After the dust clears from the Google answer to Facebook’s popularity, and the first applications of the new APIs are already showing up, it is now the time to start analysing what should happen next.
Let’s get one thing straight. Google might get a formidable position in social networking land with their “one ring that binds them all” called OpenSocial. But Google still needs excellent application developers to start using the infrastructure they will provide through their OpenSocial APIs. The most important challenge will be if we can develop user centric services instead of network centric services. I have written a number of posts on this earlier, for example “The flaws in web 2.0 and how to correct” and a followup to that “Design of an Open Social Interaction Network: Human Needs” describing some of the human needs that are to be addressed.
In this context I came across a few posts this morning that drew my attention.
Chris Messina wrote a really excellent piece called “OpenSocial and Address book 2.0: Putting People into the protocol”. In this piece he talks about a topic that I have written about a lot. The observation that services are build the benefit of the service creator, not for its user.
The future is in portable, independent identities valid, like Visa, everywhere that you want to be. It’s not just about social network fatigue and getting fed up with filling out profiles at every social network you join and re-adding all your friends. Yeah, those things are annoying but more importantly, the fact that you have to do it every time just to get basic value from each system means that each has been designed to benefit itself, rather than the individuals coming and going. The whole damn thing needs to be inverted, and like recently rejoined ant segments dumped from many an ant farm, the fractured, divided, shattered into a billion fragments-people of the web must rejoin themselves and become whole in the eyes of the services that, what else?, serve them!
He goes on and envisions a future in which this relationship is inverted completely:
Imagine this: imagine designing a web service where you don’t store the permanent records of facets of people, but instead you simply build services that serve people. In fact, it’s no longer even in your best interest to store data about people long term because, in fact, the data ages so rapidly that it’s next to useless to try to keep up with it. Instead, it’s about looking across the data that someone makes transactionally available to you (for a split second) and offering up the best service given what you’ve observed when similar fingerprint-profiles have come to your system in the past.
And while you are at it read his original post “People in the protocol” as well. Chris used to work at Flock. No wonder he is able to come up with such a list. Only few seem to really understand the power of the web browser in service development. It is by definition user centric, not platform or destination centric. It is a tool that will help solve the issue that the Internet does not evolve around you now.
Another interesting post was written by Doc Searl called “Free Customers make free markets”. He writes in response to a post by Dave Winer who proposes that the next change will be to free the user:
When we have free users, we won’t ask companies to “let me control” my data. Instead, we’ll ask “What data of mine will I let this or that company use.”
Think about what it means to be a “user”, and what a “user” is.
Because companies are users too.
The idea behind this challenge isn’t to put the shoe on the other foot, but to put proper shoes on both feet.
We need real relationships here. Not the kind where one party has the exclusive power to “let” the other party have rights, data or anything else. Not the kind where one party has to beg the other party for their freedom. Not the kind where “Customer Relationship Management” consists of “capturing”, “managing” and “owning” customers as if they were cattle.
Then I came across a small article that talks about Yahoo’s plans with social networking. Nice one. I challenged Yahoo, Google and Microsoft earlier to start innovating on the concept of e-mail as a social networking tool instead of copying Facebook, and it looks like Yahoo is on it (I doubt I put them on it though :-))
So what does all of this mean? To me these are important signals. Acknowledgement of influencial bloggers that we desperately need to rethink business models currently used in many web 2.0 companies.
OpenSocial will fuel a fire that cannot be stopped once some serious developments evolve using these APIs. Developments in which the user is standing in the center as the most important person to be served. Not the network, not the service creator, not even the almighty Google.
The user is back, and he won’t be ignored this time!
Short update: Google is announcing right now that MySpace joins the OpenSocial camp. According to TechCrunch they have been working on it in secret. Well, it is good news for the user, now we wait and see if Facebook will open up under this pressure.