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Filtering by Category: Politics

Initial quick thoughts on Google+

Added on by Chris Saad.

It's certainly very slick, but it's a few years behind FB. I mean that not just in timing and network effects, but in the much more strategic sense of platform ambition. was the FB strategy 4 years ago. FB is now going for the rest of the web. It's reach and role as an identity provider and social infrastructure player makes it much more important (and harder to beat) than launching a cool new service. So hopefully the Google+ team is thinking WAY beyond this as a destination site when they are thinking Google Social Strategy.

So far the broad ranging announcements from the +1 button to Google Analytics adding Social bode well for this being a company wide, product wide refresh. The key to success will be in thinking about the need to compete with FB beyond the walls and products of Google.

The key to that, of course, will be to get deep adoption by major sites.

Update: Upon thinking about it a little more. Google has once again missed an opportunity to play to their strengths. With the document web they played the role of aggregator and algorithmic signal detection system. With the social web, their ideal strategy would be to build the ultimate social inbox. A place where I can navigate, consume AND interact with Facebook + Twitter + Foursquare + Quora +++ in one place.

Instead they created yet another content source.

Diaspora is not the answer to the Open Web, but that's ok

Added on by Chris Saad.

For whatever reason, a new project called Diaspora is getting a lot of attention at the moment. They are four young guys who have managed to crowd source $100k+ to build an open, privacy respecting, peer-to-peer social network. A number of people have asked me what I think, so instead of repeating myself over and over I thought I would write it down in one place.

First, I don't think Diaspora is going to be the 'thing' that solves the problem. There are too many moving parts and too many factors (mainly political) to have any single group solve the problem by themselves.

Second, I don't think that's any reason to disparage or discourage them.

When we launched the DataPortability project, we didn't claim we would solve the issue, but rather create a blueprint for how others might implement interoperable parts of the whole. We soon learned that task was impractical to say the least. The pieces were not mature enough and the politics was far too dense.

Instead, we have settled for providing a rolling commentary and context on the situation and promoting the efforts of those that are making strides in the right direction. We also play the important role of highlighting problems with closed or even anticompetitive behaviors of the larger players.

The problem with the DataPortability project, though, was not its ambition or even it's failure to meet those ambitions, but rather the way the 'old guard' of the standards community reacted to it.

The fact of the matter is that the people who used to be independent open advocates were actually quite closed and cliquey. They didn't want 'new kids on the block' telling them how to tell their story or promote their efforts. Instead of embracing a new catalyzing force in their midst, they set about ignoring, undermining and even actively derailing it at every opportunity.

Despite my skepticism about Diaspora, though, I don't want to fall into the same trap. I admire and encourage the enthusiasm of this group to chase their dream of a peer-to-peer social network.

Do I think they will succeed with this current incarnation? No. Do I think they should stop trying? No.

While this project might not work their effort and energy will not go to waste.

I think we need more fresh, independent voices generating hype and attention for the idea that an open alternative to Facebook can and must exist. Their success in capturing people's imagination only shows that there is an appetite for such a thing.

What they might do, however, is strongly consider how their work might stitch together existing open standards efforts rather than inventing any new formats or protocols. The technologies are getting very close to baked and are finding their way into the web at every turn.

We all need to do our part to embed them into every project we're working on so that peer-to-peer, interoperable social networking will become a reality.

Welcome to the party Diaspora team, don't let the old guard (who have largely left for BigCo's anyway) scare you off.

Calling for open

Added on by Chris Saad.

Steve Gillmor often writes fantastic (and fantastically long) editorials on the landscape of the real-time web, but they are often very dense and sometimes fail to cover some key points. I thought I would take the liberty of translating and correcting his latest post with my own contributions.

Ever since FriendFeed was sold to Facebook, we’ve been told over and over again that the company and its community were toast. And as if to underline the fact, FriendFeed’s access to the Twitter firehose was terminated and vaguely replaced with a slow version that is currently delivering Twitter posts between 20 minutes and two hours after their appearance on Twitter. At the Realtime CrunchUp, Bret Taylor confirmed this was not a technical but rather a legal issue. Put simply, Twitter is choking FriendFeed to death.

Translation: The FriendFeed team were absorbed by way of acquisition. Twitter has terminated their priority access to Twitter data because FriendFeed is now owned by Twitter's primary competitor.

Correction: Of course Twitter turned them off. Facebook is Twitter's self-declared number one competitor. When you own the platform and the protocol you have every right to protect your own arse. In fact they have an obligation to their shareholders and investors.

