Jesse Stay's post this morning on the social web inspired me to think through the rationale and value offering of companies which provide modern real time one to many messaging systems.
We rely on technology to achieve greater connection with our family, friends, and the larger network of loose ties. Many of us have been empowered by blogging as a distributed communication platform. Interested readers can subscribe to our media updates and enjoy them through a variety of browsers or feed formats.
The concept of subscription and relationship, combined with the length of posts wasn't ideal for rapid communication. The act of creating and subscribing to brief statuses has been refined by leading companies Facebook and Twitter in order to garner mainstream adoption. These companies develop and provide the most attractive communication models. As a result they are in control of the content (restricted APIs), and the highly valued and concentrated attention that comes with it. Knowledge of subscription behavior and sentiment has shifted from personal to public. Overall the connection network is simpler for each user, but in it's current corporate form, it trades certain benefits to achieve this:
- Privacy has been traded for greater connectivity
- Both the network and data are more fragile with only a single company backbone. I accept this kind of thing for email (gmail) but I can migrate my email to another provider at any time. Anyone can send or receive email that adheres to Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Facebook and Twitter have restricted access to the content created on their networks with limited portability
- All created or shared content is owned or is effectively leveraged by the company provider
- Any secondary value from innovative services built on top of the platform are ultimately subject to control by the primary conduit
Communication businesses are focused on generating a profit by providing products and services which connect people. Phone companies have done so for decades with the network. Cable & Telecom companies have connected folks by providing high speed access to the Internet. Publishing platforms ease distribution of information from one to many: Blogger, Wordpress.com, and many more do so at the application level. The major differences between Facebook/Twitter and other publishing platforms are the ease of subscription, abbreviated posts, and focus on current state. This encourages a vast amount of content creation, sharing, curation, and numerous one to many broadcasts.
Early centralized platforms have historically progressed into decentralized protocols. I believe we will see this organic cycle repeat itself as novel technology changes how we communicate.