It's your data, but what about the URLs? #myData #myURLs
Gone is the initial love affair I had with the web. Those early days when I believed that Google actually could do no evil and when the web was an open frontier of boundless potential built by those who naively and bravely toiled to further the plight of humanity are in the past.
Replaced, are they, by the grey (OK, pastel) reality of commercial silos that grant users varying degrees of access to their own data while trying to gleam as much information about them as they can to sell to their advertisers and other interested third parties. And what freedoms remain are under grave threat from legislation like SOPA and PROTECT IP.
How's that for overly-dramatic?
Yes, that was overly-dramatic!
Of course, it's not all doom and gloom.
There is a thriving web standards community actively building, evolving, and furthering the open web, and bodies like the EFF who are campaigning to keep the web open. People–at least in the geekier circles–are becoming more aware of the importance of owning their own data. And, in all fairness, many web services now allow users to backup or export their data.
But what about the URLs used for public pieces of user data?
Who owns those?
Who owns your URLs?
The norm today is that URLs belong to the web service provider.
Case in point: I'm closing my Flickr account in response to Yahoo! hiring PayPal's president as CEO and that means that the URLs for all my photos and sets will now go dead. Anyone who has linked to a photo will now get a broken link. In short, this will break (a teeny, tiny, probably imperceptible) part of the Internet. Regardless of its impact, however, breaking links breaks the Internet.
So what can we do about it?
Just like we are beginning to understand the value of owning our own data, we need to understand the value of owning our own URLs.
And by this, I don't mean that we should all host all of our own data. We don't all want to run a mini Flickr, a mini YouTube, etc. We don't all have the technical expertise or the financial means to do so. It's just not practical.
It does mean, however, that I should be able to use my own URLs with third-party services. So, if I have a domain name (e.g., aralbalkan.com), I should be able to tell Flickr to use, say, photos.aralbalkan.com as the root of all URLs to my images and sets. In other words, I should be able to tell web services to use my own URLs as the canonical URLs to represent my own data.
If Flickr had allowed this, for example, I could have uploaded the photos I exported from it either to photos.aralbalkan.com under the same URL scheme or to somewhere else completely different (and used redirects, etc.) without breaking the Internet.
Owning your own data is great, owning your own URLs also is even better.
Let's start demanding that web application developers implement this feature.