I checked out Greasemonkey for the first time today, and thought: uh-oh, shake-up coming. Greasemonkey is essentially a delivery mechanism (in the form of a Firefox plugin) for dHTML scripts. One such script, for instance, removes Google Adsense from pages.
Why is this important? Well, because it asks some very pertinent questions for media owners attempting to run businesses on the Web.
Question 1: what is a web page? Up until fairly recently, there was an easy metaphor for a web page. It was a digitised form of content which you could either sell (via subscription) or monetise with advertising. It was, in lots of ways, analogous to a newspaper page: relatively fixed.
But now, that analogy is rapidly breaking apart: RSS breaks it apart, because now I don’t need to visit the page to consume some of it. Greasemonkey breaks it apart, because now I can make changes on the fly to the page as it suits me. Google’s new toolbar breaks it apart, because now links that don’t belong to me as the web page publisher are now appearing (so does Google own some of my page now?). The Opera mobile phone browser breaks it apart, because now my web page is being reconfigured on the fly in order to appear on a different device.
None of these things need involve me, as a publisher (even RSS feeds can be created by scraping my original web page). It’s as if a newsagent could take a newspaper and change it utterly, right down to removing the advertising, before selling it to a reader.
Question 3: what do we call the emerging “user-created environment” where personal RSS readers combine with Greasemonkeyed/hacked websites and del.icio.us shared taxonomies to create something amorphous and fundamentally “not-owned” other than by an individual end-user? And, on the assumption that nobody is going to create really difficult content all the time unless they can make a business out of it, how can business models be preserved in this open primordial soup?
Big questions. One facetious meta-question: just what the hell are we doing here?