What’s odd about this is that most observers consider FriendFeed a failure, too complicated and user-unfriendly to compete with Twitter or Facebook. If Twitter believed that to be the case, why would they endeavor to kill it? And if it were not a failure? Then Twitter is trying to kill it for a good reason. That reason: FriendFeed exposes the impossible task of owning all access to its user’s data. Does Microsoft or Google or IBM own your email? Does Gmail apply rate limiting to POP3 and IMAP?

Translation: Most commentators think that FriendFeed is dead because the founders have been bought by and buried inside Facebook. If FriendFeed is so dead why is Twitter trying to choke it.

Correction: FriendFeed is clearly dead. If you have ever worked for a startup and tried to ship a running product you know that focus is the only thing that will keep you alive. Facebook is a massive platform serving a scale of social interaction that has only been previously seen by distributed systems like email. The last thing Facebook wants is for its newly aquiried superstar team to waste time working on a platform that no longer matters to their commercial success or the bulk of their users (i.e. Friendfeed).

Twitter is choking FriendFeed for another reason - because it's systems are now essentially just a proxy to Facebook. As stated above, Twitter can not give it's number one competitor priority access to one of its major assets (i.e. timley access to the data).

The data that Microsoft and Google does not exercise hoarding tactics over (the examples Steve gave were IMAP and POP3) are open standards using open protocols.

I am never sure about Steve's position on open standards, he often vacillates from championing the open cause through projects like the Attention Trust only then to claim things like APML and DataPortability are bullshit - maybe he just doesn't like me (That can't be right can it Steve?).

The fact is, however, that open standards and protocols are the basis for open systems which is why companies like Microsoft and Google do not control your email. Twitter and Facebook are not open systems.

So the reason Twitter is killing FriendFeed is because they think they can get away with it. And they will, as far as it goes, as long as the third party vendors orbiting Twitter validate the idea that Twitter owns the data. That, of course, means Facebook has to go along with it. Playing ball with Twitter command and control doesn’t make sense unless Facebook likes the idea of doing the same thing with “their” own stream. Well, maybe so. That leaves two obvious alternatives.

The first is Google Wave, which offers much of the realtime conversational technology FriendFeed rebooted around, minus a way of deploying this stream publicly. The Wave team seems to be somewhat adrift in the conversion of private Waves to public streams, running into scaling issues with Wave bots that don’t seem to effectively handle a publishing process (if I understood the recent briefing correctly.) But if Waves can gain traction around events and become integrated with Gmail as Paul Buchheit recently predicted, then an enterprising Wave developer might write a bot that captures Tweets as they are entered or received by Twitter and siphons them into the Wave repository in near realtime.

Translation: Twitter is killing FriendFeed because they think no one will notice or care enough to stop them - Twitter has more than enough momentum and support to continue along it's current path. Facebook wont cry foul because they are doing the same hoarding technique with their own data.

Maybe Google Wave might save the day, but they seem to have lost their way.

Correction: Actually the only people who can call bullshit on Twitter and Facebook is us, the media. We are all media after all. Steve Gillmor in fact is one of the loudest voices - he should call bullshit on closed systems in general. Instead we all seem to be betting on one closed system to do better than another closed system.

We are like abused wives going back for more, each time pretending that our husbands love us. Guess what, they don't love us. They love their IPO.

I was the first to support Google Wave very loudly and proudly. I met with the team and was among the first to get in and play with the preview. It is a revolution in collaboration and how to launch a new open system. It is not, however, a Twitter or Facebook competitor. Especially not in its current state. It is not even a replacement to email. It is simply the best damned wiki product ever created.

Waves are the 180' opposite of FriendFeed and Facebook or even Twitter. They are open, flexible and lacking any structure whatsoever. Their current container, the Google Wave client, however, is totally sub-optimal for a messaging metaphor much less a many-to-many passive social platform. It is a document development platform. Nothing more.

The same could be true of Microsoft’s deal for the firehose, but here, as with Google, Twitter may not want to risk flaunting ownership of a stream that can so easily be cloned for its enterprise value. And as easily as you can say RSS is dead, Salesforce Chatter enters the picture. Here’s one player Twitter can’t just laugh off. First of all, it’s not Twitter but Facebook Benioff is cloning, and a future Facebook at that, one where the Everyone status will be built out as a (pardon the expression) public option. This free cross-Web Chatter stream will challenge Facebook’s transitional issues from private to public, given that Salesforce’s cloud can immediately scale up to the allegedly onerous task of providing personalized Track on demand.

