Locked and Bloated

(image Vator News) Companies get big. Companies gain market dominance. Companies slowly pivot from their original values. Companies justify those shifts with nods to shareholder value, or consistent user experience, or inconsistent implementations of their platforms by (former) partners.

It happened to Sun. To Microsoft. To Apple. To Google. It happened in the entertainment business, it’s happening in agriculture, for goodness sake.  Now it’s happening to Facebook and Twitter. (The latest example: Instagram CEO feels Twitter card removal is the correct thing…).

I don’t have any problem with any of that, it is to be expected. The services all these companies provide are great. They’re simply wonderful. And as they get big, they get public, protective, and defensive.

I just wish these companies all had one thing consistently in common: That they let us get our data, our content, and ourselves out of their platforms if we wanted to, in a painless, one click fashion.

Imagine a world where that was possible.

A long, long time ago, at least in Internet years, I wrote a piece called It’s Time For Services on The Web to Compete On More Than Data. This was almost five years ago – January of 2008. I was contemplating the rise of Facebook and the social graph, and Google’s nascent response. In the post I argued that Facebook should let us all take our social graph wherever we want, because the company will win not on locking us in, but in servicing us better than anyone else.

Oh, how utopian that all sounds.

Now, pretty much every major Internet player is scrambling to lock us into a cloud commit conundrum. Even Twitter, in certain ways – it wants content viewed on its platform, not others’.

Again, imagine a world where coming and going as a consumer was a given, a right. Imagine that when I left Apple’s iPhone for Google’s Nexus 4, all my iTunes purchases followed me (and yes, I mean apps too). Is that too much to ask for? Really? Then you must not be an entrepreneur, because this kind of lock-in is ripe for disruption.

Five years ago, I predicted that Facebook would fail if it insisted on locking our social graph into its service:

With one move, Facebook can change the face (sorry) of this debate by making it falling-down easy to export your social graph. And I predict that it will.

Why? Because I think in the end, Facebook will win based on the services it provides for that data. Set the data free, and it will come back to roost wherever it’s best used. And if Facebook doesn’t win that race, well, it’ll lose over time anyway.

Time is ticking. It won’t be this year, it won’t be next. But the day will come when differentiation is based on service, not data lock in.

10 thoughts on “Locked and Bloated”

  1. I think this approach can work, and we’ll see some companies go down this path. But not in ad-supported models.

    Ultimately, users should pay for the sites they use if they want data ownership. As much as I’d love it if every free site I have ever used gave me my data, in the format I want — I realize something/someone has to pay the bills. That something is data – and there isn’t much incentive for these sites to make it super easy to get data out.

    1. Good point. But even in ad-supported models, I think customers should have the right to data and content they co-create. Those ad-supported models that make that possible will thrive over those that don’t, it’ll become a differentiator, then, I’d hope, table stakes.

      1. I agree many customers want that (I’m one of them). But, if consumers want that bad enough, they should pay for it. Only the real content producers really care enough about that though — it’s a small chunk of the overall population. Only 10% of people really create any content at all, everyone else just consumes. Anything I deem I want to own long term, I write or post on my own blog, but do that knowing that it would certainly reach more people if I posted it as a “note” on FB.

      2. We (by we I mean all, including those who don’t create content per se) are paying with our attention – and the exchange is the service. The service could/should include access to data co-created, is my argument…

      3. Agreed. But I think the market may force it over time as our culture wakes up to the value of data.

  2. “As they get big, they get public, protective and defensive.” That really struck a cord with me, and I hold the position that our personal data imprint is rightfully ours. On some level, I visualize platforms as institutions, operating within the university system. They cultivate their own gardens but they always work in cooperation to allow members the right to gain “access and use” of information when requested. The web community really needs to visualize this level of cooperation; they are far too focused on creating limitations that only slows progress down.

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