Facebook in 2010: no longer a walled garden

A lot of what I’ve been working on the past two years has been built on the assumption that the model that social networks use today will fundamentally change. Social networks have largely been built on the premise of being walled gardens in such a way that users can’t communicate or share content or friends across networks; put simply this is what keeps a Facebook user from being able to send a message to a MySpace user. This is the same model that destroyed AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy’s ISP businesses when normal people chose the Internet itself versus their thoughtfully curated walled gardens.

Over the past year we’ve seen an uptick in the infrastructure, development tools and projects designed to build the social web (n.b. I define the social web as something that is inherently decentralized, just like the web itself). On top of that, MySpace has gone from being off of most developer’s radars to the most open social network in existence. With MySpace I’m able to use my account to sign into other sites via OpenID, share my activity using Activity Streams, build applications using OpenSocial, interact with their APIs using OAuth and access APIs that not only allow the creation of new content within MySpace’s garden but also extract data from it.

While Facebook has made significant contributions to open source projects, ranging from some of their own to memcached, they’ve largely been absent from much of this progress around building the social web (remember, I define it as being inherently decentralized). Instead, like Microsoft they have willfully ignored many industry efforts in favor of their own proprietary development platforms. To their credit, they’ve been one of the most innovative social networks over the past two years, pushing the boundaries of what’s been thought of as possible with features like social tagging in photos, Newsfeed, Platform, Beacon, integrated chat and Connect.

Two weeks ago this changed. Facebook joined the board of the OpenID Foundation, released two-way APIs around status, notes, pictures and videos, hosted a user experience summit focused on OpenID and released a blog commenting widget powered by Connect. Since then they’ve also talked about how they wish to support the Activity Streams project and have reiterated their commitment to the sort openness that we’ve been promoting as key pieces of the social web.

I know what you’re thinking: “talk is cheap.” True, Digg said they’d support OpenID three years ago and we’ve seen…or wait, no we haven’t! I wish I had something concrete to point at to show that my next argument isn’t crazy, but I don’t. All that I can point to is the change I’m seeing when interacting with Facebook and their interactions with developers this year compared to the past.

My prediction is that by the end of the year Facebook will become the most open social network on the social web. I believe that not only have they now found business value in doing so, but also truly believe that the next phase of their mission, “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” requires that they do so. This means that anyone building a business based on the notion that Facebook will remain a walled garden and won’t adapt – as was true with traditional media when blogging came about – will have their world turned upside down this year.

Disagree if you like, but my second argument is that if Facebook does not seriously embrace these ideas this year that their current position of dominance will be usurped. I’m not saying that Facebook will go away, that all of my friends will leave, that it will become irrelevant or that tens of thousands of developers will move on overnight. This year, there is an amazing opportunity to find and define a proper balance between traditional walled-garden social networks and completely decentralized efforts like the DiSo Project.

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  • I agree w/ you in that Facebook will be the most open social network out there by the end of the yar, in a lot of ways they already are. I have been saying for a long time that Facebook is going to change the way that we, as developers, build solutions, and I stick by that. They might not be changing the world (twitter is handling that) but they are changing the web.

    I started adding facebook connect to client websites last year, these are websites that had been using open-id for years, and it was immediately accepted by site users, while open-id has remained a novelty to most…

  • Interesting.

    What will drive this is not business logic, as you’ve applied here, but the culture at Facebook itself.

    It was only a few weeks ago that Facebook announced that it would own everyone’s data forever. Then they were slapped hard. Now they are letting the community write the policies (more or less).

    If the culture continues in this direction, full openness is inevitable. As we move forward in the spirit of openness, applications and personalized sites will drive the direction of the social web.

    My question is: Where does Facebook’s value come from? Is it the associations? Is it the interface? Is it the application platform?

    Right now, Facebook does get value from being walled. Are they savvy enough to make the transition? Or will internal fear and culture drive them to remain closed?

  • I’m not convinced that Facebook’s change to their Terms of Service was actually about trying to own data forever. In today’s world, when you delete your Facebook account they’re able to guarantee that they will delete all of the content you’ve uploaded/created within Facebook. If this content starts to become more widely distributed via things like Connect, they’ll no longer be able to guarantee that when you delete your Facebook account all copies of your data will also be deleted elsewhere on the web.

