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Guest Post: Facebook's world view

Added on by Chris Saad.

Just wanted to share with you here that I wrote a guest post on Mashable last week about Facebook's world view. Be sure to check it out here.

Are these blunders a series of accidental missteps (a combination of ambition, scale and hubris) or a calculated risk to force their world view on unsuspecting users (easier to ask for forgiveness)? Only the executives at Facebook can ever truly answer this question.

What’s clear, though, is that their platform is tightly coupled with countless other websites and applications across the web, and their financial success is aligned with many influential investors and actors. At this stage, and at this rate, their continued success is all but assured.

But so is the success of the rest of the web. Countless social applications emerge every day and the rest of the web is, and always will be, bigger than any proprietary platform. Through its action and inaction, Facebook offers opportunities for us all. And in the dance between their moves and the rest of the web’s, innovation can be found.

The only thing that can truly hurt the web is a monopoly on ideas, and the only ones who can let that happen are web users themselves.

Redefining Open

Added on by Chris Saad.

In my mind, there are four kinds of open.

  • Torvalds Open.
  • Zuckerberg Open.
  • Not Open but we use the word Open anyway.
  • Saad Open.

This fragmentation has diluted the word open to the point where it almost has no value.

It's time to re-define the word open. First let me explain each category.

Torvalds Open.

In Linus Torvalds world (the guy who invented Linux) Open means that the software is developed through a community process. The source code is visible and modifiable by anyone and is available for free.

This is called 'Open Source'.

Companies may package and bundle the software in new and novel ways, and provide support and services on top for a fee.

The problem with Open Source on the web is that the software itself has less value than the network effects and up-time provided by a branded, hosted experience. Running on open source software, for example, would have very little value because Twitter's lock-in is not their software, but rather their name space (@chrissaad) and their developer ecosystem all developing software with dependencies on their proprietary API.

Open Source is useful, interesting and important, but is not what I mean when I talk about the Open Web. I feel like its value is well understood and it is not the first, best way of making our world (and the Internet) a better place - at least not in the same way it once did when client-side software was the primary way we used computers.

Zuckerberg Open.

When Mark Zuckerberg talks about open, he is not talking about Technology. He is talking about human interactions.

Ever since the popularity of Data Portability (via the DataPortability project) Facebook has gone to great lengths to redefine the word Open to mean the way people interact with each other.

In doing so, they have managed to, in large part, co-opt the word and claim their platform makes people 'more open'.

In many respects, and by their definition, they are right. Facebook has encouraged a mind bending number of people to connect and share with each other in ways that had been previously reserved for bloggers and other social media 'experts'.

Facebook deserves a lot of credit for introducing social networking to the masses.

Their definition of Open, however important, is not the kind I'm talking about either.

Not Open but we use the word Open anyway.

This is when a platform or product has an API and therefore claim that they have an 'Open Platform'.

There's nothing open about having an API. It's just having an API. The platform could be closed or open depending on how the given application and API is built and what limitations are placed upon it.

In most cases, an 'Open Platform' is not actually open, it's just a platform.

Saad Open

My definition of open is very specific. In fact a better way to describe it would be Interoperable and Distributed.

To explain, let me provide some compare and contrast examples.

Twitter is closed because it owns a proprietary namespace (e.g. @chrissaad). The only way to address people is using their username system. They own those usernames and have final authority over what to do with them.

They are closed because they do not provide free and clear access to their data without rate limiting that access or cutting deals for improved quality of services.

They are also closed because they are not a federated system. You can not start your own Twitter style tool and communicate with users on Twitter or vice versa. The only way to message people on Twitter is to use Twitter's propietary APIs for submitting and retrieving data.

A proprietary API is an API that is special to a company and/or produces data that is not in an open standard.

Wordpress, on the other hand (and to contrast) is an open system. Let's compare point for point.

It does not own the namespace on which it is developed. The namespaces are standard URLs. This blog, for example is hosted at Wordpress does not own that domain.

Wordpress produces a single type of data - blog posts. Those blog posts are accessible using an open standard - RSS or Atom. There is no rate limit on accessing that data.

Wordpress is a federated system. While they provide a hosted solution at for convenience, there is nothing stopping me from switching to Blogger or Tumblr. The tools that you would use to consume my blog would remain unchanged and the programmers who make those tools would not need to program defensibly against Wordpress' API. They simply need to be given the URL of my RSS feed and they are good to go.

This makes Wordpress an open tool in the open blogosphere.

Blogging is open.

Microblogging should be open too.

To summarize. Open, in my definition, does not mean the software is open source or free. It means that the software receives open standards data, provides open standards data, has an interoperable API and can easily be switched out for other software.

Today I was challenged on Twitter that Echo is not 'Open' because it is proprietary code and costs money to use.

This person does not understand my definition of Open. Echo is open because it is not a destination site, it sits on any site anywhere. The owner of that site can take it off and replace it with another engagement tool at any time. The data being absorbed by Echo, for the most part, is RSS or Atom, and the data coming out of Echo is RSS.

