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It’s Not Whether Google’s Threatened. It’s Asking Ourselves: What Commons Do We Wish For?

By - February 02, 2012

If Facebook’s IPO filing does anything besides mint a lot of millionaires, it will be to shine a rather unsettling light on a fact most of us would rather not acknowledge: The web as we know it is rather like our polar ice caps: under severe, long-term attack by forces of our own creation.

And if we lose the web, well, we lose more than funny cat videos and occasionally brilliant blog posts. We lose a commons, an ecosystem, a “tangled bank” where serendipity, dirt, and iterative trial and error drive open innovation. Google’s been the focus of most of this analysis (hell, I called Facebook an “existential threat” to Google on Bloomberg yesterday), but I’d like to pull back for a second.

This post has been brewing in me for a while, but I was moved to start writing after reading this piece in Time:

Is Google In Danger of Being Shut Out of the Changing Internet?

The short answer is Hell Yes. But while I’m a fan of Google (for the most part), to me the piece is focused too narrowly on what might happen to one company, rather than to the ecosystem which allowed that company to thrive. It does a good job of outlining the challenges Google faces, which are worth recounting (and expanding upon) as a proxy for the larger question I’m attempting to elucidate:

1. The “old” Internet is shrinking, and being replaced by walled gardens over which Google’s crawlers can’t climb. Sure, Google can crawl Facebook’s “public pages,” but those represent a tiny fraction of the “pages” on Facebook, and are not informed by the crucial signals of identity and relationship which give those pages meaning. Similarly, Google can crawl the “public pages” of Apple’s iTunes store on the web, but all the value creation in the mobile iOS appworld is behind the walls of Fortress Apple. Google can’t see that information, can’t crawl it, and can’t “make it universally available.” Same for Amazon with its Kindle universe, Microsoft’s Xbox and mobile worlds, and many others.

2. Google’s business model depends on the web remaining open, and given #1 above, that model is imperiled. It’s damn hard to change business models, but with Google+ and Android, the company is trying. The author of the Time piece is skeptical of Google’s chances of recreating the Open Web with these new tools, however.

He makes a good point. But to me, the real issue isn’t whether Google’s business model is under attack by forces outside its control. Rather, the question is far more existential in nature: What kind of a world do we want to live in?

I’m going to say that again, because it bears us really considering: What kind of a world do we want to live in? As we increasingly leverage our lives through the world of digital platforms, what are the values we wish to hold in common? I wrote about this issue a month or so ago:  On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme. In that piece I outlined a number of core values that I believe are held in common when it comes to what I call the “open” or “independent” web. They also bear repeating (I go into more detail in the post, should you care to read it):

- No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.

An ethos of the commons. The web developed over time under an ethos of community development, and most of its core software and protocols are royalty free or open source (or both). There wasn’t early lockdown on what was and wasn’t allowed. This created chaos, shady operators, and plenty of dirt and dark alleys. But it also allowed extraordinary value to blossom in that roiling ecosystem.

- No preset rules about how data is used. If one site collects information from or about a user of its site, that site has the right to do other things with that data, assuming, again, that it’s doing things that benefit all parties concerned.

- Neutrality. No one site on the web is any more or less accessible than any other site. If it’s on the web, you can find it and visit it.

- Interoperability. Sites on the web share common protocols and principles, and determine independently how to work with each other. There is no centralized authority which decides who can work with who, in what way.

I find it hard to argue with any of the points above as core values of how the Internet should work. And it is these values that created Google and allowed the company to become the world beater is has been these past ten or so years. But if you look at this list of values, and ask if Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of app makers align with them, I am afraid the answer is mostly no. And that’s the bigger issue I’m pointing to: We’re slowly but surely creating an Internet that is abandoning its original values for…well, for something else that as yet is not well defined.

This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. I’m not out to “save Google,” I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values.

And it’s not fair to blame Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or app makers here. In conversations with various industry folks over the past few months, it’s become clear that there are more than business model issues stifling the growth of the open web. In no particular order, they are:

1. Engineering. It’s simply too hard to create super-great experiences on the open web. For many high value products and services, HTML and its associated scripting languages, including HTML5, are messy, incomplete, and are not as fast, clean, and elegant as coding for iOS or the Facebook ecosystem. I’ve heard this over and over again. This means developers are drawn to the Apple universe first, web second. Value accrues where engineering efforts pay off in a more compelling user experience.

2. Mobility. The PC-based HTML web is hopelessly behind mobile in any number of ways. It has no eyes (camera), no ears (audio input), no sense of place (GPS/location data). Why would anyone want to invest in a web that’s deaf, dumb, blind, and stuck in one place?

