More A9 Yellow Pages

Here are a couple other interesting bits about the A9 Yellow Pages:

While my previous post on the topic was more about the UI of the feature, I just noticed another interesting part of the page:

A9 Update Listing function

Clicking that button takes you to a fairly comprehensive set of web forms which allow the business owner or any random websurfer to contribute metadata about that business—things like phone numbers, email, website, hours of operation, and credit cards accepted. This, along with the fact that all of Amazon’s existing commenting and recommendation features are available for the businesses, made me realize that what they’re really doing here is planting the seeds for ownership of the real-world metadata game as thoroughly as they’ve captured the product-metadata space.

What’s the typical place to link to if you’re talking about a book or DVD online? Amazon. (I’ve even got a plugin on my WordPress installation that automates these sorts of links.) Amazon really realizes that they’re in the cataloging business as much as the product-shipping business—I don’t have a reference handy, but I remember Bezos saying that they could always make a business licensing their catalog (with all the rich comments, ratings, and other user-contributed metadata) if the “selling things” bit didn’t work out. Now they’re poised to become a definitive resource about local businesses (and other physical entities).

As good a job as I’m sure they’ll do with it, the fact remains that according to their license, Amazon’s dataset (including user contributions) is proprietary. (That could be one reason why they decided to run their own GPS photo trucks rather than employing pre-existing road-photo data sets.) They alone ultimately control what can be done with it. Wouldn’t it be better if we could find a way to collaboratively build similar systems without throwing our work over a proprietary wall in the process?

How Upcoming.org could get some of the Flickr mojo.

Flickr Friends Page
Jason Kottke, in a post rounding up his favorite weblogs of the year, puts his Flickr friends page at #1:

Flickr is the most fun on the web right now. Period. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced online to hanging out with your friends at the coffeeshop.

The combination of prevalent cameraphones, RSS, and social networking ideas takes Flickr out of the realm of the ofotos and creates something new, something more like a cross between LiveJournal and webcams. Maybe it’s my disposition, but I find myself much more likely to take a photo that tells a story about my life than to write something on my blog. (Even if a cellcam photo isn’t worth quite a thousand words, it’s often more than I’m motivated to write on my own.) And there’s definitely something absurd and addictive about letting others see scenes from your life in near-real-time.

It’s worth comparing it to a site with similar ideals, Upcoming.org. Upcoming is a 100% user-contributed site that lists events in any area that cares to create a city listing—pretty clever. It’s got some of the same social software elements: I can identify friends and get RSS listings of the events they’re interested in. So why is my Upcoming friends feed so much more of a wasteland than my Flickr one? I think it comes down to posting frequency. Unfortunately, in many places there isn’t all that much going on—and even when there is, many of us can’t spare the time or expense to go to shows every week. (It’s no surprise that the two most active metro areas on Upcoming are geek-hipster meccas New York and San Fran.) Simply put, there isn’t enough fodder in Upcoming’s scope for my friends and I to communicate about, and I can forget that the site exists for months at a time. If Upcoming wants to become more useful and prominent, they should allow for friends-only listings of “events” like private parties and happy hour meetups, which would move their service more into the realm of Evite. It would give them more traffic while giving users an opt-in alternative to Evite’s obnoxious HTML spam-mails.

With private events, Upcoming would be a more interesting window into your friends’ futures, but what about their pasts? A more radical change for Upcoming would be to expand their commenting system to allow users to post stories and photos about the events afterwards (or even, thanks to cellcams, during the event). In this way, an event listing in Upcoming would turn into a historical record, and serve as the common reference point for all of the other media and metadata about that event. As a recent Salon story pointed out, people are already using Flickr’s tagging and grouping systems to do this for things like weddings, art shows, and conferences. Why not give them a way do this less ambiguously and with better metadata?