The video below shows Hans Rosling's speech at last February's TED conference in Monterey, a spectacular presentation of data in a novel way. Rosling, who founded Gapminder, helps debunk a few myths ("the concept of developing countries is flawed") and gain new insights ("you can develop much faster if you're healthy first than if you're wealthy first") (for more, see my original post from the conference).
I'm putting the video here because it was one of the most interesting and illuminating speeches I heard at TED this year, but also because I want to shortly discuss the importance of embedding. The Macintosh onboard dictionary says that embedding means "to implant something within something else so it becomes an ingrained or essential characteristic of it". As you can notice, Hans' video appears as an integral component of this post, and it can be played within this page just by clicking on the "play" button. Yet, it is not hosted on this blog's server, I have not had to upload it, I have not shot nor produced nor edited it, it doesn't require you to download it nor to follow a link and navigate to another page nor to perform any task other that click "play". That's because the video is an embedded element. Despite the fact that it appears as part of this page and runs seamlessly on it, it actually comes straight from the TEDtalks server. All I had to do in order to include it in LoIP is copy/paste a string of code, and that's it. It doesn't get much easier.
Now, what's currently happening on the Web (what often goes under the label "Web2.0" or "social web") is mostly about leveraging the full potential of it by building coherent ensembles (a page, a data set, a feature, a service) starting from disparate elements. Embedding one element within another is only one of the multiple ways of doing this (mashups would be another, for instance), and there are many examples of embedding around the Web today. Some are obscure or less obvious, but let's just focus on a couple. When you go to the amazingly successful video-sharing site YouTube, you can watch user-created videos, and trailers, and footage stolen from TV, and much more; and next to them you will find two small fields that say "URL" and "embed":
You can copy the code contained in the first field, and use it to link from your blog or website to the page hosting that specific video on YouTube; or you can copy the second line of code, put it on your blog, and the video shows up directly within your page and runs there, as does the one above - as if it was yours, somehow (although of course it maintains the same format and carries all the logos etc of the original source).
I believe that the "embed" function has been a key factor in the success of YouTube. It has made linking look old school, somehow. A well-known tech magazine would probably say "tired: links; wired: embedding". For bloggers, or for MySpace users, and basically for everyone having a page online, suddenly it has become extremely easy (much easier than using the corresponding features of their own blogging tools) to incorporate videos in their posts, either by embedding a video that's already on YouTube, or by uploading it there and then copy/paste its "embed" code. You upload something and embed it in your blog: others can embed it into their blogs, too, extending the reach of your audience. You find something you like on YouTube and put it up on your page: because it is shared with you, somehow it becomes "yours" - part of your own blog, of what you show friends, of your argument, of your online persona - while remaining "theirs" - extending their reach into your audience, which doesn't even need to know what YouTube is. Readers come to your blog because they like you or they are interested in the topics you write about - and they find relevant YouTube content right there, without having to go sift through that site. Whatever way you turn it, that's extremely powerful. Need a demonstration? Last December MySpace for a short time blocked its users from embedding YouTube videos - and there was an uproar.
Similar stories can be told about the way MySpace users discover and incorporate music into their page (by clicking "add" they add it to their online music players, and the music starts broadcasting from their personal page - it's not surprising that musicians consider it a fabulous platform to make their music known); about the way Google ads or Ads-click ads or Amazon book covers and links are seamlessly embedded into many blogs; about the way the two links "e-mail this" and "add to del.icio.us" that you see under this post are actually embedded features served by Feedburner; etc. The potential of embedding is virtually infinite. Somehow this brings us back to Tim Berners-Lee's original vision for the Web: "anything being potentially connected to anything".