By Michael Heller, President & CEO SocioProphet
In our previous discussions, we’ve discussed the dumpster fire of the current state of social networking, reviewed the history of social networks and discussed core aspects of trust that need to be enabled for the next great social network.
My last essay focused on the importance of trust, and offered the reader an expose of a few applications that could be used as part of an overall solution; and, I ended with an innuendo to (hopefully) force my readers to think about how one’s internet history might be used to make connections that are seemlingly real but not provably true — please have a read if you want to gain some additional context or if you are a new reader, as I think this lesson is very important and it may not have been immediately obvious on first pass 🙂
While there is plenty more to be said about the dangers of rumours and innuendo that cannot be proven — I will leave this thought experiment up to my readers. While the discussion from here is going to get somewhat technical (not overly so) I will do my best to cut through the nerd talk and get to the point.
We assume that the reader should understand some of the core aspects and notions of Identity Management, Cloud Native Security & some good old CAP theory to fully appreciate some of the aspects of what’s discussed herein, however we will explain their connections in later articles as required.
What does it mean to be a social network anyway? Or, more generically, a “platform” anyway? What’s so unique about these things that we need to give them fancy names to differentiate them from other things (objects?)?
In someways I personally believe that “social network” or “social media” are a semi-redundant description in today’s parlence because these ideas seem to be implied as the defacto standard for any “web two dot zero plus” platform. But for the sake of completeness I will discuss these ideas and I’ll take my readers down the rabbit hole of internet history once again as I do so.
In defining and discussing important notions of social networks and platforms, I will borrow some ideas from the infamous Steve Yegge, and the one and only Martin Kleppmann for ideas related to “local first” data, as well as, to help the user to better understand some of the technical notions of a truly distrubuted data platform (Martin literally wrote the book on this!).
I will link the the infamous Yegge rants which I happen to keep a copy of at my personal github but I think the most important part of the discussion (for our purposes) can be found below:
That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.
But no. No, it’s like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don’t know. It’s pretty low. There are a few teams who treat the idea very seriously, but most teams either don’t think about it all, ever, or only a small percentage of them think about it in a very small way.
It’s a big stretch even to get most teams to offer a stubby service to get programmatic access to their data and computations. Most of them think they’re building products. And a stubby service is a pretty pathetic service. Go back and look at that partial list of learnings from Amazon, and tell me which ones Stubby gives you out of the box. As far as I’m concerned, it’s none of them. Stubby’s great, but it’s like parts when you need a car.
A product is useless without a platform, or more precisely and accurately, a platform-less product will always be replaced by an equivalent platform-ized product.
Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don’t get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: “So is it the Stalker API?” She got all glum and said “Yeah.” I mean, I was joking, but no… the only API call we offer is to get someone’s stream. So I guess the joke was on me.
Microsoft has known about the Dogfood rule for at least twenty years. It’s been part of their culture for a whole generation now. You don’t eat People Food and give your developers Dog Food. Doing that is simply robbing your long-term platform value for short-term successes. Platforms are all about long-term thinking.
Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.
Our Google+ team took a look at the aftermarket and said: “Gosh, it looks like we need some games. Let’s go contract someone to, um, write some games for us.” Do you begin to see how incredibly wrong that thinking is now? The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them.
You can’t do that. Not really. Not reliably. There have been precious few people in the world, over the entire history of computing, who have been able to do it reliably. Steve Jobs was one of them. We don’t have a Steve Jobs here. I’m sorry, but we don’t.
Larry Tesler may have convinced Bezos that he was no Steve Jobs, but Bezos realized that he didn’t need to be a Steve Jobs in order to provide everyone with the right products: interfaces and workflows that they liked and felt at ease with. He just needed to enable third-party developers to do it, and it would happen automatically.
I apologize to those (many) of you for whom all this stuff I’m saying is incredibly obvious, because yeah. It’s incredibly frigging obvious. Except we’re not doing it. We don’t get Platforms, and we don’t get Accessibility. The two are basically the same thing, because platforms solve accessibility. A platform is accessibility.
