Yesterday was OneWebDay, a day to celebrate the open web and bring more awareness to technologies. I just wrote about one thing Google is doing to make the web more open, something I strongly support. I want to touch on something Facebook is doing which I don’t think is being fully appreciated. And it’s not what you think it is. First, I want you to watch this video – it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote from Facebook’s F8 conference for developers last year. Don’t read on until you see it or you may not understand what I’m trying to get at here.
In the video, Mark Zuckerberg states that Facebook’s mission is in “giving people the power to share in order to make the world more open and connected place.” I want you to give that some thought. We’ve always talked about the open web being the opening up of content so everyone has access to it. That’s the essence of the web. It has no borders or boundaries, and has no controls over it. That is how it was built and how it should be. The web is about linking documents to each other, and indexing those documents so they are easily accessible and retrievable by those that want to find it. The traditional open web is about the power to receive.
Enter the social web. Now we have all these social networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Orkut, Hi5, LinkedIn, and many others all striving to redefine the web, each in their own way. In the end each of these networks is giving a layer to the web which connects people instead of documents and in the end brings people together. At the same time we’re indexing people, and from those people comes relevancy and documents which others can share with one-another. Many argue that this method of indexing is even more accurate, because it is spread from person-to-person, and it’s real-time.
There’s one problem with the social web in terms of openness. People don’t want their lives exposed. They just want the documents they prefer to share with the world exposed. In the end, because we’re dealing with people, there still needs to be some bounds of privacy, yet people should still have the control to make what they want open, open. Without these controls, there is no freedom, as people are required to completely expose their lives to reveal even a bit of content with the rest of the world.
This is why I think on the Social Web, “Open” is defined much differently. I think Facebook sees this. In a social environment, the role of technology should be in making relationships more open, making the ability to share more open, not necessarily the documents people are sharing themselves. In a Social Web “Open” is about how “Open” you are to enabling your users to make the decision whether they want to make their documents public or not, and fully enabling them to do so if they want to. The thing is, a Social ecosystem is not “Open” if it doesn’t give users the freedom to keep those documents private if they want to as well.
Facebook takes this new layer of “Open” to another level though. As of last year they have been branching out of their walls, enabling other websites to take these tools, giving each website the control to extend this level of control to their own users. Now websites can take the existing social graphs of users and enable those users to automatically share what they want with their friends, respecting the privacy controls of those friends. I should note that Google Friend Connect is doing similar things in that realm (albeit with less privacy controls, IMO making it a less “open” or “free” ecosystem to allow users full control of that data).
I think what we may be defining as a “Walled Garden” or “closed ecosystem” may indeed be the actual definition of “Open” on the social web. Remember, it’s about opening up the control of the user to share all, some, or none of the content they want to share. The more “Open” a system is to doing this, the more open users are to share data, the more open it is to having their friends see that data, and the more open it is to allowing others search for that data, while at the same time being open to letting the users that want to control that data keep it under closed wall. The web has lacked this ability until recently. In a true “Open” Social Ecosystem, if data is not available via search and other means, it is the fault of the users, not the network itself. Data that is available to the web is the responsibility of the users, not the responsibility of the network itself. I think Facebook is the closest to this definition of “Open” out there right now. I think that’s why they have over 300 million users and are still growing.
On the Social Web, “Open” is about the power to give.
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