Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A Platform is AJAR - Open Until It's Not...Why the OpenSocial Movement Will Fail.. The English Revolution And The Battle For The Commons

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 28, 2008

Ross Mayfield, the founder of the groundbreaking startup SocialText, the leading enterprise wiki/collaboration suite, made a wry comment on his twitter feed. I would gladly reproduce it except I accidentally deleted my Twitter feeds and I'm not sure how to get them back... but it went something like this: The new AJAX for social networks is AJAR and is only open for a while.

Ross has hit on something which I think will be happening more and more. There is a lot of lip service to open social and the concept of open data mobility but we all know that this type of digital level-playing-field is very far away from reality.

Why should MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Meebo, Skype, etc share their user data and their networks with other companies? Just on the basis of protecting their user's data privacy, each of these companies could refuse to open up their API's to the fullest extent.

Walled gardens make money, they can charge an entrance fee. Who can make money from a public commons? And who should anyway?

That's why the English Revolution happened, it was a struggle over who had the rights to the commons. Who was allowed to fence in the commons and graze their sheep? It became a violent struggle over who couldmake money from something that had previously been held equally between many groups in 17th century English society. It was a time of struggle but is also led to a flowering of cultures, arts, literature, anti-religious and anti-government movements, a revitalization of democracy, and plenty of mayhem of various sorts.

We are already in that battle, over our 21st century commons, the Internet. We can see it in: the debates over net neutrality; the right of cable companies, and countries to regulate access to the Internet; and many other examples...

It will be interesting to see who will win. And it'll be interesting to see if we get the same cultural fruits from the struggle as did the English Revolution.

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