Have you ever hopped on Firefox, Safari or (if it’s 2003 at your house) Internet Explorer to surf the web and thought “Damn, the guy who invented this thing must make a fortune out of it!”?
This is the guy who invented the program we call the World Wide Web and he makes the square root of sod all out of it.
Everyday, virtually every internet user relies on a ubiquitous, un patented programme developed by Sir Tim Berners Lee and we don’t pay him a penny because it’s considered an “open source project”.
How does this relate to Facebook? Idle speculation, that’s how, but I’ll walk you through it.
Last November, none other than sir Tim himself declared that the nature of more successful sites such as facebook was beginning to “chip away” at the founding principles of the web.
A lot of the debate at the time was about how user’s information was “walled in” by facebook and could not be shared, but there were also prophecies of a “monopoly”.
Think about what has happened since then. How many websites can you now log into using your facebook account? How many websites implore you to like them? How many of those websites manage to creepily show you pictures of friends of yours (see #2) who incidentally happen to like them?
The media has taken note. You like Facebook, you log in every morning and it is where you spend most of your time at work.
This is why you can now watch movies using facebook and it is why media and marketing jobs that I apply for always ask candidates to be “proficient in social media”. Facebook could soon become intertwined with everything you do on the web, from reading the newspaper to downloading music.
Towards a Monopoly
This is where the “walling off” argument comes in. Some of Berners Lee’s concerns were to do with Apps. Not web apps, but I-tunes, angry-birds and everything else that does not use and therefore does not adhere to the open principals of the web.
So what if you could do everything from facebook, and you didn’t really need the rest of the web? What then, if Facebook was an app on your desktop that didn’t connect to http://www.facebook… but an actual facebook programme, separate from the web?
What advantage is this to facebook? Well aside from owning the future equivalent of the web, Facebook owns something else: whatever meaningless banal data you post everyday. One man’s manure is another’s fertilizer and to marketing it is solid gold.
Let me tell you a short story. I once used my status feed on facebook to deride Dressage as a sport. I refered to it unfavourably as “horses mincing”. Within minutes the side bar on my home page was full of dressage ads. Facebook didn’t get the point, but it tried. We all know it does it and we all know it’s getting smarter.
A single, ubiquitous, non-web facebook would be a massive data farm and unlike the web, there would be no anonymous users.
I’m not accusing Mark Zuckerberg of working towards a media monopoly (hell, on an unregulated web it’s not even a crime), nor do I implore you to delete your facebook account (I’m not going to), but what you post on facebook makes the creation of a data farm worth doing and there are still too many users who share far too much. There’s no crime here, just the means and the motive for one to happen.
Most of all I’m agreeing with the web’s founding father that in flocking to one behemoth of a site we are undermining the democratising principals that made the web so very special in the first place. As consumers, we ought to reject the current Facebook encroachment into other facets of our web usage, lest it spread even further into our online lives and personas.