3. Experience. The open web is full of spam, shady operators, and blatant falsehoods. Outside of a relatively small percentage of high quality sites, most of the web is chock full of popup ads and other interruptive come-ons. It’s nearly impossible to find signal in that noise, and the web is in danger of being overrun by all that crap. In the curated gardens of places like Apple and Facebook, the weeds are kept to a minimum, and the user experience is just…better.

So, does that mean the Internet is going to become a series of walled gardens, each subject to the whims of that garden’s liege?

I don’t think so. Scroll up and look at that set of values again. I see absolutely no reason why they can not and should not be applied to how we live our lives inside the worlds of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the countless apps we have come to depend upon. But it requires a shift in our relationship to the Internet. It requires that we, as the co-creators of value through interactions, data, and sharing, take responsibility for ensuring that the Internet continues to be a commons.

I expect this will be less difficult that it sounds. It won’t take a political movement or a wholesale migration from Facebook to more open services. Instead, I believe in the open market of ideas, of companies and products and services which identify  the problems I’ve outlined above, and begin to address them through innovative new approaches that solve for them. I believe in the Internet. Always have, and always will.


Predictions 2012 #4: Google’s Challenging Year

We Need An Identity Re-Aggregator (That We Control)

Set The Data Free, And Value Will Follow

A Report Card on Web 2 and the App Economy

The InterDependent Web

On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme

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  • Brian S Hall

    I have benefitted a great deal from the “closed” web. iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, Blackberry, Kindle to name just a few. Is Netflix “open”? Amazon? MLB at Bat? Paypal? The closed web has done more for me, I’d estimate, than the open web.  

    And I think anyone that suggests Google is “open” hasn’t been paying much attention of late. 

    • Anonymous

      I’m not arguing whether Google is open or closed. All the services you mention sprung from the “open internet.” Remember the iPhone’s first marketing tagline? “The Internet in your pocket.”

      • Brian S Hall

        Ha! Even from the grave Steve Jobs messes with me! 

  • Mark Ayers

    Methinks Google will be hard to kill. It may have started later, but the games on Google+ are much closer to native games are are generally vastly higher quality than Facebook games. The Chrome Web Store is also thriving.

  • Mark Ayers

    @Brian S. Hall Chrome, Android, APIs for everything, they’re a lot more “open” than anybody else.

  • Jonah Stein


    Google is just as much of a threat to the ecosystem as Facebook or Apple.  Between cloaking referrer data from organic search, their algorithm updates that favor big brands and their relentless land grab that pushes Google products and services into the search results page, Google is choking the life out of hundreds of thousands of small business and website owners.  While it is true that no one owns their search rank or is entitled to search engine traffic, the real danger to this notion of the commons is the gate keeper.  Google is certainly a gate keeper that is shutting of traffic for many business and choosing which business models are winners and losers.

    • Anonymous

      I hear you. I believe Google is being forced to play the same game Apple, Facebook et al are playing. It’s survival and it’s, from their POV, “living in reality.” I do hope these are short term moves.

      • Jonah Stein

        Some may be short term moves (search plus your world exclusion of Twitter and Facebook results) but he most damaging ones for the ecosystem are the exclusion of search data are the dominance of shopping results by a few big box retailers.  Have you sat down with your clients lately and seen what percentage of their Google traffic has the keyword not provided?  You know how much that decreases the value of the page view for the publisher!

        The decision to wipe out affiliates, internet directories, and any other site whose business model is based on arbitrage or lead generation (unless they are a brand) may make sense for Google and may even help fight spammers, but it is very destructive.  Google gets back pennies for every dollar in value they destroy.

  • Anonymous

    As is often the case with love, much unhappiness comes from wishing things to remain exactly as they are. We have gone from everyone looking in the same mirror and seeing the same reflection, to a crazy quilt of user experiences. This balkanization is the result of forces ranging from inexorable demographics to globalization. As a result, while we think we are all in agreement on how the Internet should work, it is amazing how difficult it has been to get agreement on simple concepts like Net Neutrality. 

    (For myself, I prefer the definition that “your video bits shall not take precedence over my video bits”. But the closer you look at the issue, the more you’ll find people who find violent exception.)The biggie IMHO is the concept of sovereignty, which is to nation states what privacy is to people. While it is de rigeur to beat up the US on IP, the reality is that the playing field has been horribly distorted by bad actors who have influenced vendors to give them broad and sweeping powers over their citizens, but the quid pro quo they get in exchange for allowing internet services to run.

    • Anonymous

      “sovereignty is to nation states what privacy is to people.” Interesting statement. Just out of curiosity, how might we complete this simile: “X is to corporations as privacy is to people”?

      • Anonymous

        LOL — the cynic in me would say, “Litigation is to corporations as privacy is to people”. 

        Most people believe privacy is the foundation of their online rights, even if most never raise a fuss. Corporations, on the other hand, are wonderful at weaponizing intent, and litigation is the mechanism of choice at protecting that particular process. 
        As usual, YMMV based on where you happen to live :)

      • Sscottcto

        It depends…
        Are we talking corporate users or corporate providers?

