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People-Centric Web

Tech Life672 words4 minutes to read

Last year, I co-founded a company by the name of Foleeo (which will likely change names because of Palm’s Foleo) that is working on a solution to the ever-increasing rift between record labels, movie studios, and people like you and me who want to get music, movies, and TV shows under far more reasonable terms.

But like Google with search, that’s simply where we’re starting. We’re also working on what I (very esoterically) refer to the “citizen-centric social anti-network”. Many of the ideas behind this venture were recently described by Chris Messina in a much more eloquent manner:

Now, the big thing that’s changed (or is changing) is the emphasis on the individual and her role across the system. Look at MyBlogLog. Look at Automattic’s purchase of Gravatar. Look at the sharp rise in OpenID adoption over the past two years. The future is in non-siloed living man! The future is in portable, independent identities valid, like Visa, everywhere that you want to be. It’s not just about social network fatigue and getting fed up with filling out profiles at every social network you join and re-adding all your friends. Yeah, those things are annoying but more importantly, the fact that you have to do it every time just to get basic value from each system means that each has been designed to benefit itself, rather than the individuals coming and going. The whole damn thing needs to be inverted, and like recently rejoined ant segments dumped from many an ant farm, the fractured, divided, shattered into a billion fragments-people of the web must rejoin themselves and become whole in the eyes of the services that, what else?, serve them!

Normally I have no particular opinion of the term “Web 2.0”, although now as I think about it, it’s a bit of a misnomer. Web 2.0 began with XHTML and RSS. Later, Web 2.0 grew to include XML Web Services, Blogging, and Trackbacks (e.g., a cross-network, or an actual “web”).

In 2005, we saw the big AJAX push which was like fuel on the fire, and these days we have a buttload of social networks. The next step is a move to more “open” services, or at least more services that play well with others (see “OpenSocial"). This is the thing that I am most passionate about on the web. Connecting people together in people-centric, people-friendly ways. Adapting technology to fit people instead of the other way around.

With SimplePie, we started of by taking something complex (RSS parsing), and making it simpler, easier, more flexible, and more robust. By enabling people to easily integrate other people’s content (or even their own), we’ve made it that much easier to integrate various parts of the web. At Foleeo, we’re wanting to take that several levels further. I like the quote by John Maeda from the book “The Laws of Simplicity”:

Simplicity is subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.

If you’ve never read the book, I highly recommend it. It’s fairly short, and you could probably knock it out in a few hours, but it adds a tremendous perspective on how to simplify (good) while adding more value (better). And for me, the aforementioned quote is the driving force behind everything I build. I ask myself “how can we make this simpler, easier, yet more valuable for human beings?” (It suddenly occurred to me that I should start looking into books by Jef Raskin). Here’s another favorite quote by Antoine de Saint-Exuper:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Between my work with SimplePie and Foleeo, I’m wanting to influence my little corner of the web to become something incredibly cool and/or useful that makes people marvel at how easy and intuitive it is. That takes a tremendous amount of work, but by focusing on people instead of technology, and by surrounding myself with some of the smartest, most talented people in the industry I plan to accomplish that goal.

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.