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.

Comments (24 Responses so far)

  1. … Just got back from meditating.

    I love to think about the end user or reader; where would bloggers be without them, right?

    On the other hand, its all well and good to think about services and some vague wish that someone would just create a plugin to magically solve the problem of missing conversations, but if as you put “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.”

    … then by default, if bloggers are those that are “creating” content, and services are the ones adding it, then bloggers will *never* be the ones creating the most value, unless they will, by necessity, have to evolve beyond mere blogging to creating services as you suggest, to complement their blogging.

    publish2 dot com :)

    No, seriously, the post is very services-centric, but I’d love to hear any suggestions about how bloggers should tackle it (I mean besides linking out to generously to every post that is relevant or interesting, which is what most bloggers ought to be doing anyway).

    Because I’ll be honest, Scott. I am not developing a service and have no plans to do so — and I *know* you’re not necessarily suggesting that bloggers start doing that.

    … or are you? :)

    Cheers
    tony.

  2. Hi Tony,

    I already stated my perspective as a blogger:

    “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.”

    “How about a WordPress plugin that gathers all the comments about my blog posts on FriendFeed, Shyftr, etc. and displays them right here?”

    Bloggers should be able to aggregate on their blogs all of the comments on services. And they should make all of their comments available for posting to those services. You should be able to comment on a blog post anywhere and see all of the comments anywhere.

  3. Scott — the technology is already there to act as the “carrier signal”, but too many people are trying to kill it.

    It’s called a Pingback — and many of the Bloggerati have abandoned them as useless because they are a spam target. Yet all you have to do is embed a microformat within that will chronologically tag it to a post, or even thread it within other external comments from the same source.

    Develop a microformat for the enclosure, and some WordPress genius will have a plugin to auto-insert them into the comment stream by Wednesday.

  4. Scott,

    Great post…I agree with you point about open data exchange being the key…Indeed our Service (SezWho) is focussed on building an open data exchange framework. Take a look and let me know what you think.

    -Jitendra

  5. The disintermediation pendulum may have swung too far.

    To filter signal from noise, and to make the vast quantities of information manageable to the user, there has to be intelligent, old-fashioned editing.

    Crowd-based voting is one method of selecting what to read – but it’s only one method, and like all methods it has biases built in.

    My crystal ball shows an increased role for selective information channels, and for people / machines / combinations who can select things that others will appreciate spending their precious time looking at.

    I’m not saying it will be exactly the way editors on print publications have always worked, just that the day of the smart filter is yet to come. A degree of reintermediation, if you will.

  6. and looking further into your site (it’s my first visit), I see that you have a post on different kinds of information distribution, including the edited channel kind.

    Very interesting blog you have here.

  7. Nice post, Scott. I was particularly struck by this:

    “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.”

    Publishers and content aggregators are slowly coming around to the fact that just pushig out the content is not enough; users are bringing ther own tools, albeit a fractious toolset, to carve it up content, mold it, discuss it, share it and publish something all their own to their own community. I agree with you; the winners will be the companies that have the vision to not only supply content, but also give their customers a platform to engage with the content as well as a means to self – publish back into the company’s domain.

  8. For me there is a difference between comments and postings – I value postings higher. And I like to see the opinion of one person in one place – their blog.

  9. god knows things are spreading far and wide… i’d bet cpm and page views wont be germane much longer, everything being everywhere…

  10. First off, given the uh, “quality”, of the comments on Digg, I’d rather they stay there anyway.

    Second, I don’t know why this site is getting so much attention. It’s unattractive, it has yet another stupid “we dropped the vowel” Web two-point-OH name and, did I mention it’s ugly? With the exception of TechCrunch, most of the blogs they’re syndicating are much prettier. Really, it looks like yet another content site and you’re all giving them free publicity. I don’t understand, why not give some other ugly site like Today.com the same attention?

    Part of me is really beginning to think there’s a conspiracy behind every Bitchmeme.

  11. Hmm, I’m not so sure about this being about disintermediation – seems to me like the services you mention are adding layers of intermediation. But anyhow, I reckon your on the nail with your general comments about the web. (If anything they’ll apply even more as the web becomes more than a doc repository, towards a web of data).

    “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”.

    Quite. Where are *their* RSS feeds..?

  12. Very well said, Scott

    “Look!… out there… don’t you see it? It’s… beautiful! …Let’s prepare!”

  13. Maybe I’m stupid, but isn’t what you’re describing intermediation rather than disintermediation?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disintermediation

    “In economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: ‘cutting out the middleman’.”

  14. While I agree 100% in principle and very much want to see a web where the user is placed front and center, you didn’t mention any ways in which someone besides Google can effectively monetize that strategy. Yes, you talked about how YOUR blog and MY blog could have everything, but in a world where everyone has everything nobody really has anything, at least not on the web in terms of monetizable attention.

    Similar to the 90’s when every software company was afraid to develop something because once it showed promised Microsoft would develop a competitor and squash them, how do you envision people monetizing open data exchange where they 1.) create a competitive advantage for themselves, and 2.) don’t just show Google the way to exclusively make even more?

    And before I go, let me reiterate that the world you describe is the one I want to see I just don’t yet know how an entity besides Google can effectively monetize it on any reasonable scale.

    (BTW, I’m using IE7 and your comment preview button is not working.)

  15. [...] of blogger’s control is over (Robert Scoble)- Should Comments be Portable? (Valeria Maltoni)- Forget Disintermediation, Focus On Open Data Exchange (Scott [...]

  16. 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. :)

  17. [...] Forget Disintermediation, Focus On Open Data Exchange – Publishing 2.0 (tags: opendata wikihub datawiki web2.0) Rate This Post: [...]

  18. 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.

  19. [...] opinions on both sides of the debate. One of the best counter-arguments to my stance came from Scott Karp, who believes strongly in “information disintermediation” (a let your comments go free [...]

  20. [...] som vi refererade till i inlägget När kommentaren lämnar bloggen, fortsätter. Nu är det Publishing 2.0, en blogg om webpublicering, som tycker [...]

  21. “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.

  22. 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.

  23. [...] few days ago I commented on this post over at Publishing 2.0, ignoring the semantic debate of whether the article described intermediation or disintermediation, [...]

  24. @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.

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