Anil Dash wants us to stop publishing web pages:
…if I had my preference, I’d write up an article like this, and it’d seamlessly glide into a clean, simple stream of my writing, organized by topic and sorted with the newest stuff on top. Blogs have always worked this way, but they were shoehorning this stream-like behavior into the best representation possible under the old page model.
Streams of content can easily be read in friendly native apps on mobile platforms with the content flowing through simple APIs. Pages get squeezed into faux-mobile app experiences that look just enough like native apps to be frustrating and annoying when they don’t perform correctly. Pages tell users there’s no mobile version of this story available, or accidentally redirect an interested user to the site’s homepage, from where they quickly depart. Pages stop your flow.
It’s hard to say that Dash is wrong, especially when he talks about how clicking links from any of the current streams (pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr and everywhere else) takes you suddenly out of the stream, which you then have to rejoin them. It would be better for the reader at least if those links opened within the stream.
His thinking is of a kind with Richard MacManus’ thoughts on why topic pages are a much needed aspect of online organization and the subsequent reading of material on the web:
Organizing Web content by topic or theme is not new. Over the past 8 or 9 years, tagging has been the most common method of creating structure online. So-called Web 2.0 companies like Delicious and Flickr built their entire businesses around user-generated tagging of content.
I’ll forgive him forgetting about Technorati, which was the preeminent way to get topic-based content back in the early days of blogging. Before Google News searches were the big way to stay up to date on what was being said, an RSS subscription to a T’rati topic feed was an essential component of online conversation monitoring.
MacManus goes on to make the case that Quora could play a role as a topic hub. It’s an intriguing concept – I’ve gone back and forth on what I think of Quora so much even I don’t know what I think anymore – but have yet to really dive into that particular network.
But what’s really needed, and this is what I think is at the heart of what both MacManus and Dash are saying, is a new system that allows publishers to produce new material that’s seamlessly 1) Added to the right topic page on that site and 2) Consumed in a way that displays what’s relevant all within the stream, even if what’s relevant contains a link to an outside site.
While, again, MacManus thinks Quora could come close to playing that role I think Tumblr or WordPress are better bets. Both allow for easy publishing of links and block quotes that can easily have additional media or commentary added to them. And, importantly, both (at least with some themes) support infinite scrolling, eliminating the need for clicking through to Page 2 for more. They just keep going.
But as has been pointed out, this all is difficult because tags, categories and the like are messy. Everyone has their own definitions and variations, including some that are just for fun or to be annoying.
That makes me think the first victor in the race to be a new topic aggregation point for the web (there will be a battle if history is any indication) will have very finite category options that users must fit their content into if they want to participate. That will be a hard sell but it’s the only real way to make this work. Those options can expand if adoption necessitates it but at the outset there need to be just a handful – a couple dozen tops – that allow people to include their content for others to read/watch/view.