May 21st, 2008

Pondering Facebook, Twitter, Google, Open Standards And The Future Of The Web

by

I’ve read a bunch of interesting observations the last several days that have me pondering the future of the web — I’ve been trying to put it into a coherent blog post, but as this is my third draft and it still hasn’t gelled, I’m going to try thinking out loud. See if you can connect the dots.

From Robert Scoble:

Loic Le Meur did a little test with me a couple of weeks ago. He listed his Le Web conference on both Facebook and Upcoming.org. Here’s the Facebook listing. Here’s the Upcoming.org one.

The Facebook one can’t be seen if you don’t have a Facebook account. It’s NOT open to the public Web. Google’s spiders CAN NOT REACH IT.

He put both listings up at exactly the same time and did no invites, nothing. Just let people find these listings on their own.

The Facebook one is NOT available to the Web. It has 467 people who’ve accepted it. The Upcoming.org one IS available to Google and the Web. It has 101 people on it.

From Fred Wilson:

Facebook provides an incredibly valuable service to my three children. The other day I saw my oldest daughter get an invite to a party on Facebook, she accepted it, and then went to look at her accepted invite page. It was her social calendar, every party she plans to attend in the next two months is there. She noticed she had another event that night and then switched her acceptance to tentative. She uses Facebook the way I use Outlook. Who cares if she can port her social graph out of Facebook? It’s not going to happen anytime soon because the social context and data FLOW through Facebook is providing enormous value to her and her friends.

From Marshall Kirkpatrick:

Facebook and MySpace have replaced email for a substantial number of young people. Facebook, though, appears to believe that some things are better off not discussed in conversations between its members.

We’ve found two instances of words that will get a Facebook message blocked and we presume there are others. The company says it’s spam control, but it seems creepy to us.

From Howard Lindzon (via Twitter):

Please do not send me direct messages on twitter. my email address is on my blog. Twitter rarely works and I only check once a day.

Some observations:

  • Google is a gateway to the WHOLE web, while Facebook is a gateway to what’s inside Facebook
  • Most people probably assume that if they can’t find something in Google, then it doesn’t exist online
  • A teenager’s friends may ALL be on Facebook, but EVERYONE who uses the internet (including those teenagers) has an email address
  • Your email belongs to you, but Facebook messages belong to Facebook

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  • Email delivery generally is not dependent on a single service (although a given address may be dependent on a single email server), while delivery of Twitter direct messages and Facebook messages is dependent entirely and exclusively on those services
  • Google CEO Eric Schmit has wondered in the past why some companies are still “betting against the internet

The web is made possible by open, interoperable standards for content and communication, e.g. http, HTML, hyperlink, SMTP, etc. — will the future of the web be based on closed, proprietary standards for content and communication?

No company can touch Google’s ability to monetize the use of the open web — the more people use the web, the more money Google makes. Can Facebook compete with Google by eschewing the open web and open standards? Or is Facebook betting against the internet?

Hmmmm…..

Email me if you figure it out.

Comments (13 Responses so far)

  1. It seems to me that Fred Wilson brings the key to this puzzle…as someone who has “lived within” Outlook for the past 2 years, I can see how that experience could have a parallel within Facebook…as an extension of self.

    I don’t see it as betting against the web, but rather taking an element that has heretofore lived off the web (by necessity), and allowing it a safe haven online. For many, extending so much of ourselves into a purely public space is a non-starter.

    Basically, I don’t see this as betting against the web, but instead a small expansion of what we would consider placing on the web.

    However, with that said, I think much of Facebook’s ecosystem will eventually open up to the larger web, with public and private spaces.

  2. Facebook does hold a big enough part of the Internet to become profitable and obviously will try to monetize on the data they have on the user and his/her friends (the social graph). That might prove to be a profitable move but there are also many possible problems with such a strategy. Problems such as privacy, the given that they are a walled garden and destiny based, while the whole web will become social. It’s hard to compete with the Google that runs the largest walled garden around (the entire web ;-) )

  3. [...] for my vote, when does my Facebook habit, become a dependency? I don’t think Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 knows either, but he makes some earie observations. Search [...]

  4. I don’t think Facebook, and others like it, have to open their doors. I’m all for opening everything up to users, but the majority of people who are on Facebook, and are considered users, mainly, middle/high school students and still a substantital number of college students, are living their online life in Facebook. They don’t need the doors to open because everything they need is right there. Why log into an email account or search google when you can check your Facebook messages and do a search within Facebook…or just browse your friends’ profiles/apps until you find what you are looking for?
    The people that want social networking sites opened up, and the people that really use these sites are two totally different sets of users.

