On Saturday, Robert Scoble made a blog post declaring the death of open web. In the post Robert argued that the open web as we know now is dying and no one can save it from the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc..
John, where were you? At least Dave has been consistently trying to keep us putting content on blogs and on RSS, which ARE the open common web. It’s just that it’s too late. We’re firmly locked back in the trunk and the day for blowing open the trunk has come and gone. Now, excuse me while I check into Foursquare, message my friends about the parties at SXSW on Facebook, find a cool meal to have tonight with my wife on Foodspotting, and go back to posting on Google+.
First, I want to applaud Robert for putting efforts to highlight the dangers behind the walled gardens of Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.. However, talks about death of open web is premature and shortsighted. Let me try to put my own arguments about why it is the case.
- First, and foremost, I want to highlight the fact that Wall Street not just screwed up people’s wealth, it has completely stunted the views of people into quarter by quarter thinking. Pundits who are declaring the death of open web are not seeing the big picture but rather seeing the snapshot of what is happening in the web. While making such comments about death of something, it is important to be a historian than a wall street analyst. When AOL ruled the ISP world and held web content hostage through their walled garden approach, I heard similar predictions about how AOL approach is here to rule and distributed nature of open web cannot take off. Let us now wear the historian’s hat and see what has happened. Open web didn’t die in the hands of AOL’s (and others) walled garden approach.
- Another thing most pundits are missing in their proclamation of Facebook as the greatest innovation since wheel is the fact that social is just a layer on the web. It is a layer wrapped around open web to offer some of the features that was previously not available. Open web is the underlying plumbing and a layer cannot completely kill off the underlying plumbing, just like how a paint on the walls of the house doesn’t make the underlying foundation irrelevant. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I was betting on Google (before they got obsessed with Google+) than Facebook in terms of long standing innovation. What eventually defines web is the underlying plumbing which will stay open forever (otherwise, the very idea of the web will get defeated taking down the likes of walled gardens which Robert is pointing out in his post).
- The problem is not about walled gardens established by the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. The problem is the lack of realization on the part of users about the ownership of their data, a fact I highlighted immediately after Robert Scoble’s Plaxo fiasco. The issue of data ownership is the most critical aspect in not just the walled gardens of social networks but cloud computing, in general. Unless users realize that they (and not the vendors hosting them) own their data, they are going to get screwed. Users don’t realize their rights when they are busy playing with shiny new toys. It takes time, and certain disasters, before they become conscious of their rights. Once that happens, the demand for data ownership and portability will be in full throttle, market pressures will force the same Facebooks of the world to open up completely. We have seen it many times in the past and it will happen again. It is premature to write off open web when kids are playing with the tiny new toys.
- Another mistake Robert is making in his arguments is he expects older generation tools to disrupt walled gardens built using newer set of tools. That is like looking backwards to disrupt the current day innovation. An example will be relying on mainframes to disrupt cloud computing (no, I am not pointing to any vendors here :-)). If I want to disrupt the walled gardens of Facebook, I will be looking forward to a new generation of open tools to spring up, commoditize the existing services and, finally, completely disrupt the existing ones by removing the barriers for newer generation of innovators. This can only happen with newer set of open tools and old generation tools like RSS may not be of big impact. To understand how the dynamics of disruption through innovation works, I strongly urge you to refer to Simon Wardley’s work.
Finally, the idea of openness is far more prevalent among today’s users than anytime in the past. Such walled garden approach might work in short term but it cannot sustain in the long term as attacks on them by the forces of commoditization (read open tools) continue to develop. I would rather take a long term historical view on what is happening than short term wall street approach. Before calling the death of open web, it is important to find out why AOL is buying Huffington Posts and TechCrunches of the open web world. Just my (big) 2 cents.