Victus Spiritus


Social Web Neutrality

23 Nov 2009

Since the spot light is on net neutrality and potential government regulation, I considered the analogous developing social web. I suspect my friend and facebook guru Jesse Stay may not agree. My premise, If I introduced two people, I don't own that relationship, so why should a social site?

It Begins With Net Neutrality

The Internet and Web are founded on open architectures. As long as your data satisfies the protocol any linked systems can access your data.

The connectivity of the Internet has evolved in stages. Early phone lines of varying bandwidth were followed by cable and wireless providers. We've taken our net connections from work, school, home, and now mobile. (here's some collected background info on protocols).

The strength of the net is that judgement of data is withheld. I'm free to create and share any data or software I wish as long as I follow the protocol, and respect media ownership (this is a changing ruleset). Ideally, the businesses and governments which provide the pipes are NOT supposed to regulate the data that goes through the network. But a conflict of interest has risen for many large teleco providers as well as nearly all nations (who wish to restrict access) who block or artificially limit access. I suspect a similar conflict is happening within large social sites.

Ultimately new net based business, and business growth is fueled by access to wider bandwidth. This paid for access will have no constraints on how businesses and individuals use their access. This is the holy grail of dumb pipes (they don't control what goes through the netwok).

The Rise of Social Media

Not too far back, specialized web spaces were created to empower individuals with the ability to self publish dynamic information. Beyond this assisted publishing, average folks were able create virtual connections to old and new friends. This additional social channel interest summoned (can user need summon products?) a series of social web serviced.

From crowd sourced search and filtering (Digg, Stumble Upon, Hacker News, Reddit), to shared media (YouTube,, Pandora, a huge variety of social sites have sprung to life on the net. Meanwhile battles raged over content ownership in an attempt to restrict social sharing. It became all to easy to email your favorite song or book to dozens of friends. Old distribution channels were being bypassed entirely. And yet, devoted fans still purchase the media they wish to support. The price structure has changed drastically from the media substrate (8tracks, cassettes, CDs, DVDs) to the value of the content.

But sites and services weren't enough. We wanted to used these new social functions in our own way. SaaS (software as a service) and APIs allowed web businesses to discover new markets by opening design to users. This fostered creation of new business ecosystems, a pretty amazing dynamic of net business.

Why isn't the net social neutral?

Many of the services on the web are landing pages, or dead ends. If I can't easily transfer out my social network and information (data!) to other networks, the social site has restricted access. They are no longer a neutral entity. I would argue all current social media sites have redtricted data flow in one way or another. No matter how open a business claims it's site and data to be, they force you to visit and access their site through their portal.

A solution to this lack of data neutrality isn't goverment enforcement. We require a clear separation of what data a user owns, and what data and value the social site owns. The clearer this distinction is, the faster the social web and it's multitude of users can move on to discovering new value. The secret sauce of social is mutual participation, and shared ownership.

Some would argue that services like Twitter and Facebook have advanced APIs which enable remote access. This is a great start, but the true test is when the main sites of social media go down or evaporate, and we are still able to maintain protocol level connectivity to our social graph and use our data.

Distributed protocols and servers, external to the social business will aid in shifting the social net to data neutral.