Google’s Ultimate Mashup, The End of Web 2.0, and More Metaverse Wannabees

Congratulations to Google — after the announcement of Google Wave, we can finally close the chapter on Web 2.0, or, rather, Web 2.0 Release Candidate. We’ve finally left 2.0 behind to enter the dramatic new age of Web 2.1.

Image of Google Wave in action, courtesy of Google

You might say to yourself, “oh no, this is just another Facebook clone, why should we share Gwyn’s enthusiasm this time?”

Appearances are delusive 🙂 Read on to understand why this announcement is so important — and, ultimately, what lessons should we, eager Web 3.0 enthusiasts, take from it.

Innovation leads to fragmentation

Consider all cool ideas that have popped up on the Web in the past decade. They all sport an uniform interface — they run on top of the Web’s HTTP protocol (except, well, for virtual worlds, VoIP, and the oldest instant messaging mechanisms). So while the 1990s were about consolidation — the world’s unification behind a single email protocol (SMTP with POP3/IMAP4 mailboxes); a single content-retrieval mechanism (HTTP with HTML); and even a pretty much standard network file sharing mechanism (most of the world uses Samba/SMB, a.k.a. Windows file sharing, although Apple hasn’t given up the fight yet), just take a look at what happened this past decade with the Web 2.0: total and utter fragmentation.

You might think this is inevitable, and actually even good, as talented, innovative people start creating new ideas from scratch and need to tackle new ways of doing things. On the other hand, we all know what happened to things like the (proprietary) Microsoft Mail protocol (oh, not to bash only Microsoft on this; several other corporations did the same): they simple got integrated into the universal mail protocol for the Internet (e.g. SMTP) or died.

Right now, a 25,000-word-article would not be enough to list all social networking sites in existence. And, guess what: except for some very few that use OpenSocial, developing something for one social networking tool does not work on any other. Sure, not many Web 2.0 services allow any kind of development. Besides the few that use OpenSocial (hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, Netlog, Ning, orkut, Yahoo, and others), you have the Mighty Facebook as uncontested leader, but others also allow further development with proprietary tools.

What’s in for the rest? RSS feeds mostly; many are starting to accept OpenID as a way to get common authentication. Almost all of them provide APIs that can be used to retrieve content from each other (even though microblogging or “status changing” is the most used cross-platform functionality). That allows, for instance, things like importing movies from, say, YouTube into orkut.

But what is totally lacking is integration. Let’s suppose I’m on Facebook and have a picture on Flickr that I wish to send on a message to a friend who hates Facebook and only uses orkut. Or I’ve just commented on someone’s video embedded in Netlog, but although that video was originally embedded from YouTube, my comment will never show up on YouTube, but only on Netlog. Or I’ve posted the same status update on Twitter and Facebook, and someone re-tweeted it — but only my Twitter followers will see that. My Facebook friends will never know about the re-tweeting.

“Of course”, I hear you say, “but that’s how it works! They’re different systems, you ought to complain less and use [insert favourite social networking application here] exclusively, like all your friends do”.

Well, that’s the problem. Social networking tools, in spite of promoting interconnection among millions of users, do not interconnect among themselves.

I always found that ironic, of course, although I know perfectly well that this is the case of a lot of software 🙂

Social networking, however, is supposed to be about stimulating interconnection. However, all of them rely on one fact: they all wish to become the uncontested market leader. The reasoning being, if you have all the 2 billion Internet users in your service, you can interconnect them all. So the point is to make sure everybody abandons all other social networking tools and come to yours instead. In fact, this shouldn’t surprise us much: after all, in the mid-1990s, Web 1.0 “portals” tried to do the same: Yahoo, Microsoft, and others tried to become “the portal that connects to everywhere”, and — according to their reasoning — once everybody in the world was registered to your portal, you could easily get a list of all sites to visit from one single place. It was exactly the same reasoning: compete to be the market leader, eliminate the competition, and you’ll find everything you need on a single source.

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