13 December 2005

Closing the Web

For a long time, I have had two great Web hates: pages made up of PDFs and those using Flash animations. I realise now that to these I have to add a third, and for the same reason: they all undermine the openness and transparency that underlie the Web's enormous power.

I hate PDFs because they are opaque compared to Web pages. With the latter, you can see the underlying code and get at (in programming terms) individual elements of the page. This is important if you want to do clever Web 2.0-y things with content, such as mixing and matching (and mashing).

I hate Flash animations even more: they are not only opaque - there is no cyber-there there - they are barriers to my free navigation of the Web and waste my time as they download. In effect, they turn the Web into television.

To these, I must now add TinyURLs. In themselves, they are a great idea: too many Internet addresses have become long snaking strings of apparently random text. But the solution - to replace this with a unique but shorter URL beginning http://tinyurl.com commits the sin of obscuring the address, an essential component of the open Web.

So while I applaud TinyURL's rigorous terms of use, I never follow any TinyURLs in my Web wanderings, however easy and seductive they might be. For all I know, they might well be taking me straight to a PDF or Flash animation.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Glyn. Reading my feeds is an important part of my work avoidance regime, and with light holiday posting, these newly tagged old posts keep grabbing my attention. I agree on the tiny url thing. It obscures information, and puts a lot under the control of a single web site. They do have a preview function these days which is good to give you an idea of where you're going before you visit, but it still has the effect of putting future navigation at risk because of the central control of routing. So while I also admire the elegance of a small url, I think they are a Bad Thing. (The other thing I wonder about is how it affects search engines and their efforts to grade pages through the network of links.)

Glyn Moody said...

I really feel that TinyURLs should be billed as the "anti-semantic Web" so pernicious is their effect on navigation....