The web is a world of unlimited choice and unlimited possibilities. So why does everyone choose to use Facebook? Why is the web dominated by a few big companies?
I watched the first part of the BBC documentary The Virtual Revolution yesterday on iPlayer. They made the point that:
When there are no rules, there is nothing to stop those with huge resources dominating everyone else.
Google is obviously the biggest at this point in time, but Facebook is also massive. I don’t really mind Google. They’re big because they’re good and more importantly if I want to use another search engine I can do so very easily.
I feel locked into using Facebook and if I want to use something else I need to persuade all my friends to join me. For example I use Flickr to share my photos, but the majority of my friends don’t want to join Flickr and so they can’t see any of my non public photos.
At one point I had delusional ideas of making the next Facebook. In fact, I was hoping to make the next MySpace, but Facebook beat me to it. That was the capitalist me thinking, but as an individual I don’t really want another social super site that everyone I know uses. I want to publish whatever I want, wherever I want and I want it all to be linked together; perhaps with something clever, like hyper links. I also want a social element and I want privacy. I’d like my friends to be able to view my site and see content that other people can’t such as my personal phone number and photos of our last get together.
Facebook gives us this to some extent, but why does everyone need to be on Facebook. Why can’t we all be on our social network of choice or on our own personal site? Why can’t we do this and still keep up to date with what our friends are doing on their social site of choice?
The web was successful partly because it made a set of tools freely available that anyone could use. Anyone could make a webpage and publish whatever they want. Facebook has added a social layer, but has taken away the choice. If we want to get that choice back we have to build up free and open social tools and take the ones that already exist and make them easier to use.
These tools are already starting to appear such as OpenID and Open Social, but these sorts of tools need to become better and they need to become ubiquitous. We the geeks need to start making sure we use them and improve them. When we build a site with social elements we need to use make them open and think about integrating them with other sites of the user’s choice.
By putting choice back in the hands of the user perhaps the Internet will become a better place full of opportunities for all of us. It won’t matter that the big companies have more resources because collectively we have more.