Here's my take:
Stop worrying. According to internet physics facebook will gradually diffuse into distributed services.
The first mass migration away from the silos is likely going to happen as early as within this decade. As soon as some kid in his basement creates a set of viable protocol specs (read: not diaspora) and as soon as a few relentless hackers smell blood in the water.
Once initiated no Zuckerberg or Schmidt has the resources to argue with the second law of thermodynamics. The social graph is destined to gravitate outwards until it's more or less evenly distributed over our always-on devices. Supported by a network of interchangeable service-providers for caching, storage and, of course, "apps".
There you have it. But don't let that stop you from writing the next series of sky-is-falling posts. They're part of the process.
There were once many search engines, now there is Google. Usenet was a distributed system; now there are centralized forums. Email was once something that was largely administered locally, now everyone has a Gmail account. Sharing things with friends and family used to be done through a constellation of different services, like blogs and Flickr and email. Now Facebook does all of those things.
Social networks have taken a few of the biggest distributed applications of the web and started mass producing them, in watered down form. But notice how they have to keep absorbing every new fad that comes along? The coup will start with some platform that allows ideas to be realized faster than the networks can clone them.
Search is not easily distributable and will remain silo'ed up for a long time.
GMail is huge. But SMTP is still a distributed protocol, you can switch providers in a blink and not lose anything other than a shiny interface.
NNTP was always run in a hierarchical fashion and more importantly is centered around discussion groups. People a) prefer more control over their publishing/group-comm (blogs, forums) and b) demand the "follow individual" pattern (RSS).
Consequently the Usenet-monolith shattered into said services, all of which you can either run on your own server, or rent from a service-provider.
Sharing always sucked and that is the niche (apart from the social graph) that made Facebook big. However, today we can build mashups that plug into all these services and present them under a unified interface - just as pretty as facebook.
The only missing bit to lace it all together is the social graph. Today our little mashup has to load the graph from either facebook, twitter or google.
In the future some smart kid will come up with a "DNS for social relations" and everyone will start using that, just because it's the natural thing to do and because futzing with proprietary API-keys is so 2011.
 As in Domain Name System
I think you may underestimate the importance of the shiny interface. Regardless, the use of an outside provider is still a move toward centralization. Ten years ago, the small offices I did software work in all had local email servers. Today, running an email server well is a big job, and those offices all outsource their email service to much larger companies.
People ... demand the "follow individual" pattern (RSS) ... In the future some smart kid will come up with a "DNS for social relations"
It's interesting that you bring up RSS. I was thinking about that too. I think RSS is already very nearly a "DNS for social relations." But it's also failed to catch on outside the circle of techies, early adopters, and web-potatoes.
I'd say the failure of RSS to achieve mainstream popularity is an example of a decentralized system losing out to centralized alternatives. Like Facebook. Facebook is just plain simpler to get started with than a self-administered approach like RSS or a hypothetical next-generation DNSfSR would be. And Facebook and Twitter both killed off their RSS feeds once they'd felt they'd achieved a certain critical mass. They understand that RSS is an alternative for much of what they do.
I don't celebrate any of this. I use and like RSS. I wish I didn't feel the need for a Facebook account (but that's where my real-world friends are). But the pattern I see is that convenience beats out control every time. For complicated devices like computers and for complicated situations like the (real, human) social network, the inevitable complexity that comes along with local, personal control is often a problem, not a feature.
Under such circumstances, I don't see how Facebook (or its successor) will be overtaken by a distributed anything.
Faroo seem to be doing a pretty good job, although their UI could do with some love.
http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/customers/ says you are wrong.
And I don't think that's a bad thing - Facebook is a problem, not Google. Don't tar every company with the same brush.
It's just foolish to give up control of one of the most important communication resources your business has to a company with a notoriously poor customer service record.
Regardless, that seems like a move toward central control rather than toward anything I'd describe as a distributed service.
I think the issue is that there is difference between allowing people to log into an account with Facebook and companies actually sharing their data with each other. There's also the reality that as companies die, merge or change course, the massive amounts of data they have often simply becomes unused.
