Until May of 2005 I had trouble with one element in my work around the Model of Attraction and Personal InfoCloud (including the Local and Global InfoClouds as well) to build a framework for cross-platform design and development of information and media systems and services. This problem was lack of an easy of explaination of what changes have taken place in the last few years on the web and other means of accessing digital information. In preparing for a presentation I realized this change is manifest in how people get and interact with the digital information and media.
This change is easily framed as the "Come to Me" web. The "Come to Me" web, which is not interchangeable with the push/pull ideas and terms used in the late 90s (I will get to this distinction shortly). It is a little closer to the idea of the current, "beyond the page" examinations, which most of us that were working with digital information pre-web have always had in mind in our metaphors and ideologies, like the Model of Attraction and InfoClouds.
The I Go Get Web
Before we look at the "Come to Me" web we should look at what preceded it. The "I Go Get" metaphor for the web was the precursor. In this incarnation we sought their information. The focus was on the providers of the content and the people consuming the information (or users) were targeted and lured in, in the extreme people were drawn in regardless of a person's interest in the information or topic covered. The content was that of the the organization or site that provided that information.
This incarnation focussed on people accessing the information on one device, usually the desktop computer. Early on the information was developed for proprietary formats. Each browser variant had their own proprietary way of doing things, based around a few central markup tags. People had to put up with the "best view with on X browser" messages. Information was also distributed in various other proprietary formats that required software on the device just so the person could get the information.
The focus providing information was to serve one goal (or use) reading. Some of this was driven by software limitations. But it was also an extension of information distribution in the analog physical space (as opposed to the digital space). In the physical space the written word was distributed on paper and it was consumed by reading (reuse of it meant copying it for reading) and it took physical effort to reconstruct those words to repurpose that information (quoting sources, showing examples, etc.).
The focus was on information creation and the struggle was making it findable. On the web there were only limited central resources used to find information, as many of the search engines were not robust enough, did not have friendly interfaces. Findability was a huge undertaking, either to get people what they desired/needed or to "get eyeballs".
Just as the use of the information was an extension of the physical realm that predated the digital information environment, the dominant metaphor in the "I Go Get" web was based in the physical realm. We all designed and developed for findability around the navigation/wayfinding metaphor. This directly correlates to going somewhere. Cues we use to get us to information were patterned and developed from practices in the physical world.
Physical? Digital? Does it Matter?
You ask, "So what we used ideas from the physical world to develop our metaphors and methodologies for web design and development?" We know that metaphors guide our practices. This is a very good thing. But, metaphors also constrain our practices and can limit our exploration for solutions to those that fit within the boundaries of that metaphor. In the physical realm we have many constraints that do not exist in the digital realm. Objects are not constrained by the resources they are made from (other than the energy to drive digital realm - no power no digital realm). Once an object exists in the digital realm replicating them is relatively insignificant (just copy it).
Paths and connections between information and objects is not constrained by much, other than humans choosing to block its free flow (firewalls, filtering, limiting access to devices, etc.). Much like Peter Merholz desire lines where people wear the path between two places in a manner that works best for them (the shortest distance between two points is a straight line). Now, don't think of the physical limitation between two points, I need to go from my classroom on the fourth floor of building "X" to across campus, up the hill to the sixth floor office of my professor. Draw a straight line and walk directly. This does not work in physical space because of gravity and physical impediments.
Now we are ready to understand what really happens on the web. We go from the classroom to our professors office, but we don't move. The connection brings what we desire to us and our screen. In this case we may just chat (text or video - it does not matter) with the professor from our seat in the classroom (if we even need to be in the classroom). Connections draw objects to our screens through the manifestation of links. As differently as people's minds work to connect ideas together, there can be as many paths between two objects. Use of physical space is limited by limitations outlined in physics, but the limitations are vastly different in digital space, use of the same information and media has vastly different limitations also.
It is through breaking the constraints of old metaphors and letting the digital realm exist that we get to a new understanding of digital information on the networks of the digital realm, which include the web.
The Come to Me Web
The improved understanding of the digital realm and its possibilities beyond our metaphors of the physical environment allows us to focus on a "Come to Me" web. What many people are doing today with current technologies is quite different than was done four or five years ago. This is today for some and will be the future for many.
When you talk to people about information and media today they frame it is terms of, "my information", "my media", and "my collection". This label is applied to not only information they created, but information they have found and read/used. The information is with them in their mind and more often than not it is on one or more of their devices drives, either explicitly saved or in cache.
Many of us as designers and developers have embraced "user-centered" or "user experience" design as part of our practice. These mantras place the focus on the people using our tools and information as we have moved to making what we produce "usable". The "use" in "usable" goes beyond the person just reading the information and to meeting peoples desires and needs for reusing information. Microformats and Structured Blogging are two recent projects (among many) that focus on and provide for reuse of information. People can not only read the information, but can easily drop the information into their appropriate application (date related information gets put in the person's calendar, names and contact information are easily dropped into the address book, etc.). These tools also ease the finding and aggregating of the content types.
As people get more accustom to reusing information and media as they want and need, they find they are not focussed on just one device (the desktop/laptop), but many devices across their life. They have devices at work, at home, mobile, in their living space and they want to have the information that they desire to remain attracted to them no matter where they are. We see the proliferation of web-based bookmarking sites providing people access their bookmarks/favorites from any web browser on any capable device. We see people working to sync their address books and calendars between devices and using web-based tools to help ensure the information is on the devices near them. People send e-mail and other text/media messages to their various devices and services so information and files are near them. We are seeing people using their web-based or web-connected calendars to program settings on their personal digital video recorders in their living room (or wherever it is located).
Keeping information attracted to one's self or within easy reach, not only requires the information and media be available across devices, but to be in common or open formats. We have moved away from a world where all of our information and media distribution required developing for a proprietary format to one where standards and open formats prevail. Even most current proprietary formats have non-proprietary means of accessing the content or creating the content. We can do this because application protocols interfaces (APIs) are made available for developers or tools based on the APIs can be used to quickly and easily create, recreate, or consume the information or media.
People have moved from finding information and media as being their biggest hurdle, to refinding things in "my collection" being the biggest problem. Managing what people come across and have access to (or had access to) again when they want it and need it is a large problem. In the "come to me" web there is a lot of filtering of information, as we have more avenues to receive information and media.
The metaphor and model in the "I go get" web was navigation and wayfinding. In the "come to me" web a model based on attraction. This is not the push and pull metaphor from the late 1990s (as that was mostly focussed on single devices and applications). Today's usage is truly focussed on the person and how they set their personal information workflow for digital information. The focus is slightly different. Push and pull focussed on technology, today the focus is on person and technology is just the conduit, which could (and should) fade into the background. The conduits can be used to filter information that is not desired so what is of interest is more easily identified.