Decentralising the web

Hello. I've done a few hundred words and I'm asking for views and opinions.

Basically I'm scared that the internet is becoming 'owned'. Does anybody on this forum know an answer moving forward where we don't have to pay or subscribe to a single entity?

I don't have an answer, but this is my opinion:

Services need to be free and open. They need to for the user, so we can control what we own and don’t get locked down and blackmailed. They need to for the product, so it can grow and gain adoption through merits, not celebrity or faux-popularity contests.

We need to decentralise the web as a matter of the utmost urgency.

The basics

Take HTTP and HTML, the basic points of the internet where anyone can publish and anyone can consume. Take SMTP and Email, the basics of communication over the internet, where the same is true. No discrimination or prejudice. If you’re an oppressed slave fighting your corrupt dictator, go ahead. If you’re an angry militant fighting for a terrorist cause, join in the fun. The internet has no agenda other than free speech. Everyone is welcome.

The threat

In recent times the terms that define the internet are changing for the worse. We no longer have websites, we have iPhone apps. No longer email, but Twitter or Facebook.

Why is this a problem? Because if you invest in one ecosystem you will eventually suffer the negatives.

When users moan about Facebook changes, they have no options. They can’t walk away with a coherent cache of their data or switch their service to a competitor, because their data is being held hostage. When Instagram introduced a new feature, allowing users to share their photos across a global map, they didn’t ask, they threatened with a modal dialogue, literally forcing users to decide whether to use this new feature or have all of their location data destroyed. This is worrying, because it has been in the services’ rights from day one to affect these changes.

When Twitter became threatening and aggressive over its API, they were affecting millions of their users who had no right to moan, and the effects are apparent sooner than anybody thought, even Marco Arment on his on platform. The issues go far deeper than anybody had realised, and now Twitter is too big and relevant for it to go, without destroying years of data.

The benefactors

Just about everyone is at risk. Twitter has hit our culture more than anything else in recent times. It has become part of the media. It has become a tool that helps fight civil wars. The Arab Spring of 2011 was attributed in part to Twitter.

The majority of Twitter users don’t know that their data is a corporate asset. As such they probably don’t care as much. Their service won’t change, bar the few adverts and design changes to assist this. They will still be able to communicate, review and consume data. If Twitter went bust tomorrow these people would carelessly switch to a competing service, and life would continue.

Users have also invested heavily in Facebook, Instagram or Flickr for their photos, and Google or Microsoft for their email. More and more services are tricking us into stealing our data, and we are one-hundred-percent complicit in this happening, because it’s free, or we like the implementation, or we like the design, or worst of all, our friends or interests are locked in exclusively to these products.

And other companies who share a bed with Twitter might need to take a trip to the STI clinic. Countless developers who have fronted Twitter’s success with applications or promotion are hit, and they will need to learn from this not to go there again.

Tech-bloggers use Twitter as a syndication, communication and comment medium. Developers have in some instances based their entire living on Twitter. Apple have invested a large proportion of their marketing on Facebook and Twitter integration, two features they can’t control and may become less and less attractive. Tim Cook should be taking note.

The solution

Decentralise the web.

Tech-bloggers should use social services to publish to through an open syndication medium. They should communicate through open standards, and if this gets aggregated to Twitter, then great. Twitter is what made them their dollars, but it should be a platform not a tool and a service too.

Developers should create agnostic apps, allowing users to choose their service. If Twitter cuts Flipboard off, the service is useless. If I could use Flipboard through an alternative platform, it would be business as usual. Client apps shouldn’t be Twitter exclusive. It’s promoting Twitter and their service. Promote an open standard that anyone can use and one that can’t be owned. That way Twitter can’t stop you putting food on the table.

Apple should have an open API for sharing and service management. Choosing what the user can use is limiting. There is a list of choices, and it is not the right solution. This needs to give the user their own choice. Even if I’m sad enough to use Google+, you can not put me at a disadvantage because of my choice. That is the firm definition of prejudice.

Why does Spotify not allow a user to share a track through a blog or an email? Why has it limited the choices?

These open standards do not exist, yet. The W3C stalled at displaying text on a 15-inch CRT monitor, and hasn’t made any progression since. That consortium should be scrapped and started again.

We should not be debating web page standards, we should be debating communication standards and application standards.

Microsoft pioneered the web page by pressuring W3C to come up with standards that matched what you could do in Internet Explorer. Webkit and Mozilla are decades ahead with their own vendor-specific methods, etc. We can not allow Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and other giant media establishments to dictate the standards of the web; we need to build the standards.

The future

Some geek will bring down the big guys with an open idea, because they will do it with more thought an intelligence, and hopefully with an initial service that has a prettier and celebrity-obsessed execution.

Diaspora didn’t work because it’s crap and everyone hates it. Identica isn’t big because no-one cares.

I imagine the open Tent initialive will go a similar way. It has no balls or gusto.

We need a spotty future-celebrity, a future Zuckerburg or Steve Jobs that isn’t hell bent on the American dream. No one I know knew who Tim Berners-Lee was, but without him all of these parasitical tycoons would be stacking shelves for Tesco. We need someone to pioneer a medium to the masses. The next HTML, the next Email with the sexy new client that makes it attractive to the gormless western audiences.

I’m sure a future will come where I can store all of my social data on my own back-room server using Facebook only as a service through which to communicate it all; where I have all of my email and Google simply sends and receives it for me. Maybe I want to use Twitter, but I want Dropbox in control of my Tweets after Twitter has syndicated them. I want to use AIM but I want to do it through Windows Live. I want an iPhone but I want to use Google Chrome as my browser and Spotify as my music manager and Skype as my sole carrier.

The future can not be prejudice. If someone comes up with a new service tomorrow, my OS needs the open APIs for me to connect to it today. Why haven’t these been created, and created well?

Dear Internet, will you help the world and fight for an open, decentralised web?

This post was lifted from a post on my blog. Thanks for reading.