the legal protection of my intellectual property, while a book writer or a composer etc. are entitled to it?

The answer to the above question is very simple: the technology hasn't been invented yet that would enable people to create an exact replica of my chest of drawers with a simple push of a button. Hence, I have no right to ask for the legal protection, because I am already protected simply thanks to the immature state of technology. Once we reach the stage where it will be cheap and easy to create an exact replica of the cabinet maker's products, the law of intellectual property will surely come into full effect.

So it's easy now to see that the law of intellectual property is a very arbitrary concept, as it hinges entirely on the ability of people to make cheap and easy copies of the products that embody the intellectual property. Those products that cannot be copied with a minimal cost are exempt from the legal protection.

This inconsistency is the Achilles' heel of the law of the intellectual property. Because of that, the entire setup is invalid and illegal.

On to the second proverbial fly in the ointment. All the existing legal constraints that have been formulated around the concept of intellectual property are built on the presumption that the product in question is going to be consumed at the predetermined location.  In other words, either the consumer will be expected to make a trip to the theater, a concert hall etc. before she can enjoy the performance, or she will be privileged to enjoy the performance in her own home. This arrangement is bound by the sheer physicality of the location delivering the actual performance. Either the location is a physical public building (such as theater, or a stadium, etc.), or it is a physical residential building. The only third category of physically defined location where the performance could be enjoyed is a private vehicle, a car.

Furthermore, the carrier of the performance is assumed to be a physical object, such as a book, a magazine, newspaper, vinyl record, magnetic tape, or a digital disc.

But what if the content can be delivered without requiring a container? For example, I can today stream digital music wirelessly to any location of my choice, and furthermore, I can stream several identical recorded performances to several location of my choice at the same time. Suddenly, the concept of the location starts to lose it's meaning.

The battles over the location of the performances to be enjoyed by the paying customers have traditionally been fought by erecting barb wires, walls, and placing the bouncers around the physical locations. With the maturation of the technology, stringent laws have been put in place to protect the unauthorized playback of the copy-protected recorded performance. These copy-protection laws all hinge upon two things:
  1. There is a physical object, a container that carries the recorded performance
  2. There is a pre-set physical location where this recorded performance will be enjoyed
The above presumptions have now been invalidated thanks to the unstoppable march of technology. The first presumption (that there always must be a physical container carrying the recorded performance) has been rendered meaningless by the wireless streaming of the content to any chosen location. I can store my content on the Amazon S3 service, that exists somewhere in the cloud, and I can then easily stream that content wirelessly to any location on the planet. That content is not bound by any physical container, as its actual location is indeterminate, and its delivery is wireless, intangible.

The second assumption (that there is invariably a pre-set physical location where the recorded performance will be enjoyed) has also been invalidated by the maturation of the technology. I can travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil, visit any Internet cafe in the city, and right there stream my content and play it back while I sip my latte. No constraints of the physical container carrying the recorded content, no constraints on where can that content be consumed.

In conclusion, the epic battles over the location have now been rendered meaningless. It remains to be seen how will the intellectual property bullies attempt to deal with this new reality of containerless content and locationless location.

Friday, November 13, 2009

No One Wants To Visit Your Web Site

As we've seen in my previous post (Content and Containers), people at large have lost interest in containers. As soon as anyone notices how easy it is nowadays to get any desired content delivered right into their browser, they drop any interest in any other containers.

Why is that? Two things: affordability and convenience. It tends to be much cheaper (read: almost always free) to get your content via the publicly vetted general purpose network (i.e. the world wide web), then it is via some proprietary delivery channels (such as your local newsstand, your local cable, etc.) On top of that, it is incomparably more convenient to enjoy the desired content when it suits the consumer, and so this 'on demand' delivery is like a dream come true. Once people experience this kind of freedom, no one in their right mind would ever want to go back to the old, proprietary and costly way of consuming content.