It does not have any proprietary namespaces (except our useless legacy login system which we are trying to get rid of as quickly as possible) and does not pretend to create some amazing social network of its own. It is just a tool to communicate on the open, social web.

Is Echo perfect? No, of course not, but our intention is to make each and every aspect of the product as interoperable and distributed as possible. We will even use and contribute to open source where appropriate.

How does your product, or the tools you choose, compare? Tell me in the comments.

Next up, we should start to redefine the 'Open' community that creates open standards. Much of it is not very open.

FriendFeed is over - Time for a Blog Revolution

Added on by Chris Saad.

The blog revolution that I spoke of in my previous post 'Blogs are Back" feels to me, right now, like the Iranian revolution that almost happened a couple of months back. It is in danger of fading away as we get wrapped up in 'what will Facebook do next' mania. You see, a couple of months ago there seemed to be an awakening that blogs are the first, best social networking platforms. This realization seemed to be driven by many converging factors including...

  1. Twitter Inc decisions that have not reflected the will of the community – particularly changing the @ behavior, changing their API without informing developers, making opaque decisions with their Suggested User List and limiting access to their Firehose.
  2. Facebook’s continued resistance to true DataPortability
  3. The emergence of tools and technologies that turn blogs into real-time, first class citizens of the social web. Tools like Lijit, PubSubHubBub and of course Echo.
  4. A broader understanding that blogs are a self-owned, personalized, tool agnostic way to participate in the open social web.
  5. FriendFeed selling out to Facebook
  6. A flurry of great posts on the subject
  7. The broader themes of the Synaptic Web

Instead though, it now seems that many bloggers are holding on desperately to the notion that FriendFeed may survive or that Facebook may get better. They continue to pour their content, conversation and influence into a platform that does not hold their brand, their ads or their control. We all seem desperate to see what next move these closed platforms make.

I have news for you - FriendFeed is dead. The team has moved on to work with the core Facebook team.

At best, FriendFeed will go the way of and Flickr - stable but not innovating. At worst, it will go the way of Jaiku or even Dodgeball.

It's time we start re-investing in our own, open social platforms. Blogs. Blogs are our profile pages - social nodes - on the open, distributed social web.

Blogs missing a feature you like from FriendFeed? Build a plugin. There's nothing Facebook or FriendFeed does that a blog can't do with enough imagination.

Our job now, as early adopters and social media addicts, should be to build the tools and technologies to educate the mainstream that blogs and blogging can be just as easy, lightweight, social and exciting as Facebook. Even more so.

All that's need is a change in perspective and slight tweaks around the edges.

Blogs are back.

Who's with me?

Blogs are Back

Added on by Chris Saad.

When Khris and I showed Robert Scoble Echo prior to the Launch at the Real-Time Crunchup he said "Wow, Blogs are Back!". I couldn't agree more. It looks like his sentiment is starting to propagate.

When I say Blogs are Back I mean that the balance between other forms of social media (Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed etc) are now finding their rightful balance with the first and foremost social platform, Blogging.

This is not to suggest that other forms of interaction are going away, only that there is a natural equilibrium to be struck.

There are a number of factors that are helping this trend along.

They include:

  1. Twitter Inc decisions that have not reflected the will of the community - particularly changing the @ behavior, changing their API without informing developers, making opaque decisions with their Suggested User List and limiting access to their Firehose.
  2. Facebook's continued resistance to true DataPortability
  3. The emergence of tools and technologies that turn blogs into real-time, first class citizens of the social web. Tools like Lijit, PubSubHubBub and of course Echo.
  4. A realization that blogs are a self-owned, personalized, tool agnostic way to participate in the open social web.
  5. The broader themes of the Synaptic Web

I also discussed this with Dave Winer, Doc Searls and Marshall Kirkpatrick the other day on the BadHairDay podcast.

You can also see previous references to this in my 'What is Echo' post. I've also posted a more detailed account of how Echo fits into this notion on the JS-Kit blog.

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have also posted on this. I also registered '' (what should I do with it?).

I look forward to see what this new trend brings!

What is Echo Comments?

Added on by Chris Saad.

On October 14, 2008 I wrote a blog titled 'Who is JS-Kit'. In it, I explained why I was joining the JS-Kit team and how their philosophy and execution resonated so much with me. On Friday the 10th of July, 2009, the JS-Kit team launched Echo. Here's the video. It is the clearest example yet of the potential of the JS-Kit team that I spoke about back in my Who is JS-Kit post.

I wanted to take this opportunity to explain what Echo means to me personally. But first, I'd like to make something very clear. Although much of this will be about my personal opinions, feelings and philosophies on Echo and the trends and tribulations that bore it,  Echo is the result of the hard work and collaboration of a stellar team of first grade entrepreneurs that I have the pleasure of working with every day (and night).

From Khris Loux our fearless and philosophical CEO who lead the charge, to Lev Walkin our CTO who seems to know no boundaries when it comes to writing software, to Philippe Cailloux, the man who turns our raving ADD rants into actionable mingle tickets, to our developers who worked tirelessly to turn napkin sketches into reality. We all scrubbed every pixel and will continue to be at the front lines with our customers. This is the team that made it happen.

