Global Constant
Steve Nay's ramblings

Facebook, Apple, Google, and the open web

I just read David Siegel’s “Open Letter to Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt.” He gives a lot of good ideas about why Google should use a “personal data locker” (something that Phil Windley, Doc Searls, and others have been working on for quite some time) to keep the web open.

David cites the example of Vitamin Water, which has moved its website to a Facebook page. Facebook offers it a lot of data about users, including the ability to tailor pages to the viewers. But even with the lure of those built-in social features, submitting one’s web presence to the control of Facebook is a bad idea for any company.

The problem is that everything is in the hands of that one entity, who, as we are all aware, is free to change the rules at any time. That topic’s been rehashed over and over again, so I won’t discuss it here.

But now take a look at the different approaches adopted by two other big market players: Google and Apple. Google is fighting for an open web (e.g., with Chrome OS); Apple is fighting for a closed ecosystem (iOS and Mac).

The only way to get apps onto a user’s iOS device (barring open web technologies) is by jumping through Steve’s hoops and submitting to his draconian policies. We’ve accepted that; it’s the price developers pay to get native apps into that ecosystem. But look at the Mac App Store. Developers who want the visibility that the Store gives them will submit to the hoop-jumping and policy-abiding necessary to get their software listed. It would be easier for them to host their apps on their own websites and point people there to download them, but they may instead opt to let Apple control it. This is quite similar to Vitamin Water submitting their web presence to the control of Facebook.

Chrome OS is on the other side of the spectrum. Google is trying to drive developers away from native development and toward web development using open technologies. Native applications have their benefits, but there are also costs with supporting multiple platforms, dealing with support and updates, etc. Web applications let developers transcend those unnecessary limitations. Google doesn’t want to control an ecosystem; they want to promote an open web where everyone (including Google) can benefit. That is key to their strategy.

Google has the tools to make the open web succeed. I said a few weeks ago that “Chrome OS will succeed because it’s invisible to the user. People understand the web. They don’t understand operating systems.” By the same token, the web will succeed because it’s not bound to particular vendors (hardware, software, or otherwise). What we need now is for companies like Google to step up and give people enough viable alternatives for personal (and corporate) data management that they won’t feel compelled to be locked in to a single ecosystem like Facebook, Apple, or even Google.

We need the open web to succeed.