  5. The question that occurs to me: will the young people using Facebook be inclined by habit to remain in their closed but comfortable system? It works for them. As they grow up, it will grow with them, in unknown ways. What people learn to do as young adults tends to condition how they behave. The net and Google are products of a particular generation, modes of communication the next generation may not find as appealing (for reasons we of this generation may not fathom).

  6. Heikki Pelkkikangas

    As G Love points out, I also see Facebook, Twitter and the likes primarily as 1st generation tools for indirect one-to-many communication. Before we only had one-on-one tools such as email, but mailing lists are far from what Facebook can offer.

    I don’t think the social graph data stored by Facebook is really that important. It is, after all, just kind of an address book we also have in Outlook. Should someone succeed on creating a better way for one-to-many communication, Facebook might rapidly loose its user base.

  7. When I finished reading this I thought: What is your point? What are you trying to say? Open is open. Closed is closed. Half open is half open.

    I think you have to do better than this. If you post these “proofs” I think it is incumbent on you to at least attempt to theorise what they might mean. The worst you can do is look silly in hindsight.

    For example, you could say…

    * These proofs suggest that Facebook could eventually fail because…

    * These proofs suggest that the ideal social networking site would have these features…

    Here’s a thought: how about a Google social networking function. Call it Googlebook or whatever.

  8. Didn’t we have almost the same discussion already 13 years ago? In those days most people had to be a member of compuserve or similar networks to get connected with the online world. Apart from students only very few people used ISPs to dive into the open Web space.

    Ok, compuserve isn’t around anymore, but the genral concept still exists, and obviously enough, the Web is still there too. I remember back then I compared the situation with the travel industry. A lot of people (especially families) like to stay in holiday clubs with “all inclusive” services. They enjoy their time completely isolated. And then there are real travellers, those who like to explore, to learn, to travel around. Both concepts coexist today, just like the world (regard it as the infrastructure for any kind of travel) still exists as well.

  9. [...] Pondering Facebook, Twitter, Google, Open Standards And The Future Of The Web – Publishing 2.0 – “No company can touch Googleâ??s ability to monetize the use of the open web â?? the more people use the web, the more money Google makes. Can Facebook compete with Google by eschewing the open web and open standards? Or is Facebook betting against the in [...]

  10. @KP

    The problem I think is interoperability. What happens when Fred Wilson’s children grow up and get jobs, with corporate email addresses, and have to deal with people, companies, and organizations who don’t live inside Facebook. The more they have to communicate outside of Facebook, the less it has an “all inclusive” value proposition.

    @Neil

    Sometimes I find it more useful to ask a question than to answer one.

  11. The compuserve analogy gives a hint: something new and more suited to the situation will be spawned, taking\combining the best features of current players like Facebook and Google, etc, etc.

    Sounds positively darwinian, doesn’t it. But that’s the internet for you.

    You can see this process in action every day. For example, take Seesmic = Twitter meets YouTube.

  12. @Scott

    You’re right, it is about interoperability. And it’s like this: there are personal digital identities (people) and there is the Internet (world). And there are tons of concepts for information and communication to get them together somehow.

    The names of the most popular concepts right now are the ones you mentioned in the title of your post. But as Neil points out, nothing is forever. Facebook is getting slow and clumsy, people are starting to leave (or just stop using) it. No matter what Facebook does, it will lose relevance in the next couple of years or decades a least.

    First, it’s a matter of infrastructure, a Facebook closed shop for billions of current users is not going to work. Second, it’s a matter of emotion. There will always be a smaller but powerful group of people that goes a different road, and Facebook cannot afford to keep them out of their system.

    It’s like Microsoft’s office software for the Macintosh. Google’s philisophy is far more promising — even though/that’s because some of their influence needs to be cut back. But hey, they are going to melt down as well:

    http://loser.com :)

    Neil is right, new players will come up, and I’m sure that these players fully support the concept of openess and interoperability #semantic web …

  13. if you want to see the movie, go in the theater (walled garden) … if you want to know about movies, go online … something for everybody

    but facebook is clunky and approximate compared to living in a community, and something more refined will replace it

    we are in a river

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