Off topic: The future of the internet and prognostications thereupon.

See for yourself what it looks like at
"Tent is a protocol for social networking. Tent is open, decentralized, and built for the future." 
I don't know if the Tent protocol will take off or not, but sooner or later the ideas behind it will.

I hope that something like the Tent protocol will do for Facebook and Twitter users what the HTTP protocol did for AOL and CompuServe users.

In short, "Read the Future on Free Floppy Disks"

I am tired of maintaining my résumé and profiles on several different social networks.  I hate being at the mercy of Facebook when they change the site design and somehow find a way to make look worse.

I find Twitter completely incomprehensible.  Why does anyone want to read little snippets of content buried in what appears to be programming code?

I loathe the fact that almost every web page I visit is cluttered with logos and buttons and links for several disparate social networking tools.   Since I work with people from all over the world, I get invitations all the time to join this that or the other new social network.  Even worse, though I avoid the new ones as long as possible, I know that sooner or later I'll probably need to use it.

Worst of all, Privacy is FUSMAN (Fouled Up Situation, Masquerading As Normal) across the whole social networking spectrum.  No one has a clue about how to manage it, especially me.

I've been looking for a way to get free from The Facebook since they foisted the Timeline Layout on users.  I got used to it but I don't like it.  Facebook only has like buttons.  They define the user experience.  The consistency they provide was actually the reason I started using it and continue to do so.  At least users cannot create custom skins for their profiles.

So when I found out about Tent, I took a look, thinking it was an alternative.  It is not.  It presages something bigger.  By the time I finished reading, I was imagining creative destruction on the scale of the AOL/TimeWarner merger.

I find it amusing when Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are compared.  Wrong Steve.  Steve Case is the guy Mr. Zuckerberg would be better able to emulate.   For an Apple fan, Zuck has poor design sense.  He also seems to have no clue how to consistently anticipate and create what users want before they know they want it.  If I understand the current Facebook strategy correctly, he's busy trying to make Facebook become the whole internet instead.

In my prior life, I had jobs at both AOL and Apple providing technical support over the phone.  I spent lots of time talking to customers of both companies.  They usually were not happy to be talking to me.  The main difference was that Apple customers loved Apple products.  AOL customers, for the most part, did not care.  They just wanted to get online.

While I hate the term "walled garden," Apple, Facebook and AOL could all be described in that manner to some extent.  I don't know what new things facebook will do.  And I don't know how the transition to an open, decentralized social networking protocol will play out.

However, I do know that AOL was a service.  Apple makes lovely things you can hold in your hand.  AOL made floppies and CD-ROM's.  Facebook doesn't do either, but it is a company that doesn't know how to make money with 1 billion people using their service.  I really don't see a meaningful resemblance to Apple.

There are many cool things that Facebook does better than anyone else.  Looking at America Online 10-15 years ago, there are numerous parallels to Facebook in terms of why it was popular and why people liked it.  Two words: Free floppies!

The HTTP protocol changed everything for AOL.  The company was compelled to include support for web browsers.  Users met the World Wide Web and often liked it better than exclusive AOL features.  It certainly had a lot more to look at.  After a while, the AOL client software became a kind of weird vestigial limb hindering users when they double clicked to open the internet or check email.

Facebook has 1 billion users.  It is not going away.  AOL is still around.  They made a shift to web content where they do interesting things.  Steve Case retired as CEO in 2003 and devotes a much of his time and money to doing great things in philanthropy.

I might be wrong about Mark Zuckerberg.  He might yet follow Steve Jobs path. Who knows what might happen as Facebook stock values continue to free-fall.

Anyone who reads The Ad Contrarian regularly saw that coming and understood why.  A simple comparison to Google vis-a-vis the ratio of annual per-user revenue to share valuation could have kept the IPO more in line with a reasonable price per share.  Facebook also uses what looks to me like the most ineffective business model ever created.

The stock price may not even have hit bottom yet.  I think I read somewhere there's be a bunch of employee stock options vesting in the coming months or something.  Outside of search, advertising on the internet is better suited as an ancillary revenue stream.  That presents a big challenge to for-profit social networking companies.

The thing is, I can think of only two social networking services people have every actually expected to pay for: Postage Stamps and Long Distance Telephone service.  Remember those?  They seem to have been largely replaced by dumb pipes for data.

Facebook's new gifting service is a great idea and I could actually imagine wanting to use it.  That's not going to bring investors a return on their investments though.  I have no doubt that Facebook will figure out a way to make more money eventually.

Here's what makes me sure that Tent or something like it is the future: Apple integrated Twitter, then Facebook into iOS and Mac OS.  What comes next?  Pinterest?  LinkedIn?  How will they decide what gets in and what doesn't?

A decentralized social networking protocol could resolve that.  What's more, Apple has what it takes to create something like WebKit for social networking.  The browser wars are over.  WebKit won.

Facebook is also uniquely positioned to facilitate a open standard protocol for social networking.  We know Mark Zuckerberg studies Steve Jobs.  I think it's safe to assume he knows what happened to AOL and why.  Certainly he knows way more about his business than I do.  I don't see why he couldn't synthesize all that information and lead the way on HTTP for social networking.

After all, he did create Facebook.  Looking back at AOL, what he does next depends on whether he chooses to stay in the Facebook business or get back into the social networking business.  The two businesses overlap, almost transparently, but they are not the same thing.

Time to get back to my day job which presently involves studying applied color theory.  Enough with the prognosticating. 


scott f said...

Great article. This is tangential, but I was amused to read "The browser wars are over. WebKit won." from my Gecko-based Firefox, which I also use on mobile. Competition is still very much alive in browsers, but now vendors compete to provide the leanest, fastest implementation of web standards, not to provide their own cute non-standard features.

I agree with your comparison of AOL and Facebook as walled gardens, but I do think it's worth pointing out a difference in scale. AOL didn't have 1 billion users, and AOL wasn't central to most of its users' real, offline social lives the way Facebook is. Creating a decentralized alternative to Facebook is therefore an unprecedentedly large challenge.

I found your blog via Tent. I'm

Joel Spezeski said...

I'm glad the first comment on my blog was a good one.

Considering the history and pedigree of Gecko and Firefox, your observation about browsers is far from tangential. To me, Gecko and WebKit are basically the same thing. It's now healthy competition, not a war. WebKit just has more users at the moment.

The interesting thing about something like WebKit or Gecko when applied to social networking, is that it could allow companies like Apple and Microsoft who are not strong in social networking to get back in the game without having to build a critical mass of users first.

You have certainly pointed out one gaping hole in my comparison of AOL and Facebook. Another is that Facebook doesn't cost money and AOL did.

My AOL-FB comparison has shape but no real substance. The shape forms a question: is Facebook central to people's lives, or is it actually the things Facebook allows them to do?

Right now Facebook and the concept of social networking are effectively synonymous. Additionally there is no need to create a decentralized alternative to Facebook.

There is a need to create a decentralized social networking protocol. In all likelihood, that will only happen once established services start getting on board.

Facebook could take the lead, fall out of running or place anywhere in between.

I don't care one way or the other, I'm just tired of managing résumés and profiles across ten different web sites.