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Privacy, the Web, and Rich Internet Applications

I'm sorry for the lack of updates last weekend. I spent Thanksgiving with my parents who live in a tiny town about 90 miles west of Aspen in Colorado.

I'm sorry for the lack of updates last weekend. I spent Thanksgiving with my parents who live in a tiny town about 90 miles west of Aspen in Colorado. It isn't quite small enough that I was without broadband internet (they have DSL) but I took the few days of Thanksgiving to recharge my batteries. Being a country boy raised in small towns in Wyoming and Colorado, I like to get away from the pace of the city once in a while.

But on the long flight back (those puddle jumpers are killer) I got a chance to read John Battelle's The Search - How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture. It's a good book and an excellent written account of how the world of search came to be. It also speaks to how the web has changed the way we go about our lives. Very early in the book, on page 14, he touches on the issue of privacy in the new world of web applications:

"When our data is on our desktop, we assume that it is ours. It's my address book that lives in Entourage, my e-mail attachments, and my hard drive inside my PowerBook. When I am looking for a file or particular e-mail message on my local fields (when I am searching my local disk), I presume that my mouse-and-click actions - those of searching, finding, and manipulating data - are not being watched, recorded or analyzed by a third party for any reason, be it benign or malicious."

It is something we have all thought about as we migrate to the web. At what point do we give up total control by moving entirely to the web? When does the convenience of the web's ubiquity outweigh our concerns for privacy? With Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), I think we can have it both ways, just as we do now but making the web and the desktop even more seamless.

 

Big Brother is Watching You

 

With technologies like Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Adobe's Apollo, we're leveraging both the power of the desktop and its inherent privacy. Of course we should use the web for 99% of our storage so that it is with us as we move from place to place, but what about the 1% we want to keep to ourselves. A document management application using RIA technologies could instantly sync up with a server while ensuring that the flagged private items stay put. This is the power of the thick client model blending with the benefits of the web - exactly what a subset of RIAs can handle very well. We can use Flex, XBAP, Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere and OpenLaszlo to build great experiences that exist outside the browser and then take those technologies and link them to the desktop. It provides a secure, robust environment that can be the best of both worlds.

I may not be the best person to talk about privacy. My life is freely available on MySpace or Facebook and if you Google my name I'm easy to find. But as more regular users flock to web applications and realize the privacy implications, the market will need to provide solutions that cater to privacy and convenience. The wild west of bits and bytes that is the web won't suffice. People will want to know that they can keep at least parts of themselves away from everyone else. A Rich Internet Application approach can go a long way towards that goal.