Translation: Maybe the enterprise players - specifically Salesforces' Chatter - will save the day.

Correction: Doubtful. This is just another closed system for a specific vertical. It's long overdue. It is awesome. But it is not a Facebook or Twitter competitor much less an open alternative to the proprietary messaging systems we keep flocking to. It is simply a long overdue expansion of the simple changelog tracking feature on ERP assets. It's a simple feature that was sponsored by a simple question. "Why doesn't the asset changelog include more data - including social data?". Duh. I was doing this in my own web based CRM at the start of the decade.

It’s likely this pressure can be turned to good use by Facebook, unencumbered as they are by any licensing deal with Twitter. Instead, a Chatter alliance with the Facebook Everyone cloud puts Salesforce in the interesting position of managing a public stream with Google Apps support, which eventually could mean Wave integration. Where this might break first is in media publishing, as Benioff noted at the CrunchUp. Twitter’s leverage over its third party developers could be diluted significantly once Salesforce offers monetization paths for its developers. So much so that this may call Twitter’s bluff with FriendFeed.

Translation: No idea

But FriendFeed has always been more of a tactical takedown of Twitter than an actual competitor, a stalking horse for just the kind of attack Twitter seems most afraid of. No wonder the speed with which Twitter is introducing metadata traps to lock down the IP before a significant cloud emerges to challenge its inevitability. Lists, retweets, location — they’re all based on raising the rate limiting hammer to discourage heading for the exits. It’s not that retweets reduce the functionality of the trail of overlapping social circles, it’s that they lock them behind the Wall.

Translation: Twitter is introducing more metadata into tweets to maintain its lock in through API limits etc.

Correction: On this point Steve is partially correct. This isn't about rate limiting though - it's about turning Twitter's proprietary protocol into a real-time transport for all the data the web has to offer. It is not about API limits but rather cramming so much value into the pipe that the pipe becomes like water - you gotta drink from it or you're going to die.

I don’t expect anyone from Twitter to answer the simple question of when will Twitter give FriendFeed the same access they provide other third party client vendors. For now, it’s frustrating to not see the flow of Twitter messages in realtime, but over time we’ll build tools on top of FriendFeed to take such embargoed messages private. Once inside FriendFeed, the realtime conversations that result are just the kind of high value threads Chatter will support, Wave will accelerate, and Silverlight will transport. Keep up the good work, Twitter.

Translation: I doubt Twitter will play nice with FriendFeed and give them equal access again because once items are inside FriendFeed they turn into rich conversations. Conversations that Chatter will support, Wave will accelerate and silverlight will transport.

Correction: Actually Twitter does not and has never given fair and equal access to its data. FriendFeed had a moment in the sun with first class access the likes of which almost no one else has seen before or since.

I have no idea how Chatter fits into the B2C picture - it is clearly an Enterprise play for Salesforce. Wave indeed will act as a great interface through which to participate in real-time threads. The threads themselves, however, will need to be generated or framed by much more rigid systems designed for public discussion.

Silverlight is great for rich web apps. It is Microsoft's way of bringing the richness of the client into the browser. Just like .NET is to Java, Silverlight is to Flash. A way for Microsoft to leverage a key technology component without handing the crown to someone/something it doesn't control. But I'm not sure if fits into this discussion.

In the end, the only real solution for all of this, of course, is a return to the way the web has always worked (well). Open systems. The transport should not be Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Wave or any other nonsense. It should be RSS and Atom ( specifically) transported over PubSubHubBub and read by open standards aggregators. The namespaces should be OpenID based and adoptable by all.

The sooner the early adopter community realizes this, the commentators push for this and the developers code for this, the better off we will all be.

Disclosure: I work for JS-Kit, creators of Echo - one of the largest providers of Real-time streams. I also Tweet - trying to find an alternative though!

Facebook Connect AKA Hailstorm 2.0

Added on by Chris Saad.

Have you seen this? Let me quote the highlights for you:

If the initial development race of Web 2.0 centered around "building a better social network" then the next phase will certainly focus on extending the reach of existing social networks beyond their current domain. How? By using the elements of the social graph as the foundational components that will drive the social Web. Where we once focused on going to a destination - particular social network to participate - we will now begin to carry components of social networks along with us, wherever we go. In the next phase of the social Web, every site will become social.

