Decentralization, the web, and programmability

This piece is fantastic. It takes the topic du jour (ad blockers) and weaves a great argument about how ad blockers are an example of a very powerful pattern in giving power back to the edge of the network (the user in this case) as opposed to the big companies running the increasingly centralized services that we depend on. It covers Robert Reich's somewhat alarmist editorial today on how big tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) have aggregated too much power and should thus be regulated.

These businesses are all examples of network business models which of course implies centralization of power as the business ascends so I'm skeptical that regulation outside of the AT&T negotiated monopoly approach would do anything to significantly affect their power (and that was done when the company was being set up not retroactively)— at least anywhere near as much as obsolescence will in due course. But Albert's piece makes a much more subtle (and powerful) point: in talking through the power of the user-agent as a way to filter content, he is really referring to the web as a programmable medium, a point he hammers home when referring to the limits of mobile native by comparison:

The reason users don’t wield the same power on mobile is that native apps relegate us endusers once again to interacting with services just using our eyes, ears, brain and fingers.

So true. I remember the lightning moment for me with the web was in 1998 when I realized that with a Perl script and passing knowledge of the Alta Vista keyword parameters, I could get structured data about the links pointing to any URL in the index of a program that didn't even know it wasn't even being called by a human. The API was (mostly) self describing and the uses were endless.

We've lost that in mobile (reverse engineering of APIs notwithstanding) and unless we get it back somehow, I am sure innovation will slow to say nothing of the power that users are giving up, especially in this age where more and more people are taking an interest in programming.