There are dozens, if not hundreds, of Web 2.0 companies. They all do slightly different things and have varying degrees of usefulness for the library community. However, there is one thing that they do all have in common: we don’t own them. As a result, we users are really at the mercy of these companies and their mixed qualities of performance.
At first this didn’t bother me too much. Coming from a financially strapped institution (which is to say, just about every library in existence), I was so ecstatic that these services were free that I didn’t think too much what the trade off would be. However, I’ve been getting more and more concerned (read:annoyed) with this issue. First there was the thing last month with Facebook censoring posted items, then a big story today about privacy issues with Facebook applications. But you know what has really just about sent me over the edge?
The Twitter Fail Whale.
I’ve briefly mentioned how awesome I think Twitter is. In case you missed it, here’s a recap: Twitter is a microblogging service that, if you follow and get followed by enough people, becomes a really useful way to share links and ideas and communicate. It’s awesome. When it works. Which…isn’t a lot. I mean, on the whole it’s available over 90% of the time. It just seems to crash whenever I want to make a post.
Instead of a “404 page not found” error, Twitter posts a cute little picture of something that I have since learned is known as the “Fail Whale.” I mean, look at it…it’s adorable:
Well, it’s adorable the first hundred or so times you see it. At visit #101 you begin to see the smug smile of the whale, mocking you and your feeble attempts to post some great insight that your dozens of followers have been waiting with bated breathe to read.
It’s just so amazing to me that people accept this level of functionality with Twitter. But honestly, acceptance is – in the end – the only real option. A regular Twitter user almost goes through a modified Kubler-Ross. There’s anger (it’s down again?!) and denial (keep hitting that refresh button, buddy). Bargaining doesn’t really happen, although I have noticed that people go through a flirtation with Plurk or Pownce before crawling back to Twitter. I’m currently somewhere in between depression and acceptance.
And why is acceptance pretty much the only option? Because we can’t cancel our subscription or change to another service. Facebook and Twitter are currently the 800 pound gorillas of their Web 2.0 service area. They won’t lose any money if we cancel and switch to, for example, Bebo and Pownce and we’ll just lose all the contacts that we’ve made on their sites. As I’m slowly learning in my librarianship career, we get jerked around by the companies that we do pay money to (like Wexis and ILS vendors), so I can’t see that we have any hope against free ones.
I don’t want to give up using Web 2.0 services, but I think libraries need to start developing our own services and programs that utilize and/or adapt the good things about Web 2.0 (ease of use, collaboration, user generated content, etc) without being at the mercy of some snot-nosed Sillicon Valley wunderkind OR (ideally) the corporations that are already pillaging our budgets. I don’t know if this means leaning on more open source resources or finding new vendors or what, but something’s gotta give.