Chris Messina has a long and good post up about the open Social Web. He hits on a topic I have written about many times as well:
Moreover, by commoditizing certain fundamental features, service providers will move to compete on the level of user experience and service, rather than on lock-in alone. And in the distributed social model of the web, there is nothing more fundamental than establishing a means of expressing durable, cross-site identity.
It is my contention that the individual is the basic atomic unit of society, and without society you can’t get to acting on the “social” layer. And since change only can begin at the scale of the individual, OpenID must occupy a cornerstone of the open, social web.
The commoditizing fundamental features Chris talks about are identity, discovery and access control, contacts and friends, activity streams, messaging, groupings and shared spaces. I read his post and ended up posting a comment on a Friendfeed discussion in which I said:
I guess it all boils down to the point that most initiatives are not willing to work on the plumbing of the web. Everyone wants to build the house and contain people within it. The irony of course is that if you build the plumbing smart you would be part of everything, instead of “owning” a small piece of the web trying to lock users in (And I thought my posts were long 😉 )
It reminded me of an old post Rolf Skyberg once wrote about the plumbing on the web. In a post called 98%, or even 100%-open, not enough in social networks he writes:
Unfortunately, this pattern all points into an area where few large companies want to compete: commodity services. To those with dollar signs singing in their sleep, “commodity” is a painful, dirty word where products must compete both on their merits and consumer whimsy. Even if you’re the best, you are forced to walk that careful line between technological prowess and merchantability. It also shines bright lights into the cobwebs of your code; ruthlessly ferreting out weakness.
I’ve written about my view of a User-Centric web (although I was told I should be calling it the User Driven Web). It’s what Chris calls the Open Social Web. In this web the user is the most important actor. The problem of getting to this type of a web is that we need these commoditizing features in place first. The question is, what is withholding this plumbing? They are not brilliant new insights (brilliant, but not new 😉 ). It isn’t that no one before Chris, Rolf, Doc Searl, myself or others have thought about the need of having this plumbing taken care of. It seems common knowledge, yet it hasn’t been sufficiently addressed or implemented.
I can think of only one reason. There hasn’t been a commercial incentive to make the User-Centric Web happen. There is no money to be made in plumbing, given the current state of web business models. We are still ruled by old-fashioned web 1.0 business models, and they prevent us taking the leap to a fully open, social web. We need to break free from Tim O’Reilly’s definition of web 2.0 and move beyond that. Until someone figures out how to create revenues by setting up the plumbing , there will be slow progress towards solving it. There are many initiatives, many projects. But turning the web inside out, making the user the center of it, won’t happen until we break through the glass ceiling of current traffic and destination oriented web business models. We need less focus on steroid growth and more on basic infrastructure.
Not only is it more sexy to build a new Facebook, or Twitter, but it is also more lucrative. It’s hard to get investors to line up for basic plumbing. It is hard to convince people that you may earn a decent living by delivering commodity. It is extremely hard to come up with a revenue model for commodity. And until we solve that problem, we won’t easily be able to make the User-Centric web happen.
Who is willing to take care of the plumbing?