People are therefore abandoning proprietary containers in troves, and are embracing the 'free range' content as it lives on the public web. There is one peculiar detail that seem to have fallen through the cracks, though: no one seems to be aware of the fact that, talking about proprietary containers, a web site is also a proprietary container. Just as a TV cable provider wants to lock customers in and turn them into hostages by disabling them to even begin looking for help, web sites want to lock their visitors/members into their proprietary dungeon, looking for tricks that would prevent them from ever leaving.

However, one thing that the purveyors of proprietary web sites seem to gloss over is that their consumers visit their proprietary sites only because they tend to find the content they're interested in hosted within the bowels of that site. The consumers don't really care about the container that delivers that content.

That sentiment explains why have RSS feeds become so popular. It's the content, stupid! No one cares about your site, no matter how much effort you've invested in prettying it up, choosing the right fonts and font sizes, the right layout, the right colors etc. Who cares? The only thing that matters is the content found on your site!

But guess what: that content is in no way locked in on your site. Other sites can graze the content of your site, slurping it up, repurposing it, making it even more attractive for the consumers than you've ever dreamed possible.

So you, as the web site creator and host, are now faced with two choices: resist and die a horrible death of attrition, as your consumers abandon you, or open up, and die a nice, pleasant death of being swept away by the tsunami.

The choice is yours. But remember -- no one in their right mind wants to visit your site!

Content and Containers

It wasn't that long ago that content was, in general, scarce. I still remember those long gone summers at my grandma's farm house, and how eagerly I used to await Fridays when I'd get to read my latest comic strip periodical. Those were the days when content was scarce, the medium was expensive, and the attention of the targeted audience was guaranteed.

Today, we're all of a sudden faced with the exact opposite situation: content, all kinds of content, is copiously abundant, the media is super cheap (actually, it's practically free), but the attention of the targeted audience is virtually non-existent.

Our ages old fascination with containers (i.e. the carriers of content, such as newspaper print, radios, TVs, VCRs, record players, CD players, DVD players etc.) has now taken a serious nose dive. No one cares anymore how the content gets delivered. We have reached the point where we simply want to consume the content, on demand, at the very moment when we feel like it.

And modern technology is delivering precisely that -- content on demand. If I wish to watch an episode of my favorite TV sitcom, I don't have to check the TV Guide anymore, and wait for the episode to air. I simply watch it on the web, on demand, online.

This is a very essential and a very significant change in the way we traditionally used to consume content. While up until very recently it went without saying that a desired content can be delivered for our consumption only via expensive containers, today we've grown accustomed to the fact that the container doesn't matter anymore. Whether we wish to read the latest news, or a timeless book, or listen to the radio program, or watch TV, or listen to music, watch a movie and so on, we simply get that content delivered directly to us via the web. It's all digital now, so the container doesn't matter.

The moral of the story is that anyone who is planning to make money by charging people for using their proprietary containers is on a fool's errand. These days are gone, and today no one is fascinated with the containers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Terror of Cascading Style Sheets

I've been involved in designing and building hundreds of web sites throughout my career. There is one common red thread that always seems to be present on any project that involves building and launching a web site: that thread could be summed up as 'layout and styling management'. The reason I'm mentioning that thread is to illustrate how, of all the other activities related to building/launching a web site, that one is the least predictable. However, at the same time, the layout and styling always gets buried in the mix, so that no one seems to be aware of the issues surrounding that activity.

Now, if we were to break down the effort needed to build and launch a typical web site, I'd say that, in my experience, the layout/styling efforts can unapologetically eat up anywhere between 15%  all the way up to 60% of the overall time and effort. Now, that's a significant chunk of resources that somehow never gets properly acknowledged. But in reality, and in hindsight, we all know that there always seems to be a lot of fiddling with the cascading stylesheets (CSS).

For some reason, no one seems to mind this wastefulness, but guess what -- I do! Rather than burning untold hours on making sure that certain CSS trick will work in certain versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, I'd like to simply launch the site and move on to doing more lucrative things.

