Images. Back in the old skool days of the ‘net, they were a mainstay of websites. While images are certainly commonplace, the prevalence of CSS and other web technologies has given rise to image free design. This has become commonplace in the name of efficiency.
While I think this progress is great, one thing images have going for them is data-encapsulation. This encapsulation of data into one moveable object doesn’t matter the context, medium or platform, it all works the same.
In the image world, GIFs animate and are equally portable. Videos work the same way, but with higher quality and better compression (and myriad other metadata which I’m not qualified to comment on.)
The closest thing I’m aware of that does such a similar feat, is the SVG file format.
SVG: Scalable Vector Graphics
The SVG specification is a great concept. It allows the embedding of raster, vector and text. It does this via a unique incarnation of an .xml file, and can work with both static or animated content. However, once you try to save an .svg file, it simply converts itself to a .png in a browser. If you want to rename the file you can, but many operating systems don’t open .svg files natively, to be read back in correctly.
In that respect, SVGs are limited. They do not “sync” the data once it leaves the web, or goes back to the web. In fact you are creating duplicates that exist in tandem for no reason. Digital copying has been a boon but also allows for greater chaos in the need to sync datasets.
APIs: the dataset plug-in
Like some of these concepts, Application Programming Interfaces, APIs are almost an extension of that, but don’t quite fit the bill. What is an API? An API is a programmatic way of accessing and manipulating data within a system. Websites that utilize custom built APIs are more like “applications.” –though the terms are seemingly reversible as sites become more robust.
APIs allow anyone to connect to a site and access data. It’s very much like a unique “power-plug”. APIs extend to operating systems as well, as seen in UNIX based systems. (Please disregard the extremely simplified explanation, as it merely skims the surface.)
Semantic web: Metaweb? Microformats?
“Semantic web” was the original vision of Tim Berners-Lee, co-inventor of the web itself. The semantic web is a machine-readable method for organizing information. A semantic web requires some sort of framework, which has been proposed via the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the use of Microformats –html tags that contextualize information within a web page.
An interesting new development has been the emergence of “metaweb.” While the idea of a semantic web has been around for much longer, Metaweb is an interesting take on this. It defines what it calls “entities” which act as stores of information –virtual barcodes for combinations of words and phrases. This encapsulates information into one entity that can be linked in unique relationships, much like (and to some extent very much like) taxonomies.
So what is the next incarnation of “images” or “entites”? We need a new way to package data into an encapsulated, browser/platform agnostic file-format. All of the above (except images/videos) are only viable on the web. They only exist on that “data-ether.” While some data can be downloaded, exported or imported, it loses its relationship once it’s off the web.
Websites themselves are like entities, or objects. The data they store can be broken up into modules, or modules within modules, nearly ad infinitum. But in reverse, modules can build up to become “super modules” –websites themselves.
Ultimately, you have to decide where on this gradation of data structures your needs lie. Do you need a small snippet of data? Like a quote, or a recipe, or some instructions on how to build a dresser. What about a database of genetic sequences, solely for a species of bird from the Brazilian tropics? The datasets become extremely variable.
More questions but less answers
As I delve further into this discussion, I realize I have more questions than answers. But its certainly interesting to think about.