  • Christian Tietze

    I hoped that social services would eventually open up and serve as a kind of centralized or focal point of my web identity. Currently, myopenid.com serves me my OpenID and I do trust the protocol and the service. Facebook could have been something great for a long time yet but it happened that they got stuck, somehow, in their walled garden. Trust in Facebook isn’t that big after all anymore.

    I like to refer to http://webdesignfromscratch.com/future-social-web-experience.php. Especially Facebook (or before I’d have said: MySpace) seems to be able to do what Ben Hunt describes in his article. A giant like Google or Microsoft (with their huge infrastructure) would be cool, too, but we don’t see them moving in that direction, or do we?

    Hopefully Ben’s vision will come reality once. And I really hope we could all trust in whatever service makes it — for it’s a really big deal of confidental information and privacy.

  • I agree with your second argument, Facebook will become irrelevant if it maintain it’s current course, as it is already becoming…

    However, I don’t think they will figure that out by themselves, you are being too optimistic about it.

    If I were to make a prediction for 2010 I would say that Facebook will be either dead or totally discredited due to sequential bad moves consequence of their proprietary thinking.

  • Post ignores 800 pound gorilla in the corner of the room?

    Facebook’s puppet master, Steve Ballmer, will never ever, EVER allow them to open up!

    Zuckerberg ows Ballmer $400,000,000.00

  • If Facebook will ultimately build a stronger and more successful long term business by becoming more open, I don’t see why a smart investor would prohibit that. That said, I don’t think Microsoft has a board seat anyway.

  • If your (well founded) predictions come true, this would be really good news for facebook users (ummmm… everyone?). The openness of data is what has really sarked the explosive growth of twitter in the form of twitter web and desktop apps. A fully open facebook, and by extension a truly full facebook api, could really start a whole new wave of applications based on the massive amount of data available through the service.

  • It pleases me to see that Facebook seems to be slowly embracing the social web, and I agree with your definition’s excusion of walled gardens. The walled garden concept is exactly why AOL’esque services failed.

    Regardless of whether or not Facebook opens its walls significantly, I see it losing relevance as a social portal, but gaining relevance as an innovator in social media.

    OpenID is pivotal for social web to to grow, and its support seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

  • Looks interesting and I look forward to seeing it – I guess we must not forget that with 175m users and growing, we cant expect them to be as agile as they once were – these things will come, it will just take time. To get it wrong would be very bad…

  • Actually, David, in today’s world you cannot delete your Facebook account. And they do not delete any of your data.

    I’ve been free of the Facebook for over a year now so I might be tad out of date, but I figure I would have heard if they’d changed that.

    I had to email privacy@facebook.com (their only published email address – and indeed, once you get support, you’ll realise it’s literally their only public email address) and they refused to delete my account until I had removed every scrap of data from it.

    I’m sure you’ve heard the stories before. “Lachlan is no longer in a relationship” (my fiancee loved that). “Lachlan is no longer friends with David.” For all 400-something relationships. Deleting applications, interests and personal details pales in comparison.

    Tell me they’ve removed that kind of psychological cost from their system and I’ll being to consider that they actually might be changing.

  • I posted a long time ago that the next wave in social networking was likely to be niche sites appealing to specialist interest or specific objectives. It has been slow coming but initiatives like OpenID and Facebook Connect will make them easier to use for those already involved in mainstream social networking. Both initiatives also enable your activities on those remote networks to now be streamed back as status updates.

    And this is, I think, what Facebook is preparing for. It may not be the social network of choice as peoples needs develop (like we all outgrew AOL). but it wants to be the entry point, identity owner and aggregator. With what we see happening I think they are already there.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

  • Neal J

    David – As you explained MySpace has done a great job in bringing down the walled garden. Why do you think the strategy hasnt worked for them in terms of attracting more users, engagement, etc?

    I think FB has played their cards correctly. Build a walled garden and slowly start opening up when you have more than sealed the SN space.