But the issue is with the CSS police (or, as I like to call them, CSS fascists). They insist that CSS is god, and it must be served and worshipped. So my question here is: why? What is it about CSS that should command a lot of our time, effort, and money? Why have we enslaved ourselves and found ourselves serving the gods of CSS? What could be realistically gained from this ridiculous system of slavery?

My answer is: nothing could be gained. We have merely fallen victims of some witless, clueless hackers who are terrorizing us with their oh-so impressive CSS skills. Who cares? And, oh, by the way, those hackers should get a life! Or at least get a girlfriend.

"But what's the alternative?" those who are more observant among you might ask. The answer is dead simple -- the alternative to CSS is NO CSS! Just abandon the crappy thing altogether.

"But, but, but, then our web sites will end up looking ugly!" I can hear you retort. Well, here's where the interesting bits come -- I've been lately launching a number of web sites that contain zero CSS code, either as separate CSS files or inline. The site's presentation is rendered by the browsers that strictly read the semantic markup and render the content in a knee-jerk fashion.

Guess what -- the customers love it! No one ever called to complain how the site is missing that inexpressibly lovely pale coral red background color, or what have you. Time to wake up, people: no one cares about that crap! No one is going to stop and marvel at the sublime colors, fonts, and layout decisions you and your team of designers have poured over for months (minor correction: no one except those same CSS fascists).

This is the ugly truth in today's world of web sites. Web designers of all colors will vehemently deny this, of course, but don't let them bully you. My advice is: be brave, be bold, be radical, lead the pack and release that site with no styling whatsoever. See what happens. And see how much money and time you save by firing those bloated designers and, by proxy, reducing the bloat of your site.

And in case you get cold feet, just placate yourself with these thoughts: "Hell, we can always add the facelift once the site is up and running; that's always a no-brainer. Throw in some colors, some layouts, fancy fonts, whathaveyou. But first, let's see if there are any detectable issues with the bare bones site."

Look at it this way: most people go on the web with a specific question in mind. All they are looking for is an answer to the specific question. And they really don't care about the appearance of the answer to that question, so long as the answer was easy to obtain.

For example, if I have a flight tonight, all I'd like to know right now is whether my flight is on time, or delayed, or cancelled. This information would be super important to me right now, wouldn't you agree? I'd like to be able to simply plug in my flight number, and get back one of the three possible answers:
  1. The flight is on time
  2. The flight has been delayed for x hours
  3. The flight's been canceled
Would I really care if the answer comes back to me in a certain font? No, no way! Would I get upset if the answer is not styled at all? Again, no way!

Time to wake up and smell the roses, folks. This may hurt for you to hear, but people in general don't care about visiting some dinky web site. All people want is the ability to ask a question and get back the correct and legible answer in less that 2 seconds. The appearances don't matter one bit.

Now that we know how things really work out there in the big bad world of world wide web, time to get back to the office and fire those pesky CSS gurus.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Can We Afford to Lose the Web?

Things are funny the way they tend to evolve. For example, common wisdom holds that hardware is the underpinning of software. However, in the recent years, we've seen software being used as an underpinning of hardware (in the form of virtual machines being hosted inside a software program).

Or, in the early days, one could have argued that the economy is the underpinning of literacy. In other words, it was thanks to the economy that some people were in the position to learn how to read and write.

Today, the situation is exactly the reverse: literacy is the underpinning of the economy. Being illiterate ensures that you cannot participate in any economic activities.

To go back to the question asked in the title of this post: "can we afford to lose the web?", the answer is "yes, provided that we can afford to lose our civilization."

In a manner similar to the above examples, civilization used to be the underpinning of the web. Meaning, without the civilization, the web couldn't have emerged.

But today, the evidence seems to be accumulating that the opposite is true, namely, without the web there couldn't be a civilization.