        As users corporations are like people and “privacy” is still the word. B2B applications running in clouds on the web are a good example of this where the corporation consuming the technology actually wants their own garden. The internet represents infrastructure in this case – not a commons.

        As providers the story is different and – again – it matters what the offering is – social media, communities, B2C apps, B2B apps, etc… The word will be different for all of them (although “litigation” is a good proxy, I agree).

        The metaphors should be extended IMO.

        If the web/internet is foundationally a wilderness, then search was the first organized infrastructure like railroads and highways. The idea that people would aspire to be more comfortable is not a unary measure but a continuum from small towns to cities(with all of their bustle and seediness) to theme parks (with all of their gardens, characters, and rides).

        You can’t go back to wilderness alone. The real question I have is how can we allow the wilderness to coexist?

        The infrastructure we have collectively built is too valuable (economically) to constrain by saying that nobody can build prorietary things upon it within the standards (which are pretty broad). Government intervention is an attempt at the equivalent of “zoning law” but the problem is that boundaries are hard to draw.

        • Anonymous

          A fine metaphor thanks

  • spragued

    When the history of this period is written it will be seen IMHO that the “open” web was a transient anomaly, left-over from the academic origins of current network architecture. As soon as the internet was opened to commercial entities it was just a matter of time until proprietary controls were imposed. For entrepreneurs I can see why the walls going up is troublesome, but for consumers the walls around a nice garden don’t make it less nice.

    • Anonymous

      I worry about the world being all garden, no tangled bank

  • Dominic Sayers

    Maybe Google is being “forced” to put up its own walled garden, although it doesn’t appear to be kicking too hard against the traces in doing so. I have to agree with Jonah Stein and Brian S Hall that your original post sounds curiously old fashioned. Google as the defender of freedom? Get with it, grandad.

    • Anonymous

      I wasn’t saying Google is the defender of freedom. I was saying it was the product of it….

      • Dominic Sayers

        And of course you are right. But surely the same could be said of the other evildoers? In the end they have all gone over to the dark side. Perhaps Google deserves some credit for having started out with good intentions and having hung on for longer than most.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, the same could be said. But search was/is the app that united the independent web. That is fracturing now

  • Colin Hope-Murray

    As an IT Professional with 40 years of experience I would hate to see the efforts of so many world-class engineers and architects, those that built the Internet and the Web and the Open Stack, evaporate in the desert created by proprietary boundaries.  The Open Web is not an anomaly, it is the result of over 40 years of evolutionary progress.  But it will be transient if we as a collective body do not collaborate and contribute in the same way as those earlier pioneers and determine the necessary requirements to ensure that the creative commons retain flexibility, mobility and transparency.

    Fortunately we have the Social Media to assist these efforts, and while we may take advantage of the fantastic opportunities to contact, interact and collaborate with thousands of like minded individuals and groups, we must also be cogniscent of the burden of volume and divergent proprietary protocols and data models that divide and dilute our knowledge and awareness.  While Google is more open than others, it is still attempting to ring fence their estate.  I believe that they intend to help mankind but their profit imperative is greater.  We have a duty to keep them honest and the others on track. The Open Web, greater discussion and a common resolution is the path we have to follow.

    Great debate and one that needs to be considered deeply and take into account multiple perspectives so that we create the open world envisaged by the aforementioned pioneers.

    Thank you John, for a thoughtful and provocative post.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your comments, Colin. I’ll be digging more deeply into this – I have much to learn.

    • Dave Culbertson

      Bravo Colin! As I’ve tweeted before, brands that are rushing to make their primary digital address a Facebook instead of a website lack imagination and technical skills. I recently had a conversation with a Social Media “guru” who said that brands must make Facebook their focus since that’s where people are online. I countered, “all of those Facebook users – and many more – are already online, on the Web!”

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  • Michael Hutchinson

    All of this discussion about Facebook is like rearranging the deck
    chairs on the Titanic. Companies rise and companies fall, especially
    ones with walled gardens. Whenever I see companies referring potential customers to
    Facebook I immediately think of AOL keywords.

    A much more immediate and dangerous threat to the internet are the global attacks from governments, fueled by hysteria over terrorism, copyright, or child pornography. Almost every country in the world either already censors the internet, or is in the process of implementing a censorship scheme. The shocking infographic from early 2011 linked to below doesn’t even include all of the countries that have, or are considering, installing filters using secret blacklists, almost always in the name of “protecting the children”, that were used later to filter a vast amount of other material.

