That’s what a Google employee said today as he tried to explain Google’s recent push to have websites use the ‘rel=”me”‘ meta HTML tags to identify pages a user owns on the web. It’s not a bad strategy – index the entire web, know every single website out there, and when they change, and now the web is your network. The thing is, since the “open” web hasn’t had a natural way of identifying websites owned by users, Google, the current controller of this network, needed a way to do it. Why not make people identify their websites to Google’s SocialGraph network, and call it “open” so it benefits everyone? I’m sorry, but the “open” web that we all grew up in is dead now that 2 or 3 entities have indexed it all. This is now their network.
Let’s contrast that to Facebook, the “Walled Garden”, criticized for being closed due to tight privacy controls and not willing to open up to the outside web. Of course, all that is a myth – Facebook too has provided ways for website owners to identify themselves to Facebook on the “open” web, making Facebook itself the controller of that social graph data, thereby giving Facebook a new role in who “owns” the “open” web. Facebook has even made known in its developer roadmap its intention to build an “OpenGraph API”, making every website owner’s site a Facebook Fan Page in the Facebook network. Don’t kid yourself that Facebook wants a role in this as well. They’re a major threat to Google, too because of this.
Then there’s Twitter, just starting to realize how to play in this game, now starting to collect user data for search in their own network. Don’t count them out just yet, as they too will soon be trying to find ways to get you to identify your website on their network.
So we’ll soon have 3 ways of identifying our websites on the “open” web. I can identify my site through Facebook, as you see by the Facebook Connect login buttons scattered around. I can identify myself in the Google SocialGraph APIs, which, if you view the source of this site you’ll see a ‘rel=”me”‘ meta tag identifying my site so Google can search it. Who knows what Twitter will provide to bring my site into its network. Each network is providing its easiest ways of identifying your site within their own Social Graph, and calling it “open” so other developers can bring their stuff into their networks easily, without rewriting code.
I think it’s time we stop tricking ourselves into thinking the web is open at all. Google is in control of the web – they have it all indexed. Now that we are seeing that he who owns the Social Graph has a new way of controlling and indexing the web, which we are seeing by Facebook’s massive growth (400+ million users!), I think Google feels threatened. They’ll play every “open” term in the book to gain that control back. Of course the new meta tags are beneficial – is it really beneficial to “everybody” though? I argue the one entity it benefits most is Google. Yeah, it benefits developers if we can get everyone to agree on what “open” is, but that will never happen. I think it’s time we accept that now that the web is controlled and indexed by only a few large corporations, it is far from “open”. “Open” is nothing more than a marketing term, and I think we can thank Google for that. No, that’s not a bad thing – it’s just reality.
Do these technologies really “benefit everyone” when no other search startup has a remote chance of competing with owning the “open web” network?
How do we solve this? I truly believe the only solution to giving the user control of the web again is via client-side, truly user-controlled technologies like what Kynetx offers. Action Cards, Information Cards, Selectors, and browser-side technologies that bring context back in the user’s hands are the only way we’re going to make the web “open” again. The future will be the battle for the client – I hope the user wins that battle.
UPDATE: DeWitt Clinton of Google, who wrote the quote above this post is in response to, issued his own response here. The comments there are interesting, albeit a lot of current and former Google employees trying to defend their case. I still hold that no matter what Google does now, due to the size of their index, any promotion of the “open web” is still to their benefit. I don’t think Google should be denying that.
UPDATE 2: My response to DeWitt’s response is here – why didn’t Google just clone Facebook’s APIs if their intention was to benefit the developer and end-user?