April 12th, 2008

Forget Disintermediation, Focus On Open Data Exchange

by

For years Digg has had an active comment community, where the comments are submitted and appear on the Digg landing page, rather than on the article linked from Digg. FriendFeed got into this game by making it possible to comment on content pulled in from multiple web services, where all the comments appear on FriendFeed, rather than on those services. Today, the tech blogosphere is debating a service called Shyftr that allows users to comment on the full text of blog posts, drawn from full text RSS feeds.

These are all forms of disintermediation on the web — disintermediation defines distribution on the web, made possible by RSS and hyperlinks.

The funny thing is that disintermediation is like a hall of mirrors — there’s really no end to it.

As Dave Winer posits:

There will of course eventually be the equivalent of Technorati, which assembles in one place, all the comments about each blog post.

In other words, somebody will come along and disintermediate FriendFeed, Shyftr, and all these other services by pulling all of the comments created on those services into yet another service.

How about a WordPress plugin that gathers all the comments about my blog posts on FriendFeed, Shyftr, etc. and displays them right here? That’s the beauty of data on the web — you can easily disintermediate the disintermediator.

Which is why disintermediation, i.e. CONTROL, is the wrong way to look at — it’s a very analogue media (i.e. old media) mindset.

The objective on the web isn’t to keep the data on your site — it’s to have an open exchange of data. It’s a wonderfully counterintuitive way of thinking.

If Shyftr or FriendFeed or anyone else wants to enable their users to comment on my blog posts, I say fine — so long as I can easily display any comment created on their services over HERE. Heck, I’d even give them a feed of the comments created here to display over THERE.

Think about it from the user perspective — too often these debates overlook what would best serve the USER.

The user is ill-served if there are conversations about a piece of content going on across multiple services, and the user has to go to each service to participate. Those participating in a conversation on one service are ill-served because they can’t hear what’s been said on other services.

What would be best for users is if all the services were connected, so that all the data appeared on EVERY service, and it didn’t matter which service I used to read or contribute — the data would propagate throughout network.

Remember, it’s the WEB — the network, right? Stop obsessing over YOUR blog or YOUR service or YOUR node — focus on enabling EVERYONE’S network. There’s only ONE web.

The pressure isn’t just on Facebook to open the flow of data — it’s on every web service and every publisher.

The winners won’t be those that control the most data — the winners will be those that channel the most data — and those that create the most value on top of the data flow.

Always remember Google.

Google makes billions of dollars by sending people away. Google doesn’t control any of the titles, URLs, or excerpts that appear on its search results pages — these are all determined by publishers. Google doesn’t control any of the pages where AdSense ads appear.

Google’s business model isn’t about controlling data or people — it’s about CHANNELING data and people. The more people and data that pass THROUGH Google, the more money Google makes. That’s why they offer a free blogging service and want to offer free internet service. That’s why they are evangelizing OpenSocial.

Google profits from liquidity in the system, from the free flow of people and data. Google dominates the web because they are the only company that really understands this.

You could say that Google’s control over the web is a function of its lack of control.

Go meditate on that for a while. I will, too.

  • @Laurel --

    I totally respect your position, but the solution I propose doesn't strip you away from your user experience. It does give me the option, if I so choose, to aggregate my various conversations where I can see them all at once.

    And who knows -- maybe one of my regular site visitors will end up interacting with and meeting new people from my Twitter experience.

  • Interesting post, Scott. I agree with you that Google's primary business model is the free flow of information and its lack of control.

    BUT...this past weekend I just wrote a blog post here about how Google's business model with Gmail is to do just the opposite -- hoard the data and don't let anyone out. So within any company, you can have multiple models -- some enabling the free flow of data, others locking it down.

  • anon

    "Google makes billions of dollars by sending people away. Google doesn’t control any of the titles, URLs, or excerpts that appear on its search results pages — these are all determined by publishers. Google doesn’t control any of the pages where AdSense ads appear.

    Google’s business model isn’t about controlling data or people — it’s about CHANNELING data and people. The more people and data that pass THROUGH Google, the more money Google makes. That’s why they offer a free blogging service and want to offer free internet service. That’s why they are evangelizing OpenSocial."

    Well, yeah, but their market dominance as an intermediary now means that they DO. That's what the SEO industry is all about.

  • Fascinating! It drives me crazy to see people discussing a topic from some site on another site. Granted, it's nice to keep the slashdot flame-wars on slashdot, but occasionally somebody posts something useful that just gets buried because it's not controversial or flame-bait.

    To take it to another level, or maybe from another angle, I'd love a way to aggregate all of my comments on other sites (just like this one) to my own personal site to see what topics I'm currently discussing (and encourage others to continue the discussion on those sites). I've considered a identity portal linking all of my online identities through the Google Social Graph API, and I think this aggregation would be a perfect way to improve that concept if it could be done in an automated fashion. Sort of like a reverse trackback ping if you will.

  • Let me speak for the masses of people out there who are not in love with RSS and APIs and dataportability - we actually like "dine in" networks!
    Yes, agreed, the "take out" aspect of RSS feeds and the convenience of moving the conversation for a quick take-up is hmmm, convenient. And for techie/developers "oh just give me a simple command line interface" and "one basic tool for reading the whole internet in one sitting" I see the attraction.
    But if you talk to real people - not your developer friends - you'll see that they like "dine in" networks. A "Facebook" break, catching up with "MySpace" friends. Time set aside for specific tasks.
    Twitter is different, agreed, but that's because of the synchronous communication aspect. And that's a lot of the attraction - realtime updates for time critical instant communication vs time-out, focussed breaks for non-time critical discussions.
    Add to that the move by ordinary people to lock down their own data - the social spammers are about to move in en masse - aggregation is gonna get a whole lot harder to sell unless you can a)absolutely guarantee that UGC will appear only on those networks the creator wants (including those posts on the private herpes forum you made :P) and b)provide a look and feel that offers the social texture layering that normal users expect. Not devs with a toilet roll of "same look, same feel" readers but a rich Purpose, Places and Profiles led experience.

    There is not ONE web, there are as many webs as there are people on it. And we enjoy and consume our media differently. I accept you like the "take out" option, but me? I'm a fine dining "dine in" kinda gal. :)

    My two cents worth and now I've spent it :(

    NOTE: Preview is not working for me either - Flock here.
    By the way, the above note goes directly to Mike Schinkel's comment - how do you monetise someone elses (UGC) content? We give away everything for free - including troubleshooting support on your wordpress preview button - how do you monetise that? Welcome to the new social network digital economy. :)

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