    The real story of the week isn’t the Facebook, it’s Twitter censoring Tweets and selling it as an improvement on current policy:

    “Twitter currently performs no political censorship at all and
    has never once removed a tweet at the request of a foreign government.
    The false choice between degrees of political censorship belies
    Twitter’s third option, of continuing its censorship-free tradition
    instead of playing with political fire abroad.”

    • Anonymous

      Yes, Rob’s piece did give me pause.

      • Michael Hutchinson

        And now there’s this story about major retailers shuttering their Facebook storefronts due to lack of interest:

        Like I said, AOL keywords all over again.

  • Tomasvdb

    Thanks John, very thought inducing post that even prompted me to comment. 
    I agree with Colin that the web as we currently know it is a transient state and that it will be impossible to maintain a frontier mentality. The only people who like a wilderness are pioneers, the bulk of the population wants to live comfortably in suburbs. 
    But at the same time we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what ‘the web’ could look like and is possible of. And i don’t think there is a joint effort or conspiracy to make the web less open. It’s just companies who once were disruptive, growing up, noticing the disruption around them and running scared. 
    Google as a company seems to have been caught off guard by FB in the last few years and is now exhibiting a knee jerk reaction by forcing users into their own garden. 
    Apple on the other hand seems to have been a lot more comfortable destroying it’s own products by moving onto the next thing. They’re not panicking or circling the wagons in defense. 
    Facebook or just on a roll at the moment, and to be fair, the only reason walled gardens are seemingly on the rise is b/c everything sees FB doing it, and it seems to work wonders for them so companies try to copy them. 
    I don’t believe this will work long term, b/c as much as users like trimmed gardens, they don’t like walls without gates. Yes FB will still have a lot of growth potential as the rest of the world catches up with the web, but their own success will get them to clash not with competitors but with governments. They’ll lose focus, draw more attention to privacy issues and people will move on. 
    Long term, I think we’re moving to a web where every individual is his own node, not tied to any specific platform and having control over his/her own digital privacy, consciously choosing  to share or withdraw (just as important) information. When individuals are this way empowered, the only acceptable web will be an open one. 

    • Anonymous

      I agree with the idea of an individual driven web, and very much hope we don’t have to start over to get there (IE, that Facebook and others let us take our data with us)

    • Anonymous

      Re Apple: they’re not panicking because they don’t rely on the open web, every product they create, destroy and move on to is proprietary, closed. Whether others are building barriers don’t concern Apple, because their model has always been having their own wall garden and charge a premium for it.

      User data is gold, as long as it remains the case, whatever facebook alternatives emerge, they will also try to collect as much as data and keep them from others in order to optimize users monetization. as for the users, I think the average users perfer convenience to granular control and are willing to sacrifice privacy for it. 

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  • Brian

    Always enjoy your perspective, John, and share what I interpret your take on privacy to be (other posts). 

    I can appreciate the point about “ No preset rules about how data is used. ” being core to the privacy rally, and at the same time see inconsistency and lack of one common means as an integral part of providing privacy; Chris Poole’s point about multi-faceted individuals (which you helped expose me to in the Web2.0 summit.)

    I don’t yet believe or trust that any one central standard would be effective in upholding privacy to the degree I’d like. There is too much value (money, information, power) to be had – meaning vulnerability, risk. One system is unity, simplistic and it is also simply one target for anyone wanting to get their hands on it.

    For all the potential good you suggest above, I would love to hear your take on the implications to privacy, and assuming you agree with the intertwined nature of the two, which is the higher order bit in your mind – open web or user data / privacy.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Brian. I’m not absolutely sure what you’re asking me to comment on? Privacy is so nuanced, I want to make sure I understand your question.

      • Brian

        One could argue the fractured web with walls is a good thing privacy wise – user data is segregated.

        For example, if you didn’t want Facebook Social Graph to know the books you just bought on Amazon, today that’s not really an issue thanks to the “closed” web.

        If forced to make one more important than the other – “open/common” web, where I would argue user data privacy is at greater risk, or today’s fractured web with walls where data breech is semi-contained (limited to the closed site)… would you pick today’s closes web for the comparatively lesser privacy risk? …or do you believe the Common / Open web advantages outweigh the increased risks to personal data privacy?

        • Anonymous

          User data should be aggregated – in your own locker, so to speak. That’s where it needs to live. Under your control.

          • Brian

            I’d appreciate a post on how you think the locker might work (or link to a previous post if you’ve already covered this and I’ve overlooked it).

            I can’t get my head around how a hosted/managed solution would be viable long term – what’s the business model? Perhaps your idea is this would be done at the endpoint/user device with synching capabilities?

          • Anonymous

            Best person to talk about that are the Singly guys. I posted about them (and they posted as well) here:

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  • hypermark

    While I agree with a LOT of what you are saying, I think that some of this boils down to the hard truth that Conventional Wisdom is dead. 

