As this is my first post in 2008 I will take the opportunity to wish you all a fantastic 2008. I hope that some of your wishes will come true (or else you wouldn’t have anything to wish for) and that 2008 turns out to be a great year.
The past week I have been disconnected from the Internet. I spend my time with family and friends enjoying Christmas and new year celebrations, the most important things in life. I also started doing some work on our house, we’re about to start to build four new bedrooms to fit our fast growing children in. It was really relaxing not having to read e-mail, look at newsfeeds, or even Twitter. I found it quite easy to unplug. But I couldn’t help myself thinking about some of the things I have been writing about the past year. So I ended up making a wish list of things I like to see happen on the Internet this year. I will spend some time at the beginning of this year to write them out. But here is the first one for 2008
1. Bring freedom and responsibility back to the user.
The current Facebook – Scoble data storm is the perfect example of that. Scoble is banned from Facebook for trying to export data of his friends to another application Plaxo. This has lead to a large discussion where people either agree with Scoble or Facebook. And some wonder who really owns the data. Scoble is back on again, Facebook let him back.
In my opinion we can learn a lot from this incident. First of all, applications that build their business models around walled gardens will increasingly have to fight of those that will try to tear down these walls. And they will lose. Human nature will always find a way to deal with walled gardens, just look at the brief history of the Internet (or any history really). Walled gardens are broken down constantly and re-appear in different form. But the business model that comes along with it is not a good business model and will ultimately fail.
Secondly, the breaking down the walled gardens issue is really a data war as Scott Karp calls it rightly. It is about service providers trying to monetize user data and in order to do that they need that data exclusively.
Unfortunately, we are all fighting the wrong war. It shouldn’t be about who owns the data. Who cares? It should be about providing me the best value. What I simply cannot understand is that service providers don’t realise they can have ALL relevant data directly from me if they provide me value, and if I am willing to trust them. It is all about choosing the wrong business model (data, walled gardens, free but ad-based services) instead of providing the user true value (the best business model you can think of).
Thirdly, Nicolas Carr gets it (half) right when he says:
Facebook has an obligation to protect the data entrusted to it by its members. At the very least, members should have the right to decide whether or not their personal information can be scraped out of the Facebook database. Scoble did not give them that choice.
Users should be protected against possibly harmful automated data collections. Nicolas points out that Facebook has an obligation to protect its users. True, but only for the right reasons, e.g. the protection of its users. They are crossing a thin line when they are doing it really to enforce walled gardens around the user.But the user has no NEED for walled gardens, all he really NEEDS is freedom.
But with freedom comes responsibility. The user can’t just sit back and blame Facebook or any other service for not protecting him. He needs to actively enforce his own privacy and protection rules to ensure that he is in charge of his information.
My first wish for 2008 is that Service Providers build business models on user value instead of walled garden free but ad-based business models. In doing this they should provide the user with excellent, easy to use, transparent, privacy controls where the default is always set by the standards of the user. This wish would provide us with 3 major changes: The service provider becomes a partner that can be trusted and that provides user value instead of walled gardens, the user gets his freedom, and the user becomes responsible for his own actions and data on the Internet.
I read Dave Winer’s comments this morning, I really like his analysis. He says:
So Facebook has the opportunity to be a crossover company, part of the next generation — or a last gasp of the generation that’s about to run out of gas. It’s their choice. And it’s fitting somehow that Scoble is the poster child for users in this cycle.
I tend to think that Facebook is part of a generation of service providers that is unable to make the transition. To speak in terms of Jim Collins, they are a good company, but I doubt they are a great company (yet).