UPDATED 15:26 EDT / APRIL 21 2010

An Open Letter to My Friends Concerned About Open [#F8]

image Ever since Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address this morning at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, I’ve been fielding a variety of phone calls ranging from panicked to outraged from many advocates of Open. One of the recurring things I keep hearing is that this is a decisive blow against Facebook and against and open and free Web. The other thing I keep hearing from people is “Why aren’t you more outraged about this, Mark?”

I’ve got about four post windows open right now, some I started writing last night, and some that I’ve started writing since the start of F8 this morning, but all of them delve into the importance of the various key announcements debuted today.  Each one of them is starting to look like they’ll end up being 2000+ word posts, so I felt it necessary for the purposes of relevance and timeliness to get something shorter out first.

To address the second point first, I’m not outraged about this obvious landgrab today from Facebook because I’ve long since resigned myself to Facebooks dominance of the social web, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy for the rest of the web their actions may be.

The height of my passion against Facebook had to be in November 2007, when Social Ads and Project Beacon were first announced. I wrote a long string of editorials with such strongly worded headlines that Pete Cashmore himself came in behind me and rewrote them to make them a bit more palatable. I was on the cutting edge of the Facebook backlash at the time, and it eventually grew into several lawsuits, public protests and user revolts. Still, Facebook’s growth continued largely uninhibited. Over time, I came to grips with the fact that principles of Open and non-walled-gardens only really appeal to me and the minority of people in the world who think like me.  The rest of the world doesn’t live online, at least not imageyet, and as such don’t really care if there’s an RSS feed or API to access all of their data should the need arise, and don’t care about privacy violations until they directly affect their life.

So when I look at the announcements today, I don’t really see anything that outrages me more than what I was already outraged about. Facebook keeps a firm grip on their data, and what’s in their database stays in their database unless they authorize it’s release (and even then, it can be taken away at their whim).

All that said, there were a lot of interesting things debuted here that caught my attention a lot more than I anticipated they would (I really imagined, this morning, that this conference would be a snoozer). In the broad view, this was a perfectly crafted event to jazz up the Facebook ecosystem. Facebook did the exact opposite thing than what Twitter did with the Chrip conference last week. The left a lot of meat on the bone for agencies, developers and content producers to chew on and make money from. Twitter, on the other hand, hammered home exactly what they were taking off the banquet table.

As a side note, not that there was a lot stiff competition between the two other than in a sense of a David and Goliath battle, but this will only serve to further the gap between the two social networks.

There are three key things, as an Open advocate, you should pay attention to from today’s keynote:

1) Facebook is not going to get grassroots adoption with the new like platform. Aside from it being a pain in the butt to get true seamless Facebook integration on a typical Open Source content management system, Drupal and WordPress (and many other content management systems with wide adoption) have pledged support for ActivityStrea.ms, an open standard that in the end will benefit content producers on the web in many of the same ways that the new Universal Like system will benefit them.  Certainly, we’ll see prevalence of Facebook on mainstream websites, but the limited benefits for medium to small content producers, combined with difficulty of tight CMS integration will limit the usage of the platform at the grassroots level. At the very least, this should provide a small measure of hope to advocates of Open.

2) Facebook is leaving a lot of money on the table. One of my principal disappointments with Social Ads at their debut in 2007 continues to be my disappointment in Facebook today.  The small to medium grade content producer gets screwed when it comes to ad revenue, a topic I and others have talked about ad nauseum. In one of my phone calls today, I gave an example using my website as the test case.

Let’s say I get screwed over by a bank, and I write a post about them, and “credit repair” comes up as a keyword in my post. If I’m running AdSense, I’m going to get contextual matches for Lifelock or CCCS. The fact of the matter is that I’ve probably got 15 – 20 close friends that still read my personal blog, and the rest of my audience reads me at SiliconANGLE. The chances that those 15-20 people are in need of lifelock services is pretty rare, and even if one or two of them are, that’s only $.50 in my pocket at best.

Let’s say Facebook debuted their own version of Social Ads in a web deployment similar to AdSense. They can serve ads, knowing that my 15-20 friends are early adopters, for the next stealth startup looking for users, and possibly capture and convert my entire audience.

No matter how you cut that, it’s more revenue for someone like me than what AdSense could offer, and that would be something that could achieve grassroots adoption in a way no other Facebook offering can.

3) Facebook, with the Open Graph API, will force every private silo of data to do what Facebook itself refuses to do: Open up. This is probably the most key takeaway anyone who’s a fan of Open can come away with from this keynote, and probably something that was the most glossed over by everyone I talked to today. In case you missed it, it’s a move by Facebook, using their market-dominant position in terms of the social web and attention, to force content sites like Pandora, IMDB, Last.FM and even basic content developers, to use principles of the Semantic web to expose the data in their silos (i.e., on the profile page for Green Day, tagging and category data is exposed in the HTML on Pandora’s website). By contrast, Facebook exposes some data via their API, but not in a truly Open sense in the way that Google or even Twitter do.

Regardless of your opinion about Facebook, they’ve given a gift to not just themselves, but every other service on the web with the ability to scrape and spider. Given that this is a nascent standard with highly limited adoption, the head start Facebook has on deciphering this data and utilizing isn’t very much ahead of what Google has.

I Haven’t Blown a Gasket but I’m Not a Facebook Evangelist, Either

imageI’ll be writing more in depth on the micro-analysis of each aspect of the announcements later today and tomorrow, but this aspect of it seemed important enough to address since so many folks reached out personally to me on the topic.

This isn’t the end of the Open Web. There are still a few more tricks up its sleeve, and several missteps here by Facebook to counteract. Facebook is clearly market-dominant, here, and there are great strides to make to topple the giant, but nothing that happened today has caused me the level of distress as a fan of Open that it has several of my friends.

So, fellow freetards, stay the course and keep the faith. Your day will yet come.


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