I want to get to the point, the next great social networking platform must be an open platform — it cannot be a walled garden and it cannot be centrally controlled like Facebook, twitter , reddit and the like rest!
This is what brings me to my next point!
Martin Kleppmann and some other folks published a great article on local-first software last year — I think this same principal must also apply to data, ai and everything else too! The next great social networking platform must include notions of local-first software, data, ai, workflows, and algorithmic insights if we are serious about getting big brother and big tech out of our lives and taking control of our our social reality.
Please find that article here. I think he does a far-better job discussing some of these aspects and I’ve quoted some of his leading thoughts from the article below:
In the process of performing that creative work, you typically produce files and data: documents, presentations, spreadsheets, code, notes, drawings, and so on. And you will want to keep that data: for reference and inspiration in the future, to include it in a portfolio, or simply to archive because you feel proud of it. It is important to feel ownership of that data, because the creative expression is something so personal.
Unfortunately, cloud apps are problematic in this regard. Although they let you access your data anywhere, all data access must go via the server, and you can only do the things that the server will let you do. In a sense, you don’t have full ownership of that data — the cloud provider does. In the words of a bumper sticker: “There is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer.”
We use the term “ownership” not in the sense of intellectual property law and copyright, but rather as the creator’s perceived relationship to their data. We discuss this notion in a later section.
When data is stored on “someone else’s computer”, that third party assumes a degree of control over that data. Cloud apps are provided as a service; if the service is unavailable, you cannot use the software, and you can no longer access your data created with that software. If the service shuts down, even though you might be able to export your data, without the servers there is normally no way for you to continue running your own copy of that software. Thus, you are at the mercy of the company providing the service.
Before web apps came along, we had what we might call “old-fashioned” apps: programs running on your local computer, reading and writing files on the local disk. We still use a lot of applications of this type today: text editors and IDEs, Git and other version control systems, and many specialized software packages such as graphics applications or CAD software fall in this category.
The software we are talking about in this article are apps for creating documents or files (such as text, graphics, spreadsheets, CAD drawings, or music), or personal data repositories (such as notes, calendars, to-do lists, or password managers). We are not talking about implementing things like banking services, e-commerce, social networking, ride-sharing, or similar services, which are well served by centralized systems.
In old-fashioned apps, the data lives in files on your local disk, so you have full agency and ownership of that data: you can do anything you like, including long-term archiving, making backups, manipulating the files using other programs, or deleting the files if you no longer want them. You don’t need anybody’s permission to access your files, since they are yours. You don’t have to depend on servers operated by another company.
To sum up: the cloud gives us collaboration, but old-fashioned apps give us ownership. Can’t we have the best of both worlds?
We would like both the convenient cross-device access and real-time collaboration provided by cloud apps, and also the personal ownership of your own data embodied by “old-fashioned” software.
One idea that needs to be repeated with respect to the above is that this needs to be extended to ai and insights by default. As an IBM employee (by mentioning this I am required by IBM HR Social Media policy to state that nothing I write here is endorsed by or approved by IBM and these ideas are my own and have nothing to do with IBM or any affiliates or IBM brands), I am aware that IBM maintains this promise for all of our clients — that the insights are your own — and I think this needs to be more prevelent across the all industries and technical platforms.
I think it is OK for a company to allow it’s customers to “opt-in” with respect to the above, but the default standard should always assume that a user would opt-out by default. This is at the heart of a recent dispute between Facebook and Apple and I think these type of privacy friendly policies will become more important over time.
In our next article, we’ll discuss the human aspects of technical solutions and how our relationship with technology has changed over the past 30–40 years and what this means for the next social great social platform.
From here we’ll discus the solution that we’re working on SocioProphet and why we think it might be interesting for geeks and netizens that are tired of the way things exist and hope for something better ❤