    For so long, we’ve been told that being vertically integrated is death, that open always wins, and implicit in this, that there is “one right way.”I’d argue that what we are seeing is larger Post-Internet economy reboot, as book stores realize that they can’t compete with Amazon if every book is a commodity, Dell realizes that they can’t compete with Apple if all PCs are commodities, Target realizes that they can’t compete with Walmart or Amazon if all of their products are a commodity, and even open Android yields only one or two economic winners, and a bunch of big unit volume, zero profit losers.

    A lot of this boils down to outcomes prevailing over attributes, which is a good thing, IMHO. And in that regard, openness is just an attribute. It’s a nice attribute, all things being equal, but all things aren’t equal.  The paradoxical truth is that for all of the goodness of the Web it has probably killed more industries and more jobs than it has created.

    • Anonymous

      I wonder if there’s a way of testing that idea….

      • hypermark

        Testing which idea? The question of whether more jobs have been killed by the web than created by it?

        • Anonymous

          yes. Hard to do, but worth it.

          • hypermark

            Where would you start? Is the government’s jobs data parsed in a meaningful fashion? Would HR firms be a logical junction point? Economists (shudder)? It’s a great question, and I have pontificated it for a while as a rhetorical question, but if I’m gonna make the assertion, it’s worth trying to prove/disprove it.

          • Anonymous

            Very hard to determine.

          • hypermark

            Alright. It’s a provocative enough of a topic, that I will take the challenge to chase the answer down.  Thanks for instigating. :-)

          • Anonymous

            This is a great question but I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to prove/disprove.   Historically there is the Lump of Labor fallacy from economics that shows that those made jobless by a new industry/technology almost always find new jobs.   They adapt and the economy adjusts.   My intuition is that while the Internet has destroyed many industries and jobs, it doesn’t amount to more than a rounding error in overall employment rates.  The more profound question is likely to be:  what kind of new jobs has it created?   For instance, journalists being replaced by freelance bloggers and so on.    I am not arguing either way since the question is new to me but these new jobs have ramifications for both quality of life and quality of society.

          • hypermark

            A ‘fuzzy’ data point to the argument that jobs move from field A to field B is that I recently talked with a friend in retail real estate about how this trend is playing out in his industry. 

            His sentiment is that more of the jobs are moving overseas, as commoditization drives an emphasis on cost reduction.

            Similarly, more of the jobs that remain US-based are moving from higher paying ones with benefits, to lower paying independent contractors with no benefits.

            It’s one datapoint, but this individual has visibility across hundreds of shopping centers and thousands of retailers.

          • Sergio Nunez

            I can only try to make a short statement to answer that question. The search for efficiency, man’s ultimate obsession, always relocates jobs from low-value activities to high-value, 
            sacrificing those who are less well adapted. A single modern man can do the job that previously required 4 men. It always destroys more than it creates.

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  • Gordon Rae

    I don’t agree that the “old” Internet is shrinking. It’s growing rapidly, even if walled gardensare growing too. If Facebook is being positioned as ‘all you will ever need’ I think that’s a miscalculation. FB got big by 1) being an easy-going place to hang out and do casual socialising. Then it positioned itself as an 2) awesome marketing proposition for retail brands, because that was where their purchasers were. That phase is only just getting going. If you look at Zuck’s IPO letter, he’s saying FB is all about 1). Maybe 2) won’t deliver the projected revenue figures, and Zuck will say “Well, I did warn you.” 

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  • atimoshenko

    It is not that the old web is shrinking or in danger of being destroyed, it is that as the world is becoming more and more connected, we have begun to realise that it is useful to connect in a variety of ways and principles.

    New platforms are not replacing the web, they are complementing it. Since every frame/platform/set of assumptions comes with its drawbacks and tradeoffs, platform diversity is much, much better than platform monoculture. The ‘traditional’ web has many advantages, but it is not the only good way to do things – for the sake of resilience and innovation we should be welcoming of alternative platforms based on alternative sets of assumptions.

    Provided we can freely move in and out of platforms, keeping our data but not our tools, true openness is letting a thousand platforms bloom (and compete with one another).

    • Anonymous

      I think the key is what you said – that we can take our data, and that these platforms can in fact connect to each other. That is not the case so far.

      • atimoshenko

        Yeah, we have one side (Facebook, Amazon, now Google?) pushing for a
        user -> service -> data -> device model 

        and another (Apple) pushing for a 
        user -> device -> data -> service model

        but what I would really like to see is a
        user -> data -> device -> service model (can Dropbox be an example of this?)

        Honestly, I have pretty high hopes – as the amount of connected devices proliferates (and I’m thinking more along the lines of the front door talking to the light switches than an Internet-connected fridge), and the volumes of data generated becomes high, the ways in which we could usefully apply and re-mix the data would become so unpredictable a priori that (successful) platforms would have not choice but to switch to the ‘data-user proximity’ approach.

