The Starbucks Delocator which flashed across Boing Boing today (not to mention hit my inbox mere minutes later, thanks Steve) embodies in itself an interesting tension I’ve been trying to tease out for a while. Would it be too horribly smug to say it’s a tension between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 and leave it at that? Probably.
What Is It?
In brief it is a website that attempts to offer a national (presumably U.S. national as it asks for zip codes) database of independent coffee shops, in order to support those fine and public places.
Things it gets right (Web 2.0-ish):
- geographic – the physical was missing from the web for so long, that even though it is becoming standard each new website which can tie the virtual experience to real world location presents a little epiphany.
- user built – this is an art project so the mail off a stack of phone books to China and pay to have them typed in route was never an option, but still its clueful to see someone make user contributions front and center.
- its pretty (ok, that might not be Web 2.0-ish)
- its opensource
Things it gets wrong (Web 1.0-sih):
- roach motel – why should I contribute to this database when there is no way to get a dump of the data?
- no maps
- no user editing – a quick scan of my area shows it is not only sparsely populated, but that of the 3 entries I did find I could add additional info to all of them.
- no user profile, no community, no reputations – you can see that I added June Bug, but rather then my name being a link to my profile, its a mailto with my address!
- no permalinks – can’t really expose a database of first class web objects without permalinks
- a splash screen, with a popup window!?!?! I feel like I’m in a timewarp!
And just to be clear, I’m not attacking Delocator for this, my own minimal attempt at cataloging and promoting independent coffee shops falls down on most of of these points as well. Just talking them through.
A Short Story About Roach Motels
So why would you possibly want to provide a dump of your entire database? Re-use and re-mixing. Projects like delocator, openguides, addyourown, et al. are one facet of how we’re starting to annotate our spaces around us. Projects like mappr are another. THe more we can get the data out of it’s silos, the more we can combine it to interesting effect. (and if we can just get it all into RDF we can sit back and let Jo do the rest)
But a simpler story is, when do you want info like Delocator (or any of these) provide? When you’re out. Not when you’re sitting at home in front of the computer. Opening up your data means you can get someone to help you with a mobility solution, be that a cell phone based interface, an iPod compatible database, or a clever PDF to print out and stick in your pocket.
Two Way Data Interchange
What we really need is a data format for this stuff. I personally I know the website, address, phone number, etc of about 100 independent coffee shops not listed on the Delocator page. (call me obsessed) And I have most of that information stored digitally. If I had a way to send them an XML file of that information we’d both be happier. Similarly I’d be happy to contribute to addyourown, chefmoz, and openguides, and would love to be pulling out the data from those sites to enrich my own listings. But not if I have to re-type it!
State of the Art
I did a brief survey of available formats last Summer, and didn’t come up with anything compelling. The ChefMoz format looked like it might be a decent starting point, I no longer remember what I found so problematic about it. Anyone else interested?
update: a bit more on Delocator
From 3 locations to 7 in a couple of hours is pretty good growth, I’m impressed. And I wouldn’t have thought to add City Feed, which is one of my all time favorite places. (just decided what I’m doing for lunch!) But how do we define non-corporate? In Boston this is particuarily hard where almost everything is part of a mini-chain. I’ll grant you Emack and Bolio’s with its 7 locations in Boston probably makes the cut, but how about ERC, with its 20 locations in 6 states?