  • susan julia

    But doesn’t this carry the same inherent flaw as globalization…one site gets compromised and due to their interconnectivity they ALL get compromised…

    Globalization not only exploited weaker economies, it also resulted in their sharing in the criminal high risk behavior of Wall Street banksters that has had such catastrophic consequences for all involved,especially those that were forced to buy into it–Iceland comes to mind. By contrast, Hugo Chavez refused to play the globalization game and has managed to avoid the total economic collapse that is taking place around the world.

    I don’t know, as soon as I read this the disaster of globalization came to mind…like the Rache says, “can anyone talk be down on this?”

  • Louis

    Could someone please enlighten me as to;

    1. Why FB going open is actually in the interest of general everyday users of FB and not just other businesses or technologists who want a piece of the data pie that FB has built. Do users really care about(want) data portability etc or would it in fact not be a cause of worry for them?
    2. Why being open would be such a good business move for Facebook or any business for that matter; or more to the point why going open wouldn’t in fact reduce its competitive advantage.
    3. How real the similarities really are between FB’s walled garden and AOL’s.
    4. Why FB can’t succeed with a ‘walled garden’ when Apple has so far done so.

    I guess I just don’t buy into this “open up or die” notion (yet) but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

  • hi there,

    Don’t you think that Facebook will be the most open “highway” on the social web.

    What I mean is that once you are on FB, you can have access to any other locations, if it remains on FB highway.

    FB don’t control your destination but the way you go there.

    What do you think?

  • this is a beut

  • This has proved an interesting thread to revisit after Facebook’s acquisition of FriendFeed. It may only have been 5 months ago that this thread was started, but you could have predicted that purchase on the back of it!

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ

  • majid

    you may use html tags for style

  • Tim

    Well, it’s almost a year from the date of this post and Facebook is still a closed gate compared to Myspace.

  • bruce wayne

    Mr. Recordon
    You are a sell out and a shill …You have helped a company build tools to close off the internet….You know that ….Your FB Closed Graph is not bi directional….You have to be a member of FB to take advantage of the FB closed graph…..I m even sickend that you have been given any media space to defend your sad and despicable activity…As a developer and ex proponent o of the open interent I find your defense of FB hollow and laughable…..I know that you cannot possibly believe that what you are saying is true or that any good will come from it….As for the 24 hour caching BS that you are spewing…since when does a company have the right to decide how long members information are cached….Members should have a say in this….You nor FB should have the right to decide anything concerning members content without the members approval….and I dont mean the draconian approval process that you and FB have force down members throats….The issue for me is that FB is a closed silo and will continue to be closed….the “open” graph is not open….you have to be a member of FB to use it….so its not “open”……I come from a time where “Open” had a meaning that was not bent and shaped by companies….For me “Open” means that no company “Owns” either end the process….In the case the the FB Graph…..(Note I m calling it the FB graph as this is what it is…..) FB owns the entier process….Its interesting to note how times have changed in my opinion for the worse….At one time Microsoft attempted to do the same thing that FB is attempting to do….and then developers and the tech “community” were up in arms….Why would we allow a company like MS take control of our identities and the internet ? Well then we said that we would not allow this and it did not happen…..I think that some the reason that FB has been able to continue to push their attempt to close off the internet is that when journalist write about or repeat the FB pr line, their is not context given….If the current coverage of the FB Closed Graph included the “Facts” concerning FB’s total lack of respect for member privacy as well as for third party developers, I think that the outcome and perspectives would be very different……As for the developers inside and outside of FB that are building and extending FB’s attempt to close off the internet….you are all complicit, and as a developer myself….I know that all of you know the implications of what you are doing….Mark Zuckerberg cannot close off and pollute the internet without the participation of developers……You can pretend you set silently at your computers writing code without understanding the very real implications of what you are doing….but we all know that this is not true…Developers have always been the vanguard of an open internet and we need to continue with this fight……….As developers we have allowed a company with the track record of zealous tyrannical dictator to steal a “standard” that should be owned by the internet community at large…There is no magic in what the litter dictator is proposing…..A group of developers could and should create a truly open graph so that any one can create and consume the data….The sad and horrible fact is that instead of doing this the very developers that have been entrusted to keep the internet open have created the tools that will be used to close it off….

  • Jim

    It appears that not everyone likes Mr. Recordon…

  • Facebook already changed the internet completely. Facebook was the real start and the mother of the whole “social media”