For me, Echo is the next major milestone on a journey that only properly got underway in November 2006 when I visited Silicon Valley for the first time.

I was at the Web 2.2 meetup. It was set up by one of my now friends Chris Heuer. There was a group discussion about social networking and how we, as individuals, might communicate in ways that were independent of the tools that facilitated such communication.

I was sitting in the back of the room in awe of the intellect and scope of the conversation. Could you imagine it, for the first time in a long time I (a kid from Brisbane Australia) was in a room full of people who were just as passionate about this technology thing as me - and they were actually at the center of the ecosystem that could make a real impact on the outcome of these technologies.

I shyly put my hand up at the back of the room and squeaked out (I'm paraphrasing and cleaning up for eloquence here - I'm sure I sounded far less intelligent at the time).

"Aah... excuse me... aren't blogs the ultimate tool agnostic social networking platforms?"

What I meant was that blogs use the web as the platform. They produce RSS. They have audiences. They illicit reactions. They create social conversations over large distances. They essentially create one giant implicit social network.

I got some "oh yeah he might be right" reactions and the conversation moved swiftly along to other things.

For me, a light turned on. One I've been chasing ever since in various forms and to varying degrees of success (or failure as the case may be). For me, Faraday Media, APML, DataPortability and now JS-Kit have all been an exploration on how to create a tool-agnostic, internet scale social network that has notification, filtering, interoperability and community at its heart.

As I said at the start of this post, Echo is the next step along that journey. For me, Echo represents an opportunity to making Blogging not only 'cool' again, but to make it a first class citizen on the web-wide social network. To make all sites part of that network.

Much has been made of its real-time nature. Even more about its ability to aggregate the fragmented internet conversation back to the source. These are both critical aspects of the product. They are the most obvious and impactful changes we made. But there is much more to Echo than meets the eye. Much more in the product today and much more we hope to still add.

Our choice of comment form layout. The use of the words 'From' and 'To'. The language of 'I am... my Facebook profile'. The choice to treat the comment form as just another app (as shown by the use of the 'Via Comments' tag) and more. The choice to merge the various channels into a unified stream (comments+off-site gestures). These were all deliberate and painstaking choices that the team made together.

Echo is based on a theory we call the 'Synaptic Web'. This is the frame of reference from which all our product decisions will be made. It is an open straw man that I hope will eventually be just as exciting as any given product launch. It states in explicit terms the trends and opportunities that many of us are seeing and is designed to help foster a conversation around those observations.

In the coming hours and weeks I'm also going to record video screen casts of the specific product decisions that have already made it into Echo - hopefully these will further illustrate how each pixel brings about a subtle but important change to the space.

In the mean time, I'd like to reiterate how humbled I am by the reaction to the product and how excited I am to be working with the JS-Kit team in this space at this time in the Internet's history.

I look forward to hearing from each of you about your thoughts and feelings on our direction, and shaping our road map directly from your feedback.

Microsoft to join DataPortability - Where's the beef?

Added on by Chris Saad.

The news today is that Microsoft intends to join the DataPortability Project. So where's the beef? Why are long-time influentials from all these large vendors joining the cause? What are we offering? What are we trying to do? What's in it for them? What do they bring to the table?

Many of these questions are already answered in the Project Charter, on the FAQ page and in the excellent video by Michael Pick. but I thought that since I am getting much of the blame credit for this that I might put it all in context in my own words.

First, I'd like to clarify that DataPortability is not mine. It is an initiative that was co-founded by many people who all believed that something was missing from the existing Identity/Data/Standards landscape. Something very small, but very important.

A story...

A message. A simple rallying cry for the mainstream that would:

  1. Explain the problem in simple terms
  2. Help contextualize existing efforts to solve it
  3. Encourage inter operable adoption by users, vendors and developers

That's exactly what DataPortability brings to the community. A neutral, community driven forum in which standards groups can champion their technology in the context of a solution, vendors can raise their concerns and get answers and end-users can get a easy, safe and secure experience.

So back to the original question. Where's the value?

The value is in the exciting and critically important work that standards groups have been doing for years. It's in the new conversations being encouraged between standards groups and vendors both inside the DataPortability Project and independently 1 on 1. It's in the Action Groups that are bringing diverse people together. It's in the Action Packs we are developing to help tell the story to Executives, Developers, Designers, Bloggers and Vendors. It's in the Technical and Policy Blueprints we are designing to tell the story in a more detailed way and believe it or not, it's in the PR hype of the announcements.

Each announcement - each new member - both large and small - means another voice, and another opportunity to broaden the conversation and apply the sort of grass-roots pressure we all know already exists to create a web of data we can Connect, Control, Share and Remix.

In regard to Microsoft specifically, I welcome their voice in the conversation. Their team has been one of the most transparent and accessible of all the vendors we have spoken to and their products and services touch the lives of almost everyone both online and off.

Please join us Chris

Special thanks to Daniela Barbosa for finding the picture!