        • Anonymous

          Well put.

        • dbv

          shouldn’t the Facebook, Google, Amazon model be:
          user -> device -> service -> data ?

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  • Hashim Warren

    What bothers me is that this competition from the big players is giving us less choice, not more. Their tactics are making it so that the only things we can see are the third party options they choose for us.

    So, as a music lover, you have Facebook pushing you towards Spotify, and Google Plus Your World pushing you towards Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears.

    The government is doing a poor job of web regulation, and so are the big companies. We need a Public Advocate for the Web, who will pressure both the gov’t and corporations. 

    We need a new Ralph Nader.

    • Anonymous

      Don’t we still have an old one? (grin)

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  • Atilla Hun

    Those who do not understand history are doomed to watch “Groundhog’s Day” over and over and over … or something like that.

    20 years ago this article was titled ” It’s not whether Microsoft’s …” In 20 years it will be titled “It’s not whether Apple’s …”

    The song remains the same.

    • Anonymous

      Not necessarily. Very different stage. Much larger and more vocal audience.

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  • Thomas Hawk

    Social is the next big wave of the web.  Information that is relevant to me is inherently personal.  Allowing Google to crawl Facebook’s private pages with user authorization and providing me more personal relevant search results is good for the open web.  Facebook does not seem to want to allow this and I don’t think this has anything to do with engineering, mobility or experience.  Fortunately Google is building a better Facebook with Google+ which they will be able to crawl.

    • Tom blue

      I disagree. When I search for a product or service on google or bing 99% of the time I could careless what my friends say. When I look to buy a car i want to know the reliability, the gas mileage, and the resale value of the car. Information like this comes from a car magazine, or maybe a consumer reports type of site or a review site that has thousands of reviews. I am looking for an expert or a consensus from numerous people. Not a friend(who is not an expert) that posts a status update that reads “my new Subaru outback is rad” or he “likes” Subaru.

      Maybe if google used all of the link metrics within Facebook to help with their rankings I am sure that could help google, but likes and status updates don’t help me.

      I do agree with you on some things though. I really like google+ and I think it is going to to do extremely well, but not for everyone. If you are a marketer and u focus at all on Seo, google is going to force you to use it. However, I don’t see it getting rid of Facebook for the layman. I doubt a mom that has all of her friends and tagged photos on FB will all of the sudden spend a lot of time switching over to a new network.

      Battelle: don’t you think all of these walled gardens existed before too? Think of eBay, amazon, aol back in 2000. I dont things have xhanged as much as you think.

      • Anonymous

        Different kinds of walls and data this time, I’d warrant.

    • dbv

      Mixing ‘traditional’ web search results with social network results is perverse as they are two different markets.  The flaw is the assumption that our circle of friends have all the answers and are more like us than not.  Like the human race, if there wasn’t diversity (in the distribution of genes) we would all be inbred and dead a long time ago.  

      • Anonymous

        It’s not “mixing” it’s having the ability to use one to lever the other, I’d say

        • dbv

          From a consumers pov, Google is
          mixing web search results with social network results.  From an industry pov,
          Google is leveraging its monopoly in web search to gain advantage in a different
          (non-aligned) sector.


          I’m on Facebook but don’t use it
          and have never Like’d a thing.  I am a movie buff and yesterday went over to
          RottenTomatoes to check out the latest trailers.  At the top under Friend
          Activity it showed two FB “friends”, one of whom liked Lost in Translation and
          the other Annie Hall.  I don’t give a rat’s ass what these two remote/distant
          “friends” who I’ve not seen in years recommend.  Why are they showing up on my
          interaction with RottenTomatoes.  My view of RottenTomatoes has diminished
          because it is showing social information that I didn’t opt-in for and it has put
          into my head these two “friends” Like’s and I don’t like that.


          Google Classic was like the joy of
          going to a library and having most of the world’s information instantly
          available.  Today’s Google combo with G+ is like going to a coffee morning (or
          evening bar) with your friends at the library to discuss what new information
          they’ve found on the web and expecting your friends to have all the answers and
          to accept them. 

      • Scott Germaise

        There’s another wrongness to this as well. At least for now. Not everyone in my Personal Social Graph is really all of my Social Graph or Interest Graph. That is, for most folks; it’s likely true that their FB friends are friends by accident of family, geography, school, etc. But don’t represent all their interests. So even if people type “SCUBA” as an Interest in their Profile, it might not be a strong search relevancy signal as compared to things on the social graph. And this could be wrong. Why? Because someone’s SCUBA buddies might not happen to all be on FB with them. (Insert Your Own Example.) In other words, the assumptions that go into the search ranking algorithm when they’re based on social seem like they could be pretty far off. Still, they might not be too far off demographically. Which can matter for advertising relevancy. (In fact, we know this from clicktrhough and revenue already.) Now over time, this may change. Google Circles is actually really smart in this regard as you might have “Hockey Buddies,” vs. “Colleagues,” etc. Facebook’s tools for organizing this are still weak. If it came to pass that these groups were well defined and populated, it would be less “perverse” as you say to use such info as relevancy signals to search results; either for a default list, boosted rank value, or filter.