Reminds me of the joke about there being two kinds of people in the world; those who have lost data, and those who will.
The second is that you are turning over all of your internal communication, almost all of which should never leave the company, to a third party.
I'm not sure I understand this. Why isn't Google in the business of making sure its paying customers stay in business?
> The second is that you are turning over all of your internal communication, almost all of which should never leave the company, to a third party.
How is this any different from storing source code on GitHub, or using Campfire to communicate?
A very reasonable argument is that you shouldn't be using those either. GitHub is fine for open source projects but if I were involved in writing proprietary code I'd probably not put it up there.
It's also hard to talk percentages -- there are a lot more companies storing source code on private servers than using external hosting. So yes, more stories of that, but it's hard to talk percentage chance rather than absolute numbers.
Where does one draw the line?
Could you give an argument, why there should be something like internet physics, which follows the laws of thermodynamics or the laws of gravitation? To me this sounds rather metaphoric and like an abuse of terminology.
Life processes move in the direction opposite of the 2nd law. Though I generally agree, if we view the market and technology as evolving we should see oscillation between diffusion and convergence.
We (the internets :D) spend all this time getting out of the AOL walled garden, only to go back to the Facebook walled garden. Seems like an utter waste of effort.
But maybe the glass is half full, and we will be out of here soon.
In a sense, isn't your entire social life a waste of effort? Even if you think the ultimate goal is to construct the ultimate hivemind, massive cultural flip flops can still represent progress.
The one thing keeping Facebook alive and well right now is that no alternatives yet exist whose upside outweighs the hassle of losing all of one's Facebook friends, data, etc. (In economic terms, this is known as a very high switching cost).
Sooner or later, though, it's possible that a) more alternatives will emerge; b) some of these alternatives will be massively more attractive than FB for one reason or another; or c) FB will become increasingly annoying via feature creep, privacy concerns, homogenization of experience due to lowest common denominators among users. I'm banking on "c." There are, and will be, viable competitors to Facebook. But these competitors won't get a lot of attention, relatively speaking, until Facebook becomes more annoying than it is convenient.
While ultimately true in the long run, in the long run, we ultimately all die, too.
There you have it. "Doomsday" is really a matter of perspective.
(This is assuming you have the time/resources/interest in doing so. It's often easier not to, but in the long run I do think it's important to control your canonical internet presence, and as much as possible to try to point the presences you don't control towards the one you do.)
(Yes, there are downsides to this, but let's not pretend that setting up a blog-to-Facebook converter harms Facebook. Just stick with the blog.)
I fail to see where the parent was talking about 'harming' Facebook. This entire discussion is about keeping control over your Internet presence. If you use a domain that you control as your canonical presence, then you can easily sign up for whatever the social network of the day is and use it to direct people back to your domain. This extends beyond this though:
For example, if you use a GMail/Hotmail/Yahoo email address as your main email address, then you're completely dependent on these companies to provide the service. If they ever change policies or start doing things that you don't like, there is a large barrier to just switching services. On the other hand, if you purchase your own domain and use that for email on such services (e.g. Google Apps for Domains), then you can easily switch services without needing to tell everyone that may want to contact you about your new email address.
In general, you can still use free services, just so long as you wrap your domain around them so that you can point people elsewhere if things change.
Lots of patients visit hospital websites to research shame conditions - things nobody but their physician has any right/need to know about. Least of all an organization as brazenly anti-privacy as Facebook.
Bumbling around this afternoon I came across a number of hospital websites using Like buttons. I have fired up a Mechanical Turk job to give me a more complete list of US hospitals that do so.
Not sure what I'm going to do with the list yet - name and shame or just a broad education campaign? Seems pretty awful to potentially violate patient privacy in the interest of an extra 'share' or two.
In the short term is makes sense for a new service like Spotify or turntable.fm to jump on the largest user base in the world, it lowers their barrier to entry. But in the long term it's really harmful to the open web and leads down a depressing path in my opinion. What happens if you DO opt-out of FB, but future services require a FB account?
