All Your Words Are Belong To Us

To my mind one of the most stunning developments on the web this year have been the almost total unhinging of content ownership. One must wonder what this may mean for the professional content developers, such as journalists and even bloggers, not to mention the content developed by a company for their own website.

I am thinking of two products, from very different companies, but together they paint an early picture of what might be happening to web-based content.

The first is sidewiki from Google. This is a browser add on that allows anyone–anyone–to paste any comments on any webpage. I am quite surprised that there has not been more controversy about this and, perhaps, it is just because it has not been widely used so far (?).

I don’t know how you feel about having anyone in the crowd have the ability to say anything they want about your website on your website, but I find the idea somewhat disturbing. A lot of thought and creativity goes into a website (a good one, anyway) and enabling random people to make random comments (warranted or not) on someone else’s site seems akin to allowing taggers to deface the buildings in the Googleplex.

Is this where we’re going? Is this where we want to be going? Is this leakage of social media into places where, perhaps, it might not belong? Let’s remember, this is the web, where we once could buy pet food and order groceries…but not anymore because the model didn’t hold up. Could we be seeing the same kind of over-the-edge “irrational exuberance” we’ve seen before?

Along with sidewiki I have recently discovered a browser add on that I absolutely love, but I have to wonder if, at some fundamental level, it might smack of the same kind of issue–that of causing one to wonder, who owns the content? Who owns the experience? The overall look and feel? And, yes, even the ads on a site?

The add on is readability, which turns a cluttered, hard-to-read website into a lovely, print-like page. Sans ads, banners, anything but the main copy. After using it for the last day I have to say, I love it, yet it does inspire some guilty pleasure. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that if the marketers, designers, and other web-zoids hadn’t gone crazy with the unimportant, distracting clutter, that a program like this wouldn’t ever be necessary.

Granted. And I agree completely. And, like sidewiki, readability does seem to intrude on the ownership of the overall experience of someone’s property. Certainly, most of us would never put up with this in the “real” world. Our building facades are ours, our signs are ours, and our cars are ours, and they look as we want them to look. When that look is altered without our approval we find that intrusive.

Should we feel any different about our websites?