  • Liam

    Perhaps walled gardens eventually give way to the open Commons, because it’s inherently more productive… We no longer have Compuserv and AOL. I suspect the AppStore will endure for a while (and really it’s not that well weeded) but perhaps there will be a trend to multiple AppStore providers on the Android side, and Apple will eventually feel pressure to follow suit.

    • Anonymous

      Search should find all of it.

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  • PJ Brunet

    I totally agree–but I think you’re overestimating the power of FB and underestimating the power of the Internet

    • Anonymous

      I certainly hope so!

  • Paul Wallbank

    John, you’re spot on with this observation. It’s been quite clear for some time that the big online empires – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are trying to lock us into their own walled gardens.

    In many ways those walled gardens are nice, comfortable places. As you’ve pointed out for engineers, it’s much easier to create for iOS than HTML. For customers, Facebook is safer and non-confronting compared to the web.

    The question is the cost; businesses are already realising the costs of being locked into one empire as they find themselves tied up with increasingly restrictive and arbitrarily enforced T&Cs.

    Consumers too are beginning to realise the costs in both terms of their privacy – something that most people never really thought was worth much – and in a reduced choice or diversity.

    It’s that matter of creating new gatekeepers which both business and consumer internet users are realising this domination isn’t good for them.

    Personally, I’m a little more optimistic. I liken this time as being like period where dinosaurs were at their peak, with the big T-Rex’s and Brontosauruses fighting it out while around their feet the little animals that will dominate the next period of history nimbly avoid being trod upon.

    Hopefully, we won’t get squashed as we enjoy the spectacle of the big guys beating each other up.

    • Anonymous

      Stay small and mammalian, my friend.

  • Anonymous

    The problem I have with this post is the extremist position that either everything is on the Web or the Web is dead. No. Just because we have the Web does not mean every other platform goes away. The Web is the common platform, like outdoors, the public space. We still have private platforms, like indoors, like a private club. The Web doesn’t have the technical ability or product quality to replace these other platforms, even in cases where you might otherwise want it to.

    Google’s problem is that they have set themselves up as gatekeeper of the Web, with the expectation that everybody uses the Web only. The Internet is bigger than the Web and always has been. The Web provides a common platform but it is not the only platform. Information will exist outside of the Web forever. Some stuff simply can’t run on the Web. Some stuff you don’t want to run on the Web.

    So it is the same old extremism problem in computing. Everything must be on the Web, everything must be open source, everything must be delivered in separate components that you have to assemble. Bad dogma. Real people don’t care a bit about any of that. They like iTunes and Facebook better than the Web because they are better than the Web. Instead of blaming iTunes and Facebook for that, it is time for nerds to look in the mirror and see the real problem. The Web still can’t support consumer audio video. That is like digging your own grave. Don’t complain the Web is dying in that case.

    • Anonymous

      I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing for a set of values that we all hold in common.

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  • Ludek Brown

    I still don’t understand why Google needs an access to FB’s internal posts? One of the reasons why I switched from FB to Google+ was the lack of quality content on FB. A lot of my old friends from high school were sharing stuff like “I just made a good tomato soup today” etc. When I google for “how to make tomato soup” the last thing I want to see is my schoolmate’s post. What am I missing here?

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  • Fleone123

    Walled Gardens which Google’s robots can’t navigate and explore “very very on Target and Precise” — how about an alternate google, imagine that! Have you ever seen this quote, google won’t display it: “Simply put : Webstadium is about putting the human element back in to equation of Internet and Web exploration. ”  hmmm seems like someone has thought past the google!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Great post. Stephen Foley wrote a similar piece when google launched its social search but didn’t get much attention. 

    While Google responded very fast to the rise of mobile with the launch of Android to secure a open space where they can operate, mitigating the risks of being locked out by MS and Apple’s walled gardens, I’m surprised it took google so long to realise the reach of their crawler is being curtailed and the open web is shrinking. I think the we need regulation to guarantee users’ rights to their content.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the pointer, will read!

  • fredwilson

    great post John. the open web is worth fighting for. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Fred.

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  • John Daley

    Security concerns also impact how the web will evolve. When Anonymous takes your site down the closed garden of an iOS app begins to look very attractive. 

    • Anonymous

      We don’t toss the Constitution because we are afraid of criminals, do we? Oh wait.

  • george

    John, you are so right! The world I prefer to live in avoids the next generation of cable operators! We need diversity and we need to eliminate creating boarders; that’s what essentially makes the web so empowering!