I just killed the Facebook like button on my personal website (not that my site gets a lot of hits). I've signed up for a Diaspora* invite which should be sent to me by "the end of October". I'll set it up for my friends but I don't know who would actually join it, it's not like people need another social networking service. Not sure what else the solution could be though.
I wonder if it's possible that these services swing back around and actually offer a charged service without ads. Twitter for instance can offer a free rate that leaves you open to targeted advertising and data collection, but they'll leave you alone if you have a paid account. How much would I have to pay FB per month to make it worthwhile to them?
Many of the most valuable conversations around technology and many other fields happen on Twitter. If you’re not there you don’t really exist, especially if you’re just getting started in your field.
>> This now creates a new level of Service offering for a website; not offering a Facebook Like or Social graphing tool might be seen as a bonus if your trying to promote privacy or respect of peoples data.
Do we have any website right now following and acknowledging this ?
Once everyone is on a single service that all looks the same, individual websites will become the "cool" thing again.
(well, it is also relevant to wonder about the timeline. The relatively open PC era after closed mainframes lasted about twenty years.)
>> As with smoking, it’s easier to not start using the social web than to stop. Once you’ve signed up the cost of leaving increases with every “friend” you make, every photo you post, every tweet you send
The first time I considered creating an integration with FB, though, I studied how it worked and stopped when I discovered that I could NOT get my users' email [note: I think this isn't true now, I didn't really check though]. That meant that even those users that came directly to my website, but wanted to login using facebook, wouldn't have really become "my" users, that I would have always been dependent on FB.
Facebook changes its policies very often, so this particular problem could not be current anymore, but the fact remains that we should be very careful in helping a company which is building the biggest walled garden on the internet by adding too much value to it. Because now the gates are open, but FB can close them whenever they see fit.
Right now I'm considering again creating an integration with Facebook for one of my new services, but I'll try as hard as possible to steer the users to my actual website, even if this wouldn't be as frictionless as it could be for them. Bigger issues are at stake.
That is half of facebook's problem. Facebook has pissed off a lot of developers by changing their platform so frequently, often without telling people in advance, that it makes little sense for small-time apps or sites to invest time in it. Not to mention their documentation is laughably out of date or just missing.
Facebook might be doing real well with mindshare amongst the end-user, but they have not done so great with developers.
1) I'm now recommending to my friends to log out of Facebook and visit it in a private/incognito browsing mode. Probably the same thing needs to be applied to Google sites.
2) More importantly, I think it's a bit simplistic to divide the web into "open web" and "Big Web". There are sites that fall in between the wild west of linking and social networking sites. Hacker News is one of these. So is Reddit and StumbleUpon. These sites generate a huge number of page views. In fact, I would guess that they generate more page views for people with only a few thousand followers on social networks.
Even if you don't hit the front page of HN, every submission is automatically posted to Twitter (and probably Facebook, I wouldn't know), so the chances of it going viral are just as strong as if you had posted it yourself. These in-between sites allow you to gain the benefits of Big Web without directly participating in it.
It has the same idea as an incognito browser window, but taken to the OS level. It is very interesting.
Source? I've never heard that before. My understanding of the above is that Facebook will store, on their servers, all of the pages I visit that display a Like button.
Edit: The previously linked to article in the essay supports the claim: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20006532-38.html I was unaware that Facebook was able to retain information even if users didn't actually press the Like button.
Google Analytics is widespread, but unlike Facebook it gives you the tools to protect your privacy if you so choose. That is an important difference and is worth noting.
Firefox should/will also get a facebook spying blocker as chrome now has. Microsoft is real friendly with fb, so they'll never implement this.
It's not all evil, there will still be behind the curtain users. It's just they won't be as visible. People who aggregate customers charge for the right. Just ask Wal-mart!
Alright, that is a bit farfetched.
Uh. Anyone else remember the days of curated Internet directory sites? Yahoo was just a huge, organized database of links. Didn't make it to a good standing on Yahoo's directory? Too bad for you. Luckily, search technology matured and (largely) freed us from that.