Nate Westheimer and the Challenge of Open Platforms

October 3rd, 2007

(this post started as a comment on Nate Westheimer’s blog, but got too long so I decided to put it here instead)

Nate says that Facebook could disappear tomorrow and it would be replaced in about a week with other web services.  Likely true enough, but it begs the question what would make FB disappear.  It doesn’t happen on its own- people need to stop using it.

Nate’s implicit answer, I think, and that of a number of other people, is that internet users crave openness- they want their content to be distributed, mixed and mashed up as they see fit, not as the platform decides.  One-way openness isn’t good enough either.  Content should flow freely both ways, and when someone offers that up Facebook could start to suffer.

It sounds as though the nascent FriendFeed does this.  Plaxo also does it to a certain degree. I don’t think mere openness is enough, though, and I say that for two reasons:

1)  There needs to be a “there” there.  Plaxo is free-flowing, but also empty.  Maybe I just haven’t connected with enough people, or they haven’t “turned on” enough feeds (or maybe that’s the point- it takes too much effort). 

A variant of this point was made by Adam Elend from Wallstrip.  He said that just putting content out isn’t enough- it needs to fit the platform on which it is being distributed.  As applied to the open/closed platform discussion, the argument is that mere aggregation easily leads to clutter and randomness.

2)  There needs to be an ad strategy.  Most content on the social web is ad-supported.  Totally open platforms make it hard to monetize the traffic.   

Maybe these two points offer an answer” provide a compelling place for people to aggregate and they’ll congregate.  Becoming and then remaining the “coolest” platform seems like it would be an increasingly difficult task, though.

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