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  • Jitendra Amesar

    Google is ruining the web search experience by indexing brand pages and social content from your G+ network. The web search experience has always been very clean with search results on the left and ads on the right side of the page. By indexing brand pages, Google is getting more content that originates from the brand / marketing teams into the natural search results section.

    Add Facebook & Twitter streams to these and you will see very few natural results which will be really useful to your query…

    The web should go back to pre ‘Search + Your world’ update by Google…

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  • Randell Jesup

    Interesting post.

    To point #2, I’ll note that Google, Mozilla, Cisco and others are currently working on both WebRTC (realtime peer-2-peer audio/video/data in HTML5 – enables video calling and a lot of other things) but also the W3C is/has defined a full set of device APIs for HTML5 (camera, mic, GPS, positional sensors, etc).  Mozilla’s “Boot 2 Gecko” project/experiment is making heavy use of them.

    In a more general way, I’ll note Mozilla’s mission and actions align with keeping the web open and moving it in that direction.  This is behind many of the mobile and device-focused efforts Mozilla has undertaken – Boot 2 Gecko, Firefox for Android, etc.  Especially these mobile devices (phones and tablets) are poised to move the web back into a technological and potential walled-garden lockin of a magnitude unseen since we broke IE6′s dominance.  It also drives our efforts to supplant or provide alternatives to convenient-but-tracing things like “Login with Facebook” (or Google, etc).

    (longtime Mozilla contributor and recent employee, posting as an individual)

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. I think over time this issue resolves. I just want to point out that it may not if we don’t keep up work like yours.

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  • Thomas Schmitz

    How ironic. Google depends on open walls, yet they have hinted how they intend to shut their own. Last November Google stopped serving referral keywords from Google Search when the person searching is logged into a Google account. This resulted in websites loosing valuable keyword referral data which had been part of the Internet ecosystem since search & analytics day 1.

    • Anonymous

      Yes I’m not sure I get that decision, I’m sure Google has reasons, I have not read deeply on that subject. I’ll go look.

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  • Marco Berrocal

    I too, prefer the Internet over Facebook. I don’t know what is going to happen. The Internet is one of the first (if not the first) medium that is open to the entire world. If you think about, radio, press, tv and telephones have been controlled when they were created. That is the beauty of it. I hope it stays that way. The reason, while I do agree that there is filth everywhere, it’s that the place harbors or has the contribution of some of the great, anonymous minds that have shaped the Web to be this open place of absolute and pure knowledge to be shared everywhere.

    There is a Hemingway quote that is said on the movie Seven, that says, “The World is a Fine Place and Worth Fighting For”. Its true about the Internet as well.

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  • Greg Mathes

    “I see absolutely no reason why they can not and should not be applied to how we live our lives inside the worlds of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the countless apps we have come to depend upon.”

    I’m confused. How can you apply values inside a world that the gatekeeper can prevent you from ever entering? If I’m an a developer who has an app rejected, how do I apply those values?

    • Anonymous

      As far as I can tell from research to date, if you do get in, you can share out. You’re right that if Apple says no, you’re hosed. Then again, Apple has let a lot of apps in that run counter to its dominance (IE other browsers, Google Voice, etc)

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  • Scott Germaise

    A beautiful utopian argument…

    …which history and current trends suggest won’t hold; either from a competitive business environment perspective or the reality of personal behavior. Just to cover the Walled Gardens concept alone for a moment: How does it come to pass that the more influential people get, (be it Bill Joy’s saying “privacy is dead” so long ago, or Jeff Jarvis’ thoughts on openness or Zuckerberg, etc.), the less they think various forms privacy matter to people? (Either real or perceived.) And yet, typical folks like their Walled Gardens. They like things like private, old-fashioned forums where their pseudo-anonymity allows them to explore a hobby, or discuss medical issues that they’d prefer not to have in front of all their friends. They like gatekeepers. And Editors. (Sorry, we call these folks Curators now. I have to keep remembering, “gatekeepers and editors” = bad. “Curators” = good.)

    As for business, of course some standardization is good. All kinds of industry consortia have tried for standards since the Industrial Revolution. And after such standards are formed, what happens? Everyone looks for something on top for a competitive advantage. Ideally an unfair one. And not-so-slowly, we get forks in the road and in our case forks in the code.

    It’s OK that there will be some walled gardens. Really. It is. Some things will be Open. Some things will be walled. Communities are not open. They’re closed. They’re circumscribed by ‘that which is like us’ and this makes sense for essentially tribal humans who’ve always behaved this way. As for what will work, Open vs. Closed? People will vote with their clicks and dollars. What could be more democratic than that?

    • Anonymous

      Curious, have you read Code (Lessig)?

      Sent from my crippled apple device

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