Agreed. That's been the vision and promise of much of my work for more than a year.

Here's the scary part

Facebook Connect proposes to make data and friend connections currently held within the walled garden of Facebook accessible to other services. This has two distinct benefits, one for the sites and one for Facebook.

For the participating sites, Facebook Connect provides more social functionality without a great deal of additional development. A new user can opt to share the profile information in Facebook instead of developing a new account. This gives the user access to the site and its services without the tedium of developing yet another profile on yet another site. In addition, users can use the relationship information in Facebook to connect to their friends on the other services. In short, it makes the new partner site an extension of Facebook.

Essentially, Facebook is trying to replace all logins with their own, and control the creation, distribution and application of the social graph using their proprietary platform.

The most scary part of this, is that while Facebook is quietly and methodically building out this vision with massive partners, the standards community is busy squabbling about naming the open alternative.

Is it Data Portability? Is the Open Web? is it Open Social? Is it Federated Identity?

At the start of this year one would have thought that the open standards movement got a huge boost by the massive explosion of the DataPortability project. It's set of high profile endorsements catapulted the geeky standards conversation into the mainstream consciousness and helped provide a rallying cry for the community to embrace.

Instead of embracing it, though, many of the leaders in the community decided to squabble about form and style. They argued about the name, about the organization, about the merits of the people involved - on and on it went.

Instead of embracing the opportunity, they squandered it by trying to coin new phrases, new organizations and new initiatives.

The result is a series of mixed messages that have largely diluted the value of DataPortability's promise this year. The promise of making the conversation tangible for the mainstream - the executives who are now partnering with FaceBook.

Will we let this continue into 2009? Will we continue to allow our egos to get in the way of mounting a real alternative to Hailstorm 2.0? Are we more interested in the theater of it, the cool kids vs. the real world or will we be able to reach the mainstream once again and help them to understand that entire social web is at stake?

I've not lost hope. There are countless reasons why Facebook and it's Hailstorm 2.0 are not inevitable.

I have, however, lost a lot of respect for a lot of people I once admired. Maybe they can clean up their act and we can work together once again in the new year.

I put a call out to all those who are interested - technologists, early adopters, bloggers (especially bloggers), conference organizers, conference speakers, media executives - let's get our act together and take this party to the next level.

I, for one, am looking forward to it.

American Politics

Added on by Chris Saad.

As many of you know - I have been visiting in the US now since the end of January (with a short stint in Europe in the middle). I am loving it. Particularly here in San Francisco and the Bay Area specifically. It's an amazing place where amazing things are getting done every day. But I have made an observation in my travels that I thought I would write about today.

American Politics is a fascinating spectacle. And I don't just mean the politics of government, but the politics of business, community and culture as well. These patterns, trends and reactions are consistent in all sorts of other political interactions here.

The themes go something like this.

If you have been doing something for a long time and talk about very practical, operational things, then you must be good at whatever you do. You typically talk about being against something than for something else.

If you are new to the process and/or attract large crowds of new people, then you are interesting and inspirational but you surely can't have any substance to your message. You typically talk about being for something rather than against something else.

These two positions are always seen as polar opposites. Many people seem to refuse the idea that someone who is new can also have substance. Or something that is experienced may actually need new blood and new ideas.

It's a politics that fights not the ideas on their merits, but the way those ideas are derived, or who proposes them.

There's also a tendency to focus on what 'has worked' rather than what 'could work' - or what has worked in other organizations or other structures outside the immediate scope of inquiry.

Universal Health care for example. Surely the government can't look after our health right? They couldn't even look after the victims of Katrina. Of course, if we look beyond the borders of the United States it's clear that every other 1st world country does have Healthcare backed by the federal government and it works well to create a safety net for their people. It's a simple observation that allows the conversation to move beyond 'could it work' to 'how could we make it work for us'.

There's often a lack of subtlety - a sense that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than taking the good and building on it. Making what is work for us.

As I said, I love this country and my experience here has been amazing - I hope it continues in fact. But as always, I will continue to look for patterns and see if they can be improved. At least in my little corner of the world.

Some of this also comes down to an idea I posted on Twitter the other day - I think it explains some of my thinking in this area.

"We need to extend the time frame inside which we evaluate what is in our best interest"

Everyone acts in their best interest. It's inevitable and irrefutable. But if you open the window from 1 month or 1 year to 5 or 10 years you realize that what's actually in our personal best interest is actually in the best interest of many other people too.

But that's a post for another day.

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!