Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

The Problem with "Google's Social Network" isn't "Social Network", or even "Google" -- it's "'s".

[I posted this to G+ a little while ago. It occurs to me that people here might also be interested.]

Specifically, it's the possessive.

Google+ isn't really the big problem nowadays. Nor is Facebook, nor Friendster, Orkut, LiveJournal or what-have-you. The problem is walled gardens. The problem is that all of the big social networks have been designed in a way that is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of the Internet, and they are causing problems for precisely that reason.

I mean, really -- we don't talk "Google's Internet". We don't talk about "Facebook's World Wide Web". We don't talk about "Comcast's email". We used to do that -- back in the 80's, we called those things Prodigy and AOL. You will note that those largely bit the dust a long time ago, and that was for good reasons: because an open system, built entirely on open protocols, with highly distributed and negotiated authority, just plain works better for its users in the long run than a system that is controlled and bottlenecked by any one company or government.

The nymwars are a sideshow -- a fine illustration of the problem, but not the problem itself. The real problem is the fact that the nymwars are even possible, that a company is able to control your social network that way, that your only alternative so far is to go look for another walled garden to hand your control to.

It's time for this nonsense to stop. The solution isn't to build another site, or even another network. It's to focus on the protocols of social networks, and how to make them work together -- to take ownership away from any one group or even a small number of them, but to declare that we want to work in a larger system that forces those companies to compete with each other and work together on the same turf. And if the big companies refuse, to build those open systems and render those companies obsolete: leave them in the dustbin of history, alongside all the previous firms that insisted that their way was the only way.

It's time to take back the social network. Our social network.

Pass it on.

[Afterword, specific to LiveJournal: LJ is, it should be noted, somewhat better. The system is designed to allow both friending and commenting with folks outside the LJ network per se, which is a big step over the big players. Still, my conclusion from this whole mess is that the underlying assumptions are corrupt: that we need to demand a proper separation of identity, network and applications, view them as a true protocol stack, and rethink how it all works. Whether LJ is helped or hurt by that will depend a lot on how it plays out. If BradFitz was still running things, I suspect he'd be spearheading this effort and LJ would be leading the charge; as it stands, we'll see.]
Tags: nymwars

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