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This older post got a retweet from Phil Windley today and it reminded me of how awesome the web is, and how f*cking smart many of the people who work on it are. I’ve been reading through most of Phil’s recent posts and know of the work he’s pursing at BYU. I’m quite jealous to be honest but so happy that he’s sharing their work, and maybe more importantly, the thinking behind it.

This post discusses the underlying protocols that power one of the most widely used online technologies - email. IMAP and SMTP have not only made email possible but done so in a way that has made it possible for an ecosystem of applications to be created which has spurned new features and innovation that have resulted in email becoming the backbone for many organisations to actually function. But rather than do this by becoming a monopoloy and decimating the competition they were simply open Protocols. I think we’ve forgotten about protocols in tech. The focus seems to be on applications - applications that depend on open protocols to function, but which operate as their own islands. Email was not this at all, as Phil puts it so well””

email was designed with the architecture of the Internet in mind. Email is decentralized and protocol-mediated. Email is open —not necessarily open-source but open in that anyone can build clients and servers that speak IMAP and SMTP. As a result, email maximizes freedom and control for the user and minimizes the chance of disruption. The features and benefits that email provides are exactly the same as those we want for personal clouds. Designed right, any application built on a personal cloud would provide similar functionality.

I’ve bolded that line in particular because I share that vision for the personal cloud - or MYOS as I’ve come to call it.

So perhaps what MYOS should be is not a technology stack - but a set of protocols. Perhaps the real innovation is in developing the protocols.

I also love his critique of Web 2.0 - and interestingly uses the phrase that kicked off my work on the topic last year - You Are Not in Control:

Web 2.0 has given us a model that is exactly the opposite of email. The model encourages user data to be stored in separate silos. You cannot easily migrate from one service provider to another. And when a service provider goes away, you are abandoned and marooned. You are not in control. Of course, it doesn’t help that this is all in the service provider’s best interest. They make money from the fact that the predominant model for building online applications leaves their users powerless.

I’m starting to think that we went down the rabbit hole with Web 2.0 and are only now coming back into the light. Web 2.0 addressed something the Web hadn’t really tackled - the User Experience. It simplified getting online, creating, authoring and sharing and it’s been incredibly successful in that mission. But it sacrificed (almost literally on the altar) the distributed nature of the web to achieve it. What seems to be emerging now though is a desire to reclaim that aspect of the web. To reinvigorate the underlying network and explore the protocols and conventions required to imagine the web we want.

I think the greatest innovations in the next 5 years are not going to be in platforms or applications but in protocols and conventions. The web has worked becasue it can oscilate between the Wild West and Cooperative. It needs to get together again, just as it did in the web standards movement, to start thinking about the foundations were building.

Source: IMAP as the Proto Personal Cloud

Image: Clouds by Tim Klapdor CC-BY-NC

Category: post

Tags: IMAP, personal, MYOS, email, protocol, web

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Tim Klapdor


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