Very strange, but that's how things are. Of course, there is, as always, a whole whack of naysayers, people who are denying any significance to the web. Some of them are simply knee-jerk, some come with certain hilarious arguments. I will present here one interesting counter-argument that I've found while perusing some mindless discussion among some techno-geeks who seem to revel in having no life whatsoever (in case you're wondering why am I lurking around these terrible sites, I am merely doing a little bit of social study, observing bizarre behavioral patterns in the wild):

Any, ANY, website could go down - hell the entire internet world wide web could blow up - and I'd be fine. Sure I'd have to drive to the bank (where... omigod... they use desktop software). But I'd survive, just as well. In fact, I think that my boss and my wife would both be happier.
Bottom line: No website matters to my well being (or anyone I know of for that matter). I'm happier to have them, but could go on just as well without them. The only people who care, are the people who make the sites, and the people who have nothing better to do with their time.

I've withheld the name of the clueless person above, because it may not be his real name. Other than that minor edit, the entire quote is taken verbatim off the discussion thread.

Let's now examine the interesting points he brings up. The first point is the self-centered survivalist argument ("Any, ANY, website could go down - hell the entire internet world wide web could blow up - and I'd be fine.") This is reminiscent of the claims made by some survivalists who organize their lives around the assumption that the end of civilization is near, and so they are fully prepared for the power grid to go down, they can still be OK without electricity. Thus, we can afford to lose the web providing that we're fine with losing civilization.

He then goes on to say that his boss and his wife would be happier if indeed we were to lose our civilization. Of course, if we were to lose many of the trappings of the civilization, such as TVs and so on, that distract us daily, we'd be left with more free time on our hands, free time which could be more readily exploited by our business and personal partners. Does it necessarily follow then that all these trappings are unnecessary?

He concludes with "no web site matters to my well being." With such blatantly self-centered conclusion, he then triumphantly dismisses any need for having the world wide web. How brilliant! It's like an extremely selfish person, who has no children, wanting to abolish all medical professionals who specialize in healing sick children because, hey, he doesn't need them, since he doesn't have any children.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Web Continues to be Disruptive

When the web hit the mainstream some 15 years ago, it was largely regarded as being a massive electronic library. These were the days of the 'read web', and this read web was considered as an extension of the then leading edge technology: CD ROM.

The web quickly evolved into the read-write web, whereby it opened up to accept user-contributed content. At that point, content was king, and many online business models have been centered around that notion.

Fast forward to today, when the so-called social, or participatory web had clearly demonstrated that conversation, not content, is king.

All along the way, the web has proven itself as being the most disruptive and the most subversive technology ever. And it continues to roll into the future as the most surprisingly disruptive platform there is. There is hardly a way to envision how could this supremacy of disruptiveness ever be interrupted, or supplanted by any other platform.

A case in hand to illustrate the unstoppable subversiveness of the web: a well known online vendor, 37 signals had made their success riding the subversive nature of the web. Back in the early 2000s, the company had embraced the social aspect of the then budding participatory web in order to harness the ground swelling support of individuals/businesses in the light of the fact that the existing software productivity applications suck big time. They have boldly utilized the small footprint, lighthearted nature of the web by offering small, nimble web applications powerful enough to replace the bloatware that is Microsoft/IBM/Oracle etc. productivity suites.

The risk paid off, and 37 signals made their name thanks to their unreserved embracing of the subversive and disruptive nature of the web.

But the web didn't reach its pinnacle of subversiveness with 37 signals. The web continued to roll with its unstoppable disruption. Today, we have a comical, nay hilarious situation where the same business that once praised web's openness and subversiveness is crying foul for the same reasons! Today, 37 signals complain how it is unfair that other budding businesses and communities, who are embracing the conversation-is-king mantra, are disrupting their precious business (Get Satisfaction or Else...)

The thing that allegedly hurts 37 signals is the fact that they cannot seem to be able to lock their customers down into their proprietary web site. They'd like their customers to recognize that they don't have to go anywhere else on the web in order to get the service they're hoping to get. However, communities such as People-Powered Customer Service have further embraced the disruptive nature of the web and have shown the audacity to elaborate on the existing model (i.e. they've embraced the remix culture of the web). They've accomplished that by extending 37 signals' resources and allowing further conversations about pertinent topics. All this is perfectly fitting for a technological platform such as the world wide web, which is a fully democratic end-to-end communication platform where no one has to ask for permission to communicate with anyone else.

Of course, a proprietary vendor such as 37 signals would have none of that, hence their crying wolf in their today's blog post. Their wet dream is to create a locked-in hostage customers who will have no other choice but to only go to their web site for all their productivity tools needs. This is the exact same model that Microsoft and countless others old-school software vendors have been providing for decades. It is very sad that we're seeing the same greedy bullying on the web. Because of that, I say let's boycott the bullies, and let's turn instead toward the free software community offerings. Enough of supporting these fear mongering vendors!

Friday, February 20, 2009

User-contributed Resources

As we have already discussed on more than one occasion, the world wide web is best described as an ever growing collection of resources. What usually doesn't get discussed is how many of these resources are offered by the original authors, vs. how many resources are user-contributed.

By 'original authors' I mean people who have initially built the web site(s) hosting the resources. For example, if I build a web site dedicated to voting on the best sites available on the web, I may initially 'seed' that site by offering some of my best picks. These best picks would be offered as URLs to the original sites that I am offering as candidates to being voted on.

After the initial launch of my 'best of the best' web site, others may join and may start contributing by adding their picks. All these additional URLs will then be user-contributed resources.

In general, as the so-called participatory web keeps gaining momentum, we will start seeing more and more resources being user-contributed. In the early days of the web, most, if not all published resources, have been contributed by the original authors, or creators of the web sites. Today, we see increasing quantity of resources published on the web that are user-contributed (or, sometimes called member-contributed).

Let's examine now how do users, or members, contribute resources. Typically, there are two ways that resources get published on the web:

1. By filling out a form and successfully submitting it
2. By uploading some digitized information

Whichever the case may be, it is interesting to examine the nature of the content that is being published. For the most part, one would expect that the content is pure text. Sometimes, the content is binary, meaning a sound clip or a jpeg file (representing a photo) or a video clip.

Because the web is basically text-driven, we will now turn our attention to the text-based content. At this point, the question becomes: what is this text-based content supposed to represent?

By and large I'm sure we'll all agree that the text-based content is related to the ongoing conversation on the web. But that's not the whole story. The web as the medium isn't suitable only for enticing and recording various conversations. The web can also enable acting upon the ongoing conversations.

In order to understand in what ways can the web enable this acting upon, let's first refresh our memory on what the resources on the web are:
  1. Resources are abstractions, or entities, published on the web
  2. Resources know how to represent themselves upon request
  3. Resources know how to make a transition from one state to another, upon request
When a request reaches a resource on the web (routed via that resource's Uniform Resource Identifier, or URI), that event triggers a response. To provide a response is the responsibility of the resource. And, from the perspective of the consumer who had initially requested the response, it is anyone's guess what form will that response take.

It is customary to expect the resource to respond to the request by sending back a response containing the representation of that resource. Of course, a single resource can represent itself in more than one way. Often times, the mode of representation will depend on the context of the receiving request. If the request is, for example, coming from a human user, the response will most likely be in the form of a hypertext markup, which can be rendered in the user's browser. If, on the other hand, the request is coming from a machine, the response will quite likely be rendered as an XML document (although other machine-readable formats, such as YML or JSON are possible). These are merely the most generic scenarios, and there are of course different circumstances, where the resource may represent itself in a binary format, such as a PDF document, or a JPEG image, or an MP3 audio file, or even as a movie clip and so on.

Another interesting thing that deserves further examination is where is this response going to be coming from? It is almost always blindly assumed that if the request gets sent to the resource that is published in a specific domain (such as bestofthebestsites.com, for example), the response will arrive from that same domain, or URL.

However, there is nothing in the web architecture that may enforce that convention. Let me illustrate this point by providing a specific example: if someone sends a request asking for the number one best web site ever to the bestofthebestsites.com domain, that request may travel to hypothetical URL such as bestofthebestsites.com/top_site. Upon receiving this request, the top_site resource will respond by preparing its representation which will be shipped to the consumer. But in addition to that, another, more elaborate and more involved representation could be readied and sent over to some other resource, which may live in a completely different domain. From there, the original requestor may be notified by receiving yet another representation. There really are no limitations to chaining events in such fashion.

At this point, this discussion deserves a more elaborate illustration. Suppose we launch a web site that allows users to publish their own resources, such as hand-made merchandise that they put up for sale. The resource will typically be published by asking users to log in, fill out the form representing the resource, and then submitting that form. If the submitted form gets properly validated, the resource will be published on our site.

Let us now examine what could one possible representation of the resource 'merchandise' be. This resource may have a name, or a title, a description,  a date when it was created, a date when it was offered for sale (i.e. published on our web site). In addition, it must have asking price (if it's for sale). It may also be offered for bidding between potential buyers, meaning that the merchandise will have an expiry date, after which it gets sold to the highest bidder.

And of course, that resource may also have a pictorial representation, such as one or more JPEG images, or video clips etc.

After filling out the form specifying many or all of the above properties of the resource, the form will be validated and, if correct, the item will get published on the site. At that point, all the information (i.e. content) will get stored on the hosting site, and the state of that resource will be persisted.

From that moment on, this resource will live in its own address (e.g. http://merchandisehost.com/items/123546). Any request arriving to this address will elicit a response from that resource. And, as we've already discussed above, the shape and form of the response will depend on the circumstances -- meaning, is the request coming from a human user or from a machine, and furthermore, are there any other constraints that could govern the specifics of that response?

So in this simplified hypothetical example, the entire interaction between the resource and its consumer is based on the assumption that the resource only knows how to represent itself by shipping the response from the http://merchandisehost.com domain.

The above constraint, however, is largely simplistic and overtly naive. It is presupposing that the resource on the web is only defined by its static content. But a web resource is not limited to only having static properties, such as textual or visual representation. In addition to having state, web resources also exhibit behavior.

The above statement may seem superfluous in the light of our previous understanding that web resources already know how to behave, by knowing how to represent themselves upon request and by knowing how to make a transition from one state to another, also upon request. But the kind of behavior specific to the web resources that hasn't been discussed yet is the user-contributed behavior. That aspect of the web resources could be the most interesting, and yet the least explored opportunity that the web has to offer.

Time for another illustration: let's say I create a series of prints and offer them for sale on http://merchandizehost.com. I supply the title of the print series, the number of available prints for sale, the item price and the photo illustrating the print. Nothing unusual so far; but suppose now the merchandize host allows me to specify what I would like to happen each time someone buys one of my prints. Even that is not unusual, as many websites today allow people to click on a checkbox saying "Send me an email or SMS when someone buys this". But that's not what I'm talking about here; I'm asking you to imagine a host which will allow us to specify the URL which will receive HTTP POST request on event, such as sales purchase.

Now what could that URL be? Why, it could be anything. It is user-contributed. And once the HTTP POST arrives at that URL, it is anyone's guess what happens next. The user who had contributed that URL is now in the driver's seat. Upon receiving the HTTP POST request, that user's code could post a Twitter update containing the tiny URL representing the item just sold. Furthermore, that same code could further elaborate by sending a request to the author's supplier requesting replenishment for the sold item. And so on, the sky is the limit.

The event when someone had purchased an item on the http://merchandizehost.com site can thus easily mushroom into all kinds of user-defined events that could continue percolating throughout the web. The user who had created the resource may then get notified about the purchase from his/her Twitter feed, or from any other source of alerts they care to set up. Also, the customer who had purchased that item may get confirmation not only from the original web site, but also from some other sources, driven by the author-contributed behavior enhancements.

We see from the above hypothetical scenario that user-contributed resources enhance and embellish not only the content on the web, but also the behavior on the web. Resources on the web put end-users in the driver's seat. Thanks to the radically distributed, fully democratized end-to-end nature of the world wide web, humans have finally achieved the ultimate freedom to